Of Secret Identities...
"Tomar ghore boshot kore koy jona?” the popular song by the band Bangla asks a very intriguing question indeed. If mind was a dwelling place what would be its limits of housing various personalities?
The multiple identity issue is rather a much celebrated plot in contemporary fictional literature. Especially in the cases of comic book superheroes, despite being a rather complicated issue for juvenile minds, the idea has been experimented with many times. While most comics portray these superheroes as crime-fighting, butt-kicking vigilantes, they also subtly hint to deeper storylines involving the heroes' 'other' selves- personalities that may not be as popular as their 'super' counterparts, but regardless, are still there.
The Man of Steel and his smooth bespectacled self
In Superman/Batman #3 (December 2003), Batman observes, "It is a remarkable dichotomy. In many ways, Clark is the most human of us all. Then...he shoots fire from the skies, and it is difficult not to think of him as a god. And how fortunate we all are that it does not occur to 'him'." (source: Wikipedia)
In original stories Superman was depicted as a rough-edged hothead, quite the opposite of the cool and composed “big blue boy scout” we're used to seeing today. He is probably the one superhero strictest about following the moral codes of idealism. But that impassively insecure behaviour, coming from a man who lost his entire home-world, is quite understandable. While Clark Kent has a complete life surrounded by wife, parents and friends, Superman is…just Superman- a guy in a costume. Methodical. Different. Lonely. No matter what he does he'll always be a 'super' human. And the fact that he knows it is probably why he sometimes goes to extremes at attempts of appearing human.
The Dark Knight and the Gotham Millionaire
It's easy to see where the dark knight's darkness of heart originates from. But the brutal murder of his parents might have left much deeper psychological scars in Bruce Wayne's mind than he was aware of, eventually turning him into Batman, the most calculated and cold-blooded superhero of all times. An interesting aspect of Wayne's psychology presents itself with his choice of symbolism. The chilling silhouette of a bat against the full moon was selected to strike terror into criminals, a feat that might as well have been subconsciously triggered by his own history of childhood chiroptophobia or fear of bats (ref: the first movie). In other words, Batman wanted himself to be feared- the opposite picture of Bruce Wayne, the rich, flamboyant millionaire admired by all. But that being a 'façade' acted out to protect his identity makes 'Batman' the truer representation of his personality.
Spidey and the shy kid
A 'four-eyed' science-whiz, a perpetual treat for the bullies, a shy and troubled high school student lost in his “self-obsession with rejection, inadequacy and loneliness” (source: Wikipedia)- Peter Parker is probably the last image that comes to mind when thinking of crime-fighting superheroes. But the radioactive spider-bite even makes 'that' possible…and such are the origins of Spiderman. It's noticeable how Parker has to constantly run parallel with his alter ego each day: selling spidey photos for money and that too to a boss who keeps bad-mouthing the poor superhero right to his face. Juggling two absolutely different personalities in everyday life, Parker manages to find his inner strength and courage expressed by Spiderman whose existence balances his polar personality syndrome.
The Man in Armour and his genius self
The solid iron armour could as well be the emotionless refuge Tony Stark's heart sought out after the continual tragedies of his parents' deaths and his own injuries due to abduction. But Ironman is more than just a fancy whim for Stark, the armour literally keeps him alive given his fragile cardiac condition. Stark set up the cover for the Iron-mecha as his bodyguard and company mascot, choosing the image of a playboy industrialist for himself to avoid suspicion. Basically the Ironman façade is a symbolic representation of Stark's indomitable willpower- a trait that eliminates all his foes mercilessly despite his life-threatening physical condition.
The Mean Green Monster and the weird Scientist
The best and most obvious example of the dual personality phenomenon can be observed between Dr. Bruce Banner and the Hulk. Creator Stan Lee himself admitted that the plot was inspired by a combination of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein. The Hulk is the impulsive alter ego of the genius physicist Dr. Banner, a personality that reacts to the simplest of instinctive emotions and displays gradual changes with Banner's psyche. Some even went as far as calling him the dark, primordial side of Banner (source: Wikipedia). Together, both of them explore various psychological aspects of each other throughout the story.
In the end, the excuse is quite common. Superheroes must not reveal their alternate identities for the sake of their loved ones' protection. But who knows, this may as well be a clever excuse cooked up by comic-authors to encourage the development of the characters' dual personality traits for a catchier storyline. Because intrigue sells, and what is there more intriguing than the mysterious labyrinthine pathways of human mind?
By Raisa Rafique