Cape, Tights and Cowl: The Secret Identity

One of the most common attributes (and argued by some as THE defining trait) of a superhero is their secret identity. Superman’s secret identity is Clark Kent. Bruce Wayne is the man behind Batman. Barbara Gordon, Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown and then Barbara G again have all held the Batgirl mantle.

batgirl-000-19(From Batgirl #0 by Gail Simone and art by Ed Benes)

What’s up with the secret identity?

Secret identities were created to protect the loved ones of superheroes as well as themselves. Villains, the media and even agencies such as the government all have reasons to know who the city’s champion is behind the mask to either regulate them, parade them for ratings or destroy them. I found that the use and even the definition of secret identities have evolved and grown from their appearance along side our first superhero in the late 1930s.

How exactly?

Well let’s look at the example of Wonder Woman. When she first appeared in 1941, William Moulton Marston (pen name Charles Moulton) gave Princess Diana of Themyscira (or “Wonder Woman” to Man’s World) a secret identity as Diana Prince, an army nurse. At some point, Diana Prince as a secret identity disappeared where she was Wonder Woman all the time. She called herself Diana of Themyscira which is how she introduced herself when first coming to Man’s World in her signature costume but Wonder Woman was what people ended up bestowing her with. My point is that at some point (I think it started during George Perez’s run but definitely during Greg Rucka’s) Wonder Woman had no “regular Jane” identity but still functioned as a superhero. One could argue that there were downsides such as loved ones getting hurt but you could also say that she didn’t lose loved ones due to a secret double life. This is where the need of secret identity in order for something to be superhero story is challenged.

wonder woman

Another example would be Batman and the question of  “Who’s really Bruce Wayne?”. I saw a documentary on the History Channel called Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of the Dark Knight and one of the things it discussed was who was the secret identity? Is it Batman or Bruce Wayne? Many people (including myself and the documentary) believe that Bruce Wayne is the mask whereas Batman is his true self. This is different from the inception of superheroes where in order to protect oneself and other, you’d wear a mask a create this persona for yourself.  When Bob Kane with the Help of Bill Finger created our caped crusader, the reason for his costume is explained. He wants to strike fear into the heart of criminals and thus making Batman a tool to fight crime. These days however, Bruce Wayne is now the tool to make sure suspicious is thrown off of Batman and this can be seen in the amount of time he wants to spend in the Bat suit and that part of his life versus the philanthropist billionaire playboy. I’m sure if he could, he’d eat, sleep and breathe Batman 24/7.

(I suggest watching this. It’s a really great documentary. I also suggest watching The Science of Superman)

The secret identity has been the staple characteristic of superheroes that has created memorable and iconic symbols we recognize today such as the ripping open of Clark Kent’s shirt to reveal the Superman sign or going into the phone booth to change into Superman. The notion of the secret identity has been infused with deeper meanings but also challenges it’s existence or need for one. For me, I find that having a dual identity adds some personal conflict to our heroes by having them judging two lives and their need to save people as well as have a life of their own with some form of normalcy.

So what do you guys think of the secret identity? Need it? Love it? Has it changed or remained the same for you?

A. A. Omer

P.S.

I forgot to mention Tony Stark who side stepped the whole “secret identity” thing by announcing to everyone that he’s Iron Man.

SUPER BOOK FEATURE DAY 2 – Batman: No Man’s Land

BNML

I don’t know if I can write down how much I love this book without becoming incoherent.

This book was my first introduction to Greg Rucka and I’ve read a few of the comics he’s worked on. His run on Wonder Woman got me to fall in love with the character since I wasn’t a fan of hers before then (I didn’t know her well enough and had eyes only of Batman). He also wrote “Gotham Central” which is one of those comics that I beg and plead people to read because it’s SO GOOD (I was irritated that it wasn’t turned into a show after Smallville ended). He’s just a phenomenal writer all around and has a new comic book series coming out called Lazarus.

Greg Rucka’s Batman: No Man’s Land is a novelization of a few story arcs that were published by DC Comics:

Batman: No Man’s Land #1

Batman #560-574 (December 1998-February 2000)

Detective Comics #727-741 (December 1998-February 2000)

Batman: Shadow of the Bat #80-94 (December 1998-February 2000)

Legends of the Dark Knight #1 16-126 (April 1999-February 2000)

The below were featured in the novel as adaptions or inspiration:

Batman: Chronicles #16-18 (April, July and October 1999)

Batman: Harley Quinn (September 1999)

Batman: No Man’s Land #0 (October 1999)

It’s a great book that has all of the elements of a Batman comic but what’s really great about it as a novel is that the story gets fleshed out more as well as the characters. You’re spending more time with these characters than you normally would and the storyline is engaging, action packed and wonderfully paced. I couldn’t put it down. Even though it’s a Batman story, you don’t spend the entire time with him or in his head. In fact, there are multiple POVs (point of views) in the story such as Barbara Gordon, the Comissioner, Renee Montoya etc which enriches it even more.

I honestly tried reading the graphic novel version of No Man’s Land to compare the two but honestly? I found it boring after reading the novel (only read Vol. 1). I strongly recommend reading this if you’re new to comics and the only knowledge you’d need is the basics. If you’ve watched at least one Batman cartoon series (or know someone who did and talks about it none stop) then you’re good to go.

Did I mention the plot because the way everything ties up at the end is just…GAH. I’m just in awe.

I should end this before I become blabbering Fangirl.

You can find Greg Rucka on his Twitter and site. Also check out his other novels.

A. A. Omer

Super Resources: The Sidekicks to Your Superhero Needs!

Just as the superheroes of the DC Universe had Oracle, here are some sites and places that will feed your superhero cravings as well as keep you informed. These sites are awesome and I suggest visiting them often!

Run by the fantastic Sue, DC Women Kicking Ass is a site dedicated to showcasing female comic book characters as well as discussing the countless issues these women face in as well as outside of the pages. It’s a great source of information and there is even a time (I think it’s normally on Sundays) where Sue goes through her inbox to answer questions that people may have. This was one of the first sites I visited when I first started out a few years ago. Although it’s largely DC focused, there are posts and discussions on Marvel characters and other publishers as well. She’s also on Twitter!

If I want to know about comics, video games, movies and/or shows, I tend to visit ComicBookResources. It’s not focused on just superheroes but comics in general. There are reviews, clips and columns/blogs as well such as She Has No Head! by Kelly Thompson. You can also follow them on Twitter. So go check them out.

I think the name says it all. It’s a site all about superheroes with forums, news and features such as 9 Things You May Not Know About The Iron Man Series. They even have a page dedicated to individual heroes and if you click on one, you’ll get all of their articles regarding on him/her.

My good friend Christa has a Sunday strip on her blog where she reviews comics. It’s a great place for newbies to check out as well as have discussions on the particular comic via her comments section.

  • Comic Book Stores

When you feel ready to dive into the world of your favourite superheroes, I suggest reading some comics. It’s the medium that gave birth to the genre so why not? In Toronto, there are great places to go but I suggest The Silver Snail and Cyber City Comix. The Silver Snail has been around for a long time and it’s one of the most known comic books stores in the city and even the country. They have two locations (one has a cafe!) and the people there are eager to help you. They were even linked to the Comics and Cartoons course at York University as a resource for students. If you’re more north of the city then I suggest heading over to Cyber City Comix. The owner and staff are fantastic. I went there when I started out and they were great at helping me (as well as enduring the countless questions I had). The customers are just as great and I suggest giving yourself an hour there because you’ll find yourself talking to everyone on the latest comic book news or whether or not Batman can beat Superman. So check out the stores near you and don’t be afraid to shop around for the one that fits you.

Don’t want to buy print comics? Then I really suggest checking out Comixology. It’s a great place to buy eComics and they have a lot deals throughout the year. I found that buying printing every month was taking a lot of space in my house so I decided to only buy print for special issues.

These are the resources that I’ve used personally and I’m sure I’ve pissed a few. I’ll continue to update this but if you have sites or other form of resource that people should check out, add them to the comments section.A. A. Omer

Guest Post: 5 Comics Newbies Should Try

1. Captain Marvel by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Dexter Soy, Emma Rios, and Filipe Andrade

captain marvel

On this list of superhero comics, very few of these entries can be defined as “conventional.” Childcare, turkey soldiers, and a golden retriever with a taste for pizza are just a few elements to the more “unconventional” cape stories.  Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel stands out from this oddball group because it is definitely the most conventional, but don’t for one moment think that it’s anything but refreshingly original.

The series, which just recently hit its twelfth issue, is bold, brash, brave, and bombastic. The opening arc, illustrated by Dexter Soy’s water colors (1-4) and Emma Rios’ emotive pencils (5-6), dives into Carol Danvers’ history, psyche, and new identity as Captain Marvel. Not only does the arc accessibly takes readers through “Carol Danvers 101,” but it also acts as a love letter from Carol to the people who’ve inspired her. Subsequent arcs focus further on Carol’s brilliant supporting cast and her love of flight. DeConnick negotiates impressive character work all while giving Carol some gigantic robots and city-stomping dinosaurs to punch. Captain Marvel by Kelly Sue DeConnick is all about flash, substance, and a little bit zest too.

Captain Marvel’s first volume, In Pursuit of Flight, is available in stores or on Amazon for under $10. The next Captain Marvel arc, the five-part Enemy Within, begins in May with a non-Captain Marvel one-shot—Avengers: The Enemy Within #1. It will then traverse through June and July’s issues of Captain Marvel and the DeConnick-penned Avengers Assemble.

2. Batman and… by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason

Batman and Robin 18

With the death of Batman’s son and sidekick, Damian Wayne, comes the birth of a sort of new series. Now lacking in the “Robin” department, the Batman and Robin title no longer makes much sense as named. For the past month and the next four months, Batman has been and will be accompanying his batty allies down psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief. Transitioning from March’s Batman and Robin #18, April saw Batman deal with “Denial” in Batman and Red Robin #19. Subsequent issues will be May’s Batman and Red Hood #20 (“Anger”), June’s Batman and Batgirl #21 (“Bargaining”), July’s Batman and Catwoman #22 (“Depression”), and August’s Batman and Nightwing #23 (“Acceptance”).

Since the arc has just begun, I cannot vouch for the quality of future issues, but I can speak for the deeply emotional artwork by Patrick Gleason and the nuanced writing of Peter Tomasi. These five issues should act as a novice-ready tour around Batman and his Batfamily. Never read a Batman comic and want to get to know his allies? In just five issues, the Batman and… series will introduce old and new readers alike to Batman’s world. Even if Batman’s world is a little darker than usual after the death of his son.

Batman and… began earlier this month with Batman and Red Robin #19. You can follow the series fresh as of next month!

3. Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja

hawkeye

One of Hawkeye’s (few) distinctly memorable moments in The Avengers movie is the scene in which he falls off a building (in slow-motion, of course), shoots a grappling arrow, and maneuvers his way quasi-safely into the solid ground of a building.

In the first issue of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye series, Clint Barton (Hawkeye) takes a similar shot. The grapple hits and he swings right into a building wall. He then tumbles down, falling ass backwards onto the roof of a car. The opening line? “Okay, this looks bad.”

The series is one that focuses entirely on Clint’s life outside of the Avengers. He mingles with his neighbors, befriends “pizza dogs,” and gets into all sorts of shenanigans with younger Hawkeye Kate Bishop.

The title shines brightly against other cape comics because it is fearlessly original. The gorgeous aesthetic, breathed to life by David Aja (and sometimes Javier Pulido), evokes the style of an indie book. Amidst all the style and swag the book has to offer, however, is a genuine amount of heart. The core of it is a guy, and sometimes a gal, constantly trying to do the right thing. Even if that means braving Hurricane Katrina.

Hawkeye’s first volume (#1-5), My Life as a Weapon, came out in March. Although there are loosely-defined themes and sometimes arcs, the book’s format makes each single issue extraordinarily new reader accessible (really), so feel free to hop right in May!

4. FF by Matt Fraction and Michael Allred

FF

It’s really hard to follow up this review after Hawkeye, because so much of what makes Hawkeye great also makes FF great: Matt Fraction, niche art style, incredible character work, and a sterling sense of humor.

If Hawkeye oozes style, FF explodes with it. The expressive, retro-style pencils by Michael Allred and high-octane colors by Laura Allred are reason enough to pick up this series alone. Scratch that, the way they illustrate the appropriately muscular She-Hulk is reason alone to buy FF.

The basic plot of FF? Team Fantastic Four needed a vacation in outer space, and they chose Ant-Man, She-Hulk, Medusa, and pop star Darla Deering to take their place for a measly four minutes. Except it’s not four minutes. So the new Future Foundation (FF) is left in charge to save the world (on occasion) and manage, teach, and care for the rascally kids of the FF.

Much like Hawkeye (again), the series manages to pack a boatload of fun into each issue, all whilst sneaking in a larger, more serious arc in under the readers’ noses. It’s a refreshing break from the predominantly “grim and gritty” landscape of superhero comics today.

The first three issues of FF are included in the trade Fantastic Four vol. 1, and individual issues of FF #4-6 should still be in stores.

5. The Movement by Gail Simone and Freddie Williams II

The Movement

In order to give a full, ringing endorsement of this series, I would probably need a crystal ball. You see, The Movement hasn’t actually come out yet.

However, there is no better place for a new or lapsed reader to start than at a #1 issue!

Based on research and numerous interviews, however, there are many reasons to believe The Movement will be worth checking out.

  1. When Gail Simone is given a playground of her own, magic happens. Her critically acclaimed pre-New 52 Secret Six series is a testament to this.
  2. The hook: a bunch of poor, marginalized teen metahumans are pissed and striking out against authority. Fight the power!
  3. This looks to function like an indie book. All of the currently revealed cast appears to be of Simone’s own creation, and there has yet to be an issue solicited where Batman makes an appearance.
  4. Hate DC’s lack of diversity? Confirmed members of The Movement are a black female, a Laotian female, a Bengali asexual female, and likely even more varied characters that have yet to be revealed.
  5. The released preview art by Freddie Williams II looks both gritty and gorgeous. Possibly the perfect fit for this book?
  6. One of my personal pet peeves in “young hero” books are some writers’ total inability to write young characters. In DC continuity, there are young heroes in the 31st century with winning names such as “Lightning Lass” and “Element Lad.” Whenever I’m having a rough day, I think of that and start laughing. I don’t want to imagine a future in which teens are called “lads” and “lasses.” It’s pretty evident the legion characters were created 70 years ago.
  7. Simone’s recent ComicBookResources reveals that she intends to write her modern characters as if they are actually modern characters. “Again, my thinking is, what would happen if a group like the Teen Titans or the X-Men were created today? These groups were created for the kids of fifty years ago. Most of the readership wasn’t even alive then, and as much as I love both those groups, I think a teen hero book today should look and feel different, should feel like something from today’s world.”

The Movement’s first issue comes out May 1st!

BONUS: Batman: Li’l Gotham by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs

Batman_Lil-Gotham_1

Some of the aforementioned comics are new and others are…less new. Batman: Li’l Gotham is both! Commemorating a holiday once a month with a quasi-chibi-style art style and “Back to Basics Gotham” continuity, this series has been a digital one since October 2012. The success of the series has doubled its installments to twice a month, and, as of last month, there’s a monthly floppy copy reprinting the initially digital series.

What’s so great about this out-of-continuity story? Well, one part is the “out-of-continuity” part!

Want Damian Wayne alive? Miss Harley Quinn’s old outfit and personality? Want to maybe (depending on editorial requests) catch a glimpse of the New 52 benched characters Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain (only on a printed cover, though)? Or maybe even obscure characters from Batman: The Animated Series? Then Li’l Gotham is home for you!

It’s also one of the very few Batman universes where there’s more joy than darkness. On Thanksgiving, Penguin leads a turkey revolt. For Christmas, Mr. Freeze attempts to “rescue” orphans. And on New Years’, the Gotham City Sirens (Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, and Catwoman) take a “girls’ night out” romp across the city. More than any other cape comic on the stands, Li’l Gotham captures the unbridled joy of the Batman animated television universe that no doubt drew many comic readers to their first actual comic book.

To read Batman: Li’l Gotham, either pick up the individual digital issues for $0.99 on Comixology.com, or starting picking up the monthly two-story floppy series, which debuted in April!

Jon Christianson

You can follow Jon on Twitter

Super Author Kelly Thompson Answers Questions!

Author Kelly Thompson, The Girl Who Would Be King, was gracious enough to answer my superhero inspired questions. Up, up and away we go!

1. Did you grow up reading, watching and/or obsessing over superheroes?

I didn’t really “grow up” with them, so much as my brother and I discovered them via the 90’s X-Men Cartoon – so my first look at a superheroine was Rogue flying around a mall and punching sentinels in the face – and it was love at first sight! But I was already 15, so I’d wasted so much of my youth already! Shortly thereafter my brother discovered comics after seeing one of the cartoon characters on the cover of a comic book at the mall. He brought it home and I fell in love again, but this time with comics. Superheroes pretty much became my life. What can we learn from this story? Clearly, malls were important to my teenage development. 🙂

2. Do you have a favourite superhero? If yes, who?
 
If I can only pick one I have to go with Batman. If I can have a few then I’d add Cassandra Cain/Batgirl, Rogue, Wonder Woman, Emma Frost.
 
3. If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
 
If it has to be just one, then I’d go with flight. As someone that’s had several flying dreams, I am confident that flight would be the best thing to have. If I can have a “power set” then I’m afraid I have to go with the rather boring Superman-esque (but I like to think of as Rogue by way of Ms. Marvel-esque) package of Flight, Super Strength, Invulnerability, etc.
 
4. If you were a superhero, what would you call yourself?
 
Oh, man. I’ve always liked the word Myrmidon, which means a hired warrior (although there can be negative connotations to the word as well) but I feel like then you’ve got everyone mispronouncing it. so maybe Virago would be better instead, which is a word for a female warrior (and which can also mean a domineering and violent woman – woo!). If Valkyrie wasn’t taken maybe I’d try to get in on that action. 😉  My boyfriend once gave me the nickname Jet – which I loved, but which never really stuck – maybe because I’m not actually very fast – but if I was a superhero maybe it would feel more earned/accurate.
 
If I was a supervillain, it’s an easy answer. Killer Kelly…which is already a nickname I have, though I hope not for villainous reasons!
 
5. Who’s your real life hero?
 
Probably Joss Whedon. He’s not perfect, nobody is, of course, but I really am inspired by his work in general and specifically by his work with female characters. I also admire the way he behaves as a public figure, which is a really tough thing I think. I also really agree with his principles (as far as I understand them). He really changed storytelling for me at a reasonably early age – the world of genre fiction and especially female heroes is a different place because of Whedon and I’m grateful for that. I hope I can add my own mark as well.
 
6. You’re the city’s resident superhero and your cape is billowing in the wind. So many people look up to you. Do you have any superhero inspired life advice for them?
 
Well, probably no cape, for starters. I’m no fool. Unless you’re Batman (or a few others), a cape is probably a bad idea. So…now I’m capeless...hair billowing in the wind. What is my advice? “Don’t be jerks.”
People can be so wonderful, and they can be so damn horrible, and everything is just better when they try to be their best selves, rather than their worst. Don’t be a jerk, it’s kinda simple. Right?
Thanks again Kelly for answering these questions! You can check her out on Twitter, her blog and on Comic Book Resource.
A. A. Omer