Maintaining a superhero secret identity in the real world.

Comic-book Superheroes seem to have it easy when it comes to leading a double life. All Clark Kent had to do was wear a suit and glasses, and suddenly he looked nothing like Superman (duh?!). However, my recent childish musings have lead me to wonder how a superhero would cope in the real world. Would it actually be possible to hide your true identity?

Assume that my powers were pretty much similar to those of the Man of Steel - everything bar the eye-beams and super-breath - and assume that I am the first and apparently only super-human in the world. Finally - assume that my powers are innate, and not the result of government experimentation or alien influence.

Assuming all that, my powers would obviously lay a huge responsibility on my shoulders - I’d be able to fight crime, I could go to war-torn areas an disable tanks without killing the soldiers inside - I could fly to disaster areas and make a huge difference to relief efforts by lifting collapsed building or flying in food and medicine to otherwise unreachable areas. In short - I’d be compelled to aid humanity as best as I could.

However, the sudden appearance of a person with super-human powers would undoubtedly cause shock and fear across the world. The Media would go into a feeding frenzy, conspiracy theorists would think they’d died and gone to heaven, and the average joe on the street wouldn’t know if I was a blessing or a dangerous menace.

Even worse, every government intelligence agency on the planet would be doing their damndest to find out everything they could about me. Who I am, where I came from, who my family are, who I’m working for, what my agenda is, what my political and religious leanings are. Heck, if they could, they’d find out long my pecker is and what I had for breakfast.

So with the eyes of the world on you - with all this intense scrutiny, and with the media-intensive world in which we live today, could such a person ever hope to protect his private life and the lives of those he loves? If anyone found out who I was, my private life would be over. My family would never know a moment’s peace, and may very well be in physical danger.

So how best to deal with it? I think I’d basically have three options:

  1. If I basically ignore the media and just burst upon the world with a mask and a great right hook. I just never say a word to anyone and went about my daily business of fighting crime and injustice. Even my voice and accent would give away clues as to who I am, but deliberate silence would invite mass speculation about my identity and motives, and I’d probably be vulnerable to copycats. After all, if I wear a mask, anyone could claim to be me, right? uh, unless I flew, of course…

  2. How about if I called Press-conference at the very beginning and read a prepared statement to the world? I’d pre-emptively answer some of the more obvious questions, but refuse to reveal my identity, and refuse to answer any more questions. Any appeals to respect my privacy will likely fall on deaf ears, but I could at least give it a shot. Press-conferences could become regular affairs, and would deal with the latest questions/speculations of the day.

  3. I forget about Privacy altogether and accept the inevitable. I accept the loss of personal freedom as part of the price for my powers, and I basically give up hope of ever having a normal life, or a life that I and my family could call our own. I give up hope of ever having a meaningful relationship, and basically submit to the hell that is international super-stardom.

So - those are my thoughts on modern-super-hero-hood, as admittedly puerile and inane as they may be. How do you think such a person would fare in the real world?

Well, you just told us about your secret identity, so obviously you lucked out :wink:

Personally I think it’s virtually impossible to obscure your identity, unless you’re really paranoid about it and make absolutely sure there are no witnesses around when you change back to your “regular” alter ego. That seems to be quite problematic, especially in a big city, where unwanted eyes are always around.

I would try to hide my secret identity from the public, but since I can’t really keep a secret when I am excited, I’d tell a few people and naturally they would tell other peoplly, totally confidential of course. Before long, everybody would know :frowning:

“peoplly” are - you’ve guessed it - people :wink:

Are we further assuming that the world lacks super-powered evil-doers?

That’s right, it’s just me. Not really fair for the bad guys, I guess, but life’s tough enough for a superhero as it is…

One of the advantage of Superman like powers would be his speed. Tha could help quite a lot in keeping your identity secret. You could just pop out of the room for two minutes, but fly to the other side of the world, and appear in front of a tv camera. Gives you a good alibi.

Also, superman speed would be very useful for changing in and out of your superhero outfit. I’m sure slower superheroes would find it difficult to avoid CCTV cameras when getting changed.

I think with a mask and superspeed you could fool the press, but like you point out, your voice would probably be cracked by the intelligenec agencies. They could record you, and then wait for you to make a phone call. Project Echelon would tell them exactly where you are. Even if you didn’t speak, you might leave a hair strand behind at a the scene of a heroic rescue, and leave yourself open to DNA fingerprinting.

I suppose you could go public, but I that would spoil some of the fun of being a superhero. You wouldn’t be able to do that bar-room brawl scene that you get in most action movies. You couldn’t abuse your x-ray vision if everyone knew about it. All the women you knew would wear lead lined underware.

What would be worse though, would be if you kept your identity secret, and then the press claimed someone else was you.

What would be even worse than that is if I made my identity known, then some sick wacko accuses me of something really nasty (like paedophilia or rape) in order to sell the story and get rich quick. Remember this is the real world we’re talking about, and similar things have happened to everyday, garden-variety celebs…

There really isn’t a way to keep your identity secret if someone wanted to find it out (there was an article in Asimov’s SF awhile back that discussed the details, and the technology has advanced immensely). You even can determine what someone looks like behind a mask.

Frank Miller realized this way back when he redesigned Superman. People in that world just assumed that Superman was always Superman and had no secret identity.

But this is superman. He doesn’t need oxygen or visible light. Forget wearing a mask, or a loose, padded outfit, to disguise yourself, he could fly around wearing a house. Or sit on the moon and throw pebbles at bad guys.

why would you want to?

Part of the answer will depend on how you see yourself as the hero. Are you so worried about your image that you would feel it necessary to defend against every baseless claim? Or do you simply let your overt deeds speak for themselves?

The biggest worry with getting your private identity out is family. That child-raping drug lord you just put out of business, after destroying $6 billion worth of crops, is not going to hit you directly. That’s useless. But he is going to hurt you, through family, friends, etc. Everyone you’ve ever spoken to is a target. Of course, if your identity is secret, then literally everybody becomes a target. Do you internalize this, or do you treat it like the terrorism it really is?

Lastly, there is the problem of maintaining the secret identity, knowing every journalist and spook is going to be trying to determine it. You’ve got to sweep everywhere you ever go to ensure you are leaving no DNA behind. You have to avoid cameras, both in and out of costume. You have to totally randomize your life.

Won’t be easy, that’s for sure

Why no eye-beams and super-breath?

Using the first option, there wouldn’t be much of a problem for you. Zoom in at speed, do the job, zoom out. Nobody hears your voice, nobody sees your face or general build. The only way anybody would get any photos of you would be if they had a high-speed camera hidden at the scene of a crime in progress.

Granted, there would be suspicion, but what do you care? They can’t catch you, can’t hurt you, and half the population probably doesn’t even BELIEVE in you. Wear an outfit that covers your whole body, so you won’t drop hairs for the CSI folks to examine.

The major drawback would be that you’d be limited in your ability to find work that needed doing, because you’d have no standing with the police or other information-gathering agencies. Granted, you could always break in and read the files, but that’s not the same as being able to consult with people who know the business.

Taking your second option, I would suggest making some sort of contact with someone in an official position (a “Commissioner Gordon” type), and letting him be your public mouthpiece. He’s already used to dealing with the media (or has flunkies to do it), and you can consult with him by phone or by arranged meeting.
He’d be motivated not to double-cross you by the fact that he gains status and power by being “the guy who can call in Superman”. He wouldn’t want you to take your business elsewhere.

The extreme case would be to show up at the White House and brief the president on your plans and motives. Catch him when he’s outdoors, away from recording devices, and arrange future meetings to similar standards. Your super-senses will come in handy for confirming this.

I don’t really have much to add, except to say that The Smoking Gun would have your real name and identity in about 2 days. Those guys are good :smiley: