Who Was That Masked Man? : an article of hidden identity by: GF Willmetts

For the super-hero or even the super-villain come to that, if you don’t want anyone to recognise you in civvies, then a disguise is essential. A few are content to go bare-faced, convinced that a change in posture and glasses and speech are sufficient. For the others, it has to be a cowl and/or mask. People have a tendency to remember the costume far more than the details of the face. Even if a photo appears in the press, you would be hard pressed to associate it with some millionaire/billionaire celebrity unless they are continually in the public eye or had a distinctive moustache and goatee. Some even go as far as appearing in one identity and having another person appearing as the other to show themselves as two different people to throw suspicious people, including so-called ‘friends’ off the scent. Even if one of your rogue’s gallery does identify you, they are far more likely to keep it to themselves for their own edge than spread it around. After all, knowledge is a super-power in its own right and you never know when you might need to drop that bombshell if you want to make an escape.

I should point out that I’m using ‘super-hero’ as a generic title. The same problems also apply to super-heroines, compounded by heels and I suspect why so many bare their legs.

As you might expect by this point, there is a but. A big but! Disguises are very revealing. If you go out in the daylight hours in your disguise a lot, you’re going to pick up a tan. That means unmasked you’re not going to be too hard to spot. The white skin around the eyes let alone a full cowl revealed might be a giveaway. Even the Lone Ranger had that problem and that was back in the old Wild West. You only have two choices, spend a bit of time off duty under a sunlamp and hope you can get a tan match or use make-up or both. You’re going to have to wonder how that reporter chap never gets a suntan? Of course, you could always get more of a tan out of costume but it shows a serious problem unless you like the nocturnal habit.

A secondary consideration is wearing a gum shield. After all, many super-battles resort to a form of boxing so the jaw gets seriously hit a lot more than even professional boxers so unless you want regular visits to the dentist or wear false teeth, that gum shield contributes to hiding a true identity by changing your jaw a little. Quite how you can protect your brain from such damage is even more debatable. Hopefully, most cowls have a bit of padding.

Back in the Golden Age and, to some extent, even now, some super-heroes wore their fighting togs under their civilian guise so they could change at a moment’s notice. Having said costume skin-tight also ensured that there wasn’t any distinctive bulges that might give it away. Of course, that also meant on a blisteringly hot day, you would stand out by being the only person with a collar, tie and full suit on to conceal said zoot-suit. There is also a chance of a ripe smell if you can’t get rid of your sweat. Even so, concealing the accessories can be a problem. A billy-club can become a walking cane. Even a shield can be carried in an art portfolio. Armour can always be carried in an attaché-case. These are examples used in the comicbooks if you know certain histories. Even so, I doubt if you would expect to carry your full armaments all the time. It would also benefit to have several sets of your outfit and have set late laundry times so no one can see what’s in your laundry basket, assuming you don’t have a washing machine.

Other considerations are to be concerned with cloaks and capes. It’s bad enough sitting on them and finding you’re being pulled back by them, so under civilian dress it would be even more so. If it’s longer than waist-height, then it needs to be rolled up or even taken off. Should we even discuss the problems of toilets? Onesies jumpsuits are clearly not advisable although knowing where all the accessible latrines should be. A good thing when the adrenaline surges, the desire for a toilet break doesn’t always come up.

I think I’ve said before how I was always struck by DC Comics World’s Finest # 162 where the Jousting Master shears off Batman’s utility belt and opens his top at the same time on the cover, showing what the caped one wearing his shirt and tie underneath. So, in the normal run of events, Bruce Wayne puts his bat-suit on over his civvies which does make you wonder where he carries his costume? Alternatively, Wayne wears his costume under his civvies but strips down completely and then re-dresses in reverse order to still carry his clothes rather than dump them anywhere. That’s going to slow him down racing to a crime. Unlike his super-colleague, who compresses his civilian garb and hides it in his cape but you still have to wonder what he does that with his glasses and notepad?

Usually, the most traditional super-hero has to stash their civvies before going into action. Often in an air vent, roof, wall overhang, trash unit or alley where they did the switch. The new costumes certainly don’t allow such privacy as revealed in the super-hero films. Then again, having zoot-suits made out of leather than materials like spandex doesn’t endear to solving the problem. Leather is a poor choice of material as even the actors complained they were far too hot and couldn’t move very fast in them. Not the best choice of fabric but I’m sure there are better more flexible stronger materials out there.

It’s a shame that in the Marvel Universe film version, the use of Reed Richards’ unstable molecules material that adapts to the wearer’s super-power has never come up. That way it can stretch, survive burning or extreme cold. Whether it is odour-free has never been stated. If damaged, a few stitches and, give it time, the material will re-bond. Mind you, it never explains where the likes of Captain America or Hawkeye’s bell-bottom boots go. Over-shoes must be a problem unless they want to wear the same colour boots all the time.

Wearing Kevlar is almost an essential to keep bullets out but not very good with knives or anything slow moving. Steel plate is even better against explosives and energy blasts. Examples of that can be seen in the military but it has to be balanced about loss of speed. Packing the knuckles of gloves with lead not only protects them gives some real clout in a fight. If you’ve ever played any of the ‘Batman Arkham Asylum’ games, life is safer if you can thump conventional felons a couple times to ensure they stay down. Queensberry rules don’t apply. You have to play to win because they will certainly attempt to kill you if you don’t.

So the modern day super-hero has had to bulk up his costume. More so, if you don’t want to be shot down. Imagine Bruce Wayne wearing a suit over his current costume. He might as well have a sign over his head as to who he is and I doubt if an explanation that it’s a bulletproof vest will last for long. As a consequence, you’re limiting the time you can get to, let alone get into costume for an immediate battle.

This does work both ways, of course. Getting around the city looking like everyone else means no interest from the police or even groupies who want selfies and it gives you downtime to relax. In costume, it also means you’re on the look-out for trouble and often trouble finds you first. Wearing a super-hero costume is equivalent to wearing a sign saying shoot me. It’s more amazing that few if any aren’t shot by a sniper.

In the Silver and Golden Ages, there was almost like an unwritten gentlemen’s agreement between super-hero and super-villain as to how much violence one could inflict on the other. That didn’t mean the super-villain couldn’t try to imprison or kill the super-hero, just not physically damage them too much. Today’s comicbooks are a bit more realistic on that front. As much as Alan Moore doesn’t like to admit it, both his series ‘Watchmen’ and ‘The Killing Joke’ shows what comicbook violence was really about. Everything from eye gourging to broken limbs and that was when Nite-Owl and Silk Spectre were in civvies. You can’t play nice. It hurts and puts you in hospital or the morgue if you don’t ultimately win quickly.

In many respects, today’s super-heroes cannot spontaneously spring into action when a super-villain is in the act of villainy. Considering that so many super-heroes patrol at night, it is in the super-villain’s favour to do such actions when they are least likely to be attacked. Mind you, as the likes of the Avengers are active all the time, that might be a problem. Patrolling the same route each night and people will spot your habit and could end up again with a sniper’s bullet. A lot easier than getting into a fight.

Being a super-hero without resources when you have a variety of weaponry to finance is also a problem. All the invention in the world doesn’t help unless there is the means to finance the home laboratory or engineering workshop. Buying in equipment can also point to your civilian identity, more so if you need your kit fast. As much of the super-hero kit is custom-built and sometimes expendable, there is a need to fit time to make sure things into a busy schedule. I haven’t even touched on how much it all costs.

All of the above applies to humans as super-heroes. It would be better to have an edge like being super-human. To just be invulnerable to bullet fire is a big advantage. Able to dodge bullets gives an equal standing. Of course, if you’re built that way, whether you are in super-hero clothes or civvies, you’re going to stand out from the ordinary person. The super-hero world is not fair and it’s amazing if anyone is left standing, especially as the super-villain keeps up with his own garb and finance by theft.

© GF Willmetts 2017

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.