Can Anyone Keep a Secret?

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I usually give a new television series three episodes before I make a final decision about whether or not I’m going to keep watching it.  Supergirl hit that mark this week, and I’ll just skip to the end and say that I’m staying on board.  The show has a few issues to iron out (many of them surrounding how they’re handling the existence of Superman), but Melisa Benoist is so engaging as Kara and the show so much fun that I’m more than willing to give them time to figure out exactly what the show is.

I have, however, noticed something…something that I ranted about several months ago.  I’ll let Past Me take over for a bit…

Superheroes are everywhere, but I’ve realized that the many of them are not bringing along a particular trope that’s been part of the lore since the beginning.  Actually, since even before the beginning when heroes without superpowers, such as the Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro, wore masks to conceal their true identity.

Based on the current crop of live-action superheroes, secret identities seem to have gone out of fashion.  Or maybe they seem silly now.  I’m not certain.  At the end of Man of Steel, Clark Kent starts a job at The Daily Planet in the guise of the mild-mannered, glasses-wearing reporter that we’re used to from prior incarnations of the character, but why is he bothering?  Based on the events of the preceding two hours, everyone on the damn planet should know that he’s Superman.  The military, Lois, and most of Smallville, including the manager of the local IHOP know.  General Zod landed a ship at his mom’s house and basically asked if Clark could come out and play.  The jig is up, pal.  They know.   Hiding behind a pair of glasses isn’t going to help.

In the Christopher Nolan Batman/Dark Knight films, the entire League of Shadows knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman.  They very kindly don’t tell anyone, though.  You would think that after the death of their leader, Ra’s al Ghul, the remaining League members might blab in revenge.  Nope.  Instead, two movies later, Bane shows up, knowing that Bruce Wayne is Batman, captures him, snaps his back, and dumps him in a prison far away while again not telling anybody.  Considering Bane’s overall plan for Gotham, you would think that telling the populace that their hero was actually Bruce Wayne and that he wouldn’t be showing up again (Although, he did) due to a minor back breaking would be useful.  But no.

Meanwhile, over on the television side of the DC hero universe, Arrow’s Oliver Queen at first decided to go all vigilante in Starling City wearing little more than a dark green hoodie and some eye makeup to hide his true identity.  He has moved up to a mask, but last I checked, there are at least 10-15 people and possibly more who know that he’s the Arrow.  Granted, many of those are people who work with him, but one is the TV version of Ra’s al Ghul.  Probably not the best guy to know who you really are.

Over on the spin-off series The Flash, Barry Allen is barely bothering to hide his identity.  Sure, he has his mask, but he’s also taken it off and just plain not worn it many times.  His show has only run half a season, and there may already be more people, including several villains, who know his identity than who know that Oliver Queen is the Arrow.  Side question: how do the villains imprisoned in the Star Labs makeshift cells use the bathroom?  Those things are awfully small and I haven’t seen a toilet or sink or bed.  Granted, it doesn’t seem like anyone except turns-into-gas-guy stays in there very long because the Star Labs folks are incredibly incompetent jailers, but when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go…somewhere.

Over on the Marvel side of the superhero cavalcade, right out of the gate with Iron Man, the studio decided to dispense with the secret identity thing altogether.  It doesn’t get much clearer than Tony Stark stepping up to a podium and announcing to the world, “I am Iron Man.”  His fellow Avengers aren’t any more secretive.  Everyone knows Steve Rogers is Captain America.  He has his very own Smithsonian exhibit.  Thor is just Thor.  And at the very least S.H.I.E.L.D. and the army know that Bruce Banner is the Hulk.  Natasha “Black Widow” Romanov and Clint “Hawkeye” Barton aren’t as known, but they are S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and not exactly hiding who they are.  By the end of Captain America: The Winter Solider, Romanov was very publicly testifying before Congress. 

Thank you, Past Me.

The Flash is now several episodes into its second season, and the list of people who know that Barry Allen is the Flash has grown even longer.  As before, the list includes some villains.  But since Supergirl is a brand-new series centered around the cousin of the man with one of the longest-standing secret identities in comics, I thought maybe there’d be a bit more care taken with the whole Kara Danvers is Supergirl thing.


Not only do her two best friends, Winn Schott and James “Jimmy” Olsen himself, know, but so does her human sister from the family who adopted her…and all of her sister’s coworkers.  Said sister, Alex, works for an agency that hunts extra-terrestrials, and they know all about Kara.  Alex’s boss freely calls Kara “Miss Danvers” around their facility, so absolutely no attempt is being made to keep Supergirl’s real name a secret.

More than that, the show has already revealed that James knows that Clark Kent is Superman, and then he and Kara let that Kryptonian cat out of the bag in front of Winn.  It’s bad enough that Kara’s identity is so widely known, but would Clark really appreciate Kara letting others in about his secret?

Of course, as I understand it, he doesn’t have that problem to worry about in the comics anymore because his identity has been revealed to the world.  Comics being what they are, I imagine that this is a short term change to the status quo; however, it does seem to be a part of a larger move away from secret identities. 

I get it to a degree, particularly for the television shows.  The ensemble cast working together has served these shows well, and in some situations, such as with Iris on The Flash last season, having a main character kept continually in the dark on something everyone else knows is just annoying for the audience.  I just worry that by next season, Barry’s not even going to be bothering with the mask anymore, and Kara is going to open her apartment door in her Supergirl outfit…

…Oh wait.  She already did that.

- Alan Decker

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