The Secret Of Identity: The Problem Of Being Robin: an article by: GF Willmetts.
The problems of keeping a secret identity as a superhero are odd these days. In the old days, in the Big Two comic-book companies, you might keep it down to members of the super-teams like the JLA or The Avengers, simply as a matter of being able to contact each other in an emergency. Taking your mask off doesn’t necessarily mean they would recognise you unless you were a famous millionaire, celebrity or scientist or had a distinctive goatee beard.
If an enemy discovered it, they tend not to disclose it to others as a matter of having their own edge or a matter of honour, as with Ras al Ghul in the DC Universe. However, knowing one identity can mean it wouldn’t be difficult to unravel other significant ones. After all, torturing or conning one of your teammates, let alone having your mind read, could compromise them and you to the bargain. If you didn’t know who they really were, would also be an act of faith in assuming you knew who was behind the mask. DC Comics’ ‘Identity Crisis’ mini-series/graphic novel illustrated that problem with Zatanna, even robbing Batman of certain memories when he protested.
If you aren’t really someone who might be in the public eye, I guess losing your mask won’t mean much unless someone photographs you and gets you exposure in the media and finds out your name. That just puts you and your family and friends, especially if they don’t know your nightly patrols, at risk, which is the main reason the majority hide their identities.
Even so, as an individual, keeping your alter-ego secret causes all kinds of problems of sneaking off when there is trouble and having to come up with lame excuses as to your absence making you look like a scaredy-cat compared to what you were really doing. Assuming, of course, you are wearing your zoot-suit under your normal clothes. You would think most super-heroes would have some personality disorder keeping everything in check as to who exactly they are.
Oddly, the film and TV representations other than showing a change in voice make little of the differences between their identities. You would have to wonder how a sleepy head like Bruce Wayne can run a successful multi-billion organisation like WayneCorp.
These days, mostly because of the superhero films, tend to ignore the problem, mostly because it’s become something of a cliché and the desire to show the actor in the suit and that means mask off where possible. If anything, the mask is now seen as head protection for many of them than concealment of identity.
The real problem comes with the few sidekicks that are left. Take Dick Grayson, for instance. He also principally belongs to the Titans and knowing his real name and his original moniker as Robin before Nightwing means you wouldn’t have to be too smart to know his mentor, Batman, is also Bruce Wayne. Of course, you’d expect your teammates not to reveal anything because they would be in a similar situation. There are enough mind control villains and even regular ones who could torture or get the information out of you if they really wanted to. Considering knowing the true identities of the other Titans didn’t compromise their more adult seers and Grayson’s mask has always been brief and hardly concealing, walking down the street in civvies with the likes of the more revealing Cyborg or alien Starfire or at Donna Troy’s wedding would seriously have compromised his mentor’s identity.
The same might be said for Roy Harper aka Speedy but Oliver Queen as Green Arrow is already compromised by his goatee beard and although his fortune varies a lot, he isn’t as high profile as Bruce Wayne is in Gotham City or have such a dangerous calibre of insane enemies. The Batman might be formidable in his uniform but as Bruce Wayne, he could never go out in public again without facing the possibility of a sniper’s bullet and there are enough of them with the Dark Knight’s name on them.
In the ‘Titans’ TV series first season, Dick Grayson is slowly disconnecting from his identity of Robin in preference to being known as a police detective and then becoming Nightwing but you wouldn’t mistake him for anyone else. His domino mask is hardly a good disguise. He saw himself as more an extension to the Batman and on a dark path of ready violence that he didn’t always like himself. Compared to his replacement, Jason Todd relishes the role and doesn’t even mind assaulting police officers because he can. However, when Grayson has to find some place to hide his nascent team, he uses one of Bruce Wayne’s sanctuaries in Chicago, with Todd’s retina scan to get them inside.
Presumably, Grayson must have reset his own security code inside or he couldn’t have returned to it later. What is surprising is none of them make the connection that if Grayson is Robin, then Bruce Wayne has to be Batman. Who else could it be? Mind you, they probably know and it isn’t an issue for them. Well, until one of them is captured by a more powerful, intelligent villain with no scruples who just wants to torture for information. Doesn’t even have to be torture. If not truth drugs, mind control or mind reading is just as effective. Didn’t I just say that?
Thing is, though, is your alter-ego is in the public eye or should be and skims the surface, then it doesn’t take long to work things out. Whoever is in the Robin outfit has to live with or nearby to his adult counterpart and you have an easy way to get to the Batman.
Profiling is even easier as you need to work back as to what would you need to do what you need. With the DC reality, the amount of hardware the Batman employs means he has to be very rich. Considering how many millionaires/billionaires there are might show too many until you confine them to Gotham City. Then you just need to look at how many have wards of court and the numbers drop off. That was even revealed in the 1966 ‘Batman’ TV series, so hardly new. It would be more embarrassing to wonder why Bruce Wayne has never considered this. Even if he’s paid other people to have wards, logistically, he’s putting their lives at risk just to conceal his own identity. Outside of comic books, it just wouldn’t work.
One way around this is to have a fake secret identity. In the Marvel Universe, Daredevil did this for a while with his fake twin, Mike Murdock, although both ‘brothers’ not appearing together might have been a giveaway. For Moon Knight, Marc Spector had multiple identities, so left anyone guessing who he really was. Neither of them were particularly high profile in their civilian identities, although Matthew Murdock had to give up his own identity and even adopt a new one, as Jack Batlin as Daredevil for a while. Considering Murdock fakes he can see as Daredevil, faking sight as whatever he chose would still work.
Reporter Ben Urich of the Daily Bugle worked out who Daredevil was as he gathered various pieces of evidence, but decided for the better good to keep quiet about it. You would have thought this kind of activity would happen all the time. Perhaps newspapers in these versions of Earth aren’t so interested in having big reveals in their headlines.
The ideal super-hero and even side-kick is to have no immediate family. Then again, the number of people orphaned and disguised and become super-heroes is one of the key origin sources. It almost comes over as a qualification, providing you have the money, talent, and training to become at least formidable. Teenagers following a similar path have to have similar drives, and becoming a side-kick is more a rite of passage as the superhero sees something of themselves in them. You would think they would deter them into something a little less dangerous for a pastime. You know, like bungee jumping without the bungee. At least you could see your end.
© GF Willmetts