Secret Identities

By | Sunday, December 09, 2007 2 comments
So, I've been fazing in and out of lucidity the past few days thanks to a flu bug and I ended up zoning out on the movie Sky High -- Disney's answer to the superhero genre movie. A couple of things struck me as I was watching: 1) All of the cast members playing teachers should've been former superhero actors themselves: Burt Ward, William Katt, Lou Ferrigno. Lynda Carter was a nice touch, but how cool would it have been to have an Adam West retirement party where he meets his successor, Michael Keaton? 2) I really hated high school, and I'd be perfectly content if I was never reminded about it every again. 3) Secret identities for superheroes are no longer plausible. (At least here in the U.S.)

I'm sure you've all seen some riff on "Why was Lois Lane never able to figure Superman and Clark Kent were the same person? He's just wearing glasses!" But if a comic is purporting to reflect today's society, then the notion of keeping a secret identity is ludicrous.

We are captured on film every day. Security cameras, camcorders, cell phones, increasing news outlets... Cameras are so ubiquitous to our culture as to be invisible, even when they're in plain view. Which means that a person, even in some kind of mask, is going to be seen by someone even in the middle of the night. Furthermore, a hero in today's society is going to become an instant celebrity, meaning that people will be going out of their way to record their actions.

Now, there's going to be someone out there who take so great an interest in the superhero that they're going to start tracking their movements. Easy enough to do with readily available tools like GoogleMaps. Inevitably, the hero's going to develop a pattern of some sort and it wouldn't be at all difficult to triangulate on a central area of interest. A base of operations, if you will.

Then it would only be a matter of doing some pattern recognition between images of the hero and images of residents of that area. And while that might not garner a 100% guaranteed identity, it will narrow the field of candidates considerably, allowing someone to focus on a handful of individuals for closer scrutiny.

I don't think it would take long at all for a Batman or a Booster Gold to be uncovered. It might take a little longer for a shapershifter (Martian Manhunter) or someone whose costume hides their features (Iron Man) but I think that, in today's world, somebody would make it a point to track these guys down. Heck, Peter David did almost that exact story over 20 years ago in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #103, and two decades of technological improvements have made things infinitely easier to sort through and analyze data.

Heh. Yet another instance of Jack Kirby being ahead of his time, ditching the notion of secret identities back in the 1960s!
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Pj Perez said...

I suppose it would be too much for us to maintain our suspension of disbelief for comics, even these days? I mean, if we're going to impose all sorts of modern-era logic on comic book superheroes, then we may as well do away with unexplainable superpowers (control over weather, laser beams shooting from eyes, um ... everything else) and then we're left with ... The Punisher?

Anonymous said...

Cell phone cameras and YouTube would make it even easier. There's a science fiction story where the protagonist is a private detective/data analyst, and all she does is sift through the web for different images with the same person in them, to reconstruct his life. "Right, we know he was in Vienna on Oct. 4th -- time to fire up the face-recognition software and start trolling through people's vacation photographs for a guy in the background who looks like our man...aha, here he is checking into a hostel...two hours later he was at a cafe where somebody was having a birthday party...oh, great luck, there was a major traffic accident that day, hundreds of feeds, there he is running away with a black attache case in his hand...wait, who's the woman he's got with him? Let's get a close-up of her face..."