Musing on Superheroes

Happy Henchmas!

I’m rather excited for tonight’s Henchmas dinner. It’s always so much fun to get together and share each others company and see what weird, creative, and geeky gifts we got one another.

Now, I have a theory on a couple of super heroes and want your thoughts. See, most superheroes have a secret identity to protect themselves and their families. Keeping in mind that different writers will write the characters or re-imagine them every few years, I still find myself reflecting on the juxtaposition between Batman and Superman. Tell me what you think.

I always feel that Batman is Batman. Bruce Wayne is just a façade Batman puts up with in order to fund his nights as Batman. He understands that Bruce is necessary and part of his life, but it’s not WHO he is. He’s Batman.

Superman, on the other hand, is Clark Kent. He wants to be Clark, he likes his life as Clark. Superman is a face he puts on in order to be able to save people. He’d rather not be Superman, it’s just what he has to do to keep his loved ones safe while he is out saving the world. He understands that Superman is a symbol, not a man. Superman isn’t who he is, it’s what he has to be. He’s really Clark.

So that’s my thought. What about other Superheroes? I’m always trying to decide if Spiderman is Peter or Spidey. I lean towards Spidey though. Wonder Woman is a hard call, partly because there are so many versions of her, but overall, she seems to be Wonder Woman more than Diana. Any others?


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jaime
    Dec 23, 2010 @ 15:10:37

    As far as Batman and Superman…it does depend on which incarnation you’re looking at.

    In the 80’s and 90’s Batman seemed to hate both sides of himself. There were a lot of dream sequences where an 8-yr-old Bruce Wayne was being menaced by the Batman. And the playboy is definitely a facade. You could look at it as Bruce Wayne died or stopped at age 8. Creating the alter-ego of Batman is sort of a childish method of coping with a world that got thrown into chaos by the death of his parents, but at the same time, he is still scared of what he will become if he gives himself entirely over to being Batman. The real Bruce Wayne is either dead or lost in the various personalities he has developed (Batman, the playboy, Matches Malone, etc.). But again, that depends on the incarnation you are looking at. JLA Batman is pretty zen and seems to have a balance. Asylum Batman shows a man barely hanging on at the edge of sanity and his coping mechanism (Batman) is both his bane and his savior.

    Superman kind of grapples with similar issues. He really is Superman, no matter what he does, he isn’t like everyone else. He was raised as Clark Kent, and as much as he might yearn for that simple farm-boy lifestyle and carry on its ideals, it really isn’t him. It’s never going to be attainable because he can’t put aside being Superman. It’s too much a part of him. I kind of think of him as being Kal-El, not really in the son of Krypton sense, but the people who know him well, know that it’s his real name and it’s kind of more who he is rather than either the nerdy Clark or the overly windy Big Blue. The new Superman Earth One sort of touches on that when his mom tells him that his everyday persona will be the mask. He always has to pretend to be meek and clumsy when really he is every bit as self-assured and intelligent as Superman. So again, I guess in either persona he doesn’t really get to be himself unless he is around the people who actually know his secret.

    Spidey is Peter Parker. He is always torn by the responsibilites being Spidey imposes upon him, but Peter Parker didn’t really change his attitude once he became Spidey. Spidey might be more of a smartass, which is Peter feeling more confident in his super-hero role, but Peter is just a guy in a mask with powers.

    WonderWoman is her persona…Diana Whateverherlastnameis is the secret identity she created for herself once she left the Amazons. But unlike Superman, she comes from a society where she was one of them. Her creation story is a little unique and she might be a paragon of Amazon society, but she still fits in and doesn’t really grapple with her self-identity as much as Supes or Bats does.

    Marvel I think has more superheroes that are simply themselves, they just put on masks to fight crime. DC seems to have more of the psychologically complex/damaged individuals.

    But that’s just my take. And thanks, that was a fun little diversion since DCU online is down.


  2. Liz
    Dec 23, 2010 @ 16:40:34


    Superman doesn’t want to be the cape, Batman IS the cape, Spiderman doesn’t think he can be and isn’t sure if he wants to be, and Darkwing WANTS to be the cape but doesn’t really believe that he is or ever can be.


    I wish I knew more about superhero backstories – I never got in to comics as a kid (not because I didn’t want to but for entirely different reasons that have nothing to do with this discussion). So keep in mind that this is from a somewhat limited perspective.

    Clark is an interesting one – he was Clark before he was ever Superman. True, he grew up needing to hide certain powers and so that aspect of himself was protected but the Clark persona was never a disguise until AFTER he donned the cape. Clark became the bumbling, less assured, etc man AFTER the cape was donned. Superman wants to be every-man, average joe; he wants to be Clark but not necessarily the post-cape-Clark that he portrays to others.

    Batman doesn’t don the mask out of reluctant responsibility – he does it for the freedom. The mask allows him to be more himself (vengeance / justice personified) than Bruce ever would. As Bruce he is bound by laws and society. As Batman, he is bound only to his own conscience. Bruce is the disguise that the cowl protects.

    Here’s one: Darkwing Duck aka Drake Mallard. (What can I say? Once a disney kid, always a disney kid) While he was originally created to be a batman knockoff, he has some very distinct personality traits that stand him well apart. Darkwing was my first introduction to what has become one of my favorite hero tropes – the wanna be hero.

    Drake wants to be the hero. Wants it desperately. But he knows he’ll never measure up and that anything he does is only a pretense. Rather than becoming the angsty/emo hero (spiderman, anyone?), he covers by donning a second mask – the raging egomaniac. Somewhere deep, DEEP down, he may believe that it’s all an act – that one day he’ll fail and the world will see that he’s not the hero he pretends to be – but he’ll never admit it to anyone – least of all himself. As far as he is concerned, he IS Darkwing Duck, the terror that flaps in the night – evil beware.

    Peter is much the same as Drake – he wants to be the mask but isn’t sure he can be – but, rather than shrouding himself in a cloud of egocentricity, Peter just vacillates back and forth. That’s why it’s so hard to tell which is the persona – the persona itself keeps changing; sometimes the mask is Spiderman, sometimes it’s Peter.


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