Why Superheroes need to conceal their identity

Superheroes might live among us. Your mail carrier could be one. Or maybe it’s the nerdy IT guy.

After all, many famous comic superheroes have alter egos. This identity conceals their true abilities and after-dark pursuit of justice.

If they didn’t live double lives, they would be considered vigilantes. Even the men and women of the Avengers who saved Earth from alien domination on two separate occasions were seen as vigilantes by some.

Because they worked outside the law to apprehend criminals.

But they always brought them to the authorities for prosecution (if they lived). Just like the A-team of 80s television, the Avengers never planned to use deadly force. Would they? Sure, if the criminals pushed them into it.

The Avengers were a special task force. And while they answered to a government agency (SHIELD), this was acceptable. Once that agency disappeared, people in power started feeling threatened.

It’s about Controlling the Power

There’s a fine line between being powerful and having control.

The Lamborghini is powerful. The driver leashes that power with a steering wheel and brakes. But what if the little plastic line carrying the fluid to those systems is cut? The power is out of control.

In the newest Captain America film, the governments of the world don’t like the idea that a powerful group of trained soldiers can fight crime and terrorism without paying homage to the local authorities.

Secretary of State says, “Where are Thor and the Hulk? If I misplaced two 30 megaton warheads, you can bet there’d be an investigation.”

So Thor and the Hulk are weapons of mass destruction? Wanda is even called that by her own team member. They aren’t people anymore. Only resources to be used by the powers that be.

And those in power are determined to control them. Were the Avengers out of control? Had they overstepped their mission?


Civilians perished. It was tragic. In the process, a terrifying biological agent was kept from the hands of terrorists who would have used it to kill thousands, or even millions.

But no one’s talking about that.

In past movies, the Avengers kept each other in check. They answered to the team collective.

The Avengers were visible. Everyone knew who to blame if things went awry during the display of superhuman abilities. This visibility acted as accountability.

But that wasn’t enough. Politicians saw them only as a weapon, a tactical force to be deployed. Governments wanted a say in where they would go and who they would dispatch.


It’s all in the Media Spin

The media spins the stories in our world (and the comic realities). One day they’re hailing the hero who stopped an insane murderer. The next they scream about stopping the vigilantes who are taking the law into their own hands.

In many places, the government controls the media. They can put the spin on the story so it reads like they want. Focus on the few innocents killed in a bad situation rather the thousands saved from something worse.

Superman, Spider-Man and Batman saw their heroic persona degraded and maligned. Is this why they hid behind Clark Kent, Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne? As long as no one knows who the man behind the mask is, media can only speculate and criticize.

Did they watch the news with the same hurt as Wanda and Cap? Did the fact they weren’t named keep them from feeling responsible when bystanders got hurt?

The writers make it sound like they keep their secrets to protect those they love from retribution. But is that the only reason? Is there ever only ONE reason?

After seeing the way media hype caused problems for the Avengers, it seems obvious that there are other reasons. Having a secret identity keeps them from being controlled by the powers that be.

Image from Marvel-movies
Image from Marvel-movies

Should they answer to someone? Most of these superheroes do have contacts on the police force. The masked men and women see themselves as a “special operative.” They must. Why else would they leave those they apprehend trussed up and ready for a reading of Miranda rights?

It’s not super to be a hero in our world. People are threatened by the unselfish pursuit of justice. The media is concerned about twisting things into a story that gets attention.

My hero, Captain America, would’ve been better off flying under the radar. Hard to do when the government creates you specifically to wear the face of their ideal soldier.

There’s no going back now. Cap can’t hide in anonymity.

The real losers in the situation are all the innocents he can’t protect.

5 thoughts on “Why Superheroes need to conceal their identity”

  1. Cap is my favorite hero! Odd how the government and those in power will always twist things to reach their goal. What they want can change from week to week
    But the true hero, ones trying to fight for truth, justice and freedom and protect the innocent – seem to have a better definition, true guidelines for keeping focused while seeing the big picture and trying to save the most lives. Reality check. I Just hope he doesn’t lose heart or lose hope

    1. A commenter on Facebook pointed out that MOST superheroes don’t have an alter ego or secret identity. They fight for justice out in the open. That isn’t working out so well for Cap.
      The scary thought in our reality is thinking the general public sides with the media or government when those agencies are spewing lies.

      1. Sharon,

        Hmm, my experience of superheroes and secret identities is just the opposite of the Facebook commentor, in that most have secret identities, with a higher number in having them in the DC universe, and significantly fewer in the Marvel. Perhaps this is more in response to superhero movies.

        By the way, as a superhero novel writer myself, I’d like to know how you use secret identities in your superhero fiction.



        1. Fritz-
          Thanks for stopping in.
          I haven’t written any superhero fiction yet. I’ve had several ideas for plots and villains and powers, but can’t land on anything unique enough to inspire me to actually write the story.
          I think a secret identity protects the privacy of the hero – and also keeps the media from hounding them. I don’t read comics so I can’t comment on what the DC writers do, but I can see (from the Marvel films) that NOT having the protection of an alter ego isn’t going so well for the Avengers.

          1. Sharon,

            Don’t give up, inspiration may strike you (and sorry about not getting the facts clear on your writing). I never thought I would write a superhero story because I only write SF. But I was visited by the inspiration fairy and with a biff upside the head with her worldbuilding wand, I was off and writing.

            It is interesting to note how secret identities are presented in the MCU. While most of the Avengers have public identities, they aren’t really confronted with the issues surrounding most superheroes that do. Listing them off (and looking for pattern as I do), Iron Man / Tony Stark is a public figure with no family to speak off (but he does have to deal with his big mouth and villains coming after him); Thor comes from another world and his family is inaccessible (and even if you did get to them, they can more than take care of themselves); Hulk / Bruce Banner doesn’t seem to have any connections or family (and is usually running away from *everyone*); Black Widow / Natasha Romanoff is a spy and in way has no family or connections; Hawkeye / Clint Barton is an interesting case, while he has a public identity (more or less), he also has a secret identity maintained by obscurity rather than hiding his name; finally, Captain America / Steve Rodgers is another case of someone who has no family or connections (except Bucky) due to having spent 70 years in suspended animation. Having said that, there is a lot of family aspect to the Avengers as a group, so to one degree or another (particularly Black Widow / Natasha) they get that family connection from each other. I think we can conclude that the Avengers don’t have secret identities because they don’t need them to protect people, things, or time for themselves from the world at large.

            I find the storytelling around secret identities, while tropy, to be rather compelling. I thought about secret identities and how I wanted them to work in my stories quite a bit. So much so, that I spend a fair amount of time justifying how they can be effectively maintained.

            (And I ended up rambling…)


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