One of the things I try to teach my students when creating characters is how important it is that the hero carry around some sort of secret, and not just a boring little secret like he wet the bed until he was 12 (he’s 25 now, who cares?) or that he doesn’t like cats (YAWN), or that he likes watching Nazi documentaries (really?), but something that could cause serious repercussions if discovered, like he killed someone or he a secret double agent spy, or he was the one who pulled the switch on the gas chambers in WW2 Germany, or that he’s secretly a superhero!
Superheroes have—for the most part—used the secret identity as that secret the character carries around, and to good effect, too. I mean, when Doc Ock discovered Peter Parker was Spider-Man, he kidnapped Aunt May! Green Goblin, of course, was responsible for the death of Gwen Stacy >sniff<. If the world knew Batman was Bruce Wayne…well, Alfred would be in a whole lotta trouble. There are exceptions, of course: the Fantastic Four’s identities have always been known.
So what is the deal with all the film superheroes revealing their secret ids? It seems like the “in” thing to do as a superhero on film is to tell everyone your secret…therefore making it not really secret anymore. Part of the whole intrigue and draw of masked heroes is that they have this cool thing that they can’t (or don’t) share with anyone…and the reason they do it is to protect the ones they love. It’s called EMPATHY…we sympathize with their plight and feel for them and thus cheer for them.
But I guarantee you that everyone has some secret. Think about your own. No, I’m not asking to turn this blog into a confessional in the comments below, but you know you have one. And no, I’m not telling you mine, either—cause then it wouldn’t be SECRET anymore! So, you’ve got your secret in your head…now look around you. Everyone else has one, too. SOMETHING. I dunno what it is, but everyone has them.
But I guarantee you that when the new Superman: Man of Steel movie comes out next year, there will be a small handful of people that find out. I don’t know who, but that’s the trend of superhero movies, so you can write the date down and say you heard it here first.
And Superman will be a little less sympathetic because of it…