Monday, November 20, 2017

An Open Secret, Part 1

An Open Secret
by Mark Alfred

            In 1969, a reader wrote to DC asking for a story on the people who knew Superman’s Secret Identity.  In the letter column of Superman #219, the editors replied:  “We assume you mean those who live on Earth in the present time.  If we were to include people of other worlds, the inhabitants of Kandor, the Phantom Zone villains, people of the future, and so on, the result wouldn’t be a story, but a whole library!”
            Before riffling through a few pages of that library, let’s briefly review the reasons given by Superman for so jealously guarding his secret.
            The most commonly heard reason is, he’s protecting his family and/or associates.  Many’s the time when the Man of Steel has “regretfully” told Lois Lane that he dare not marry her, for fear that criminals would harm her to get revenge on him. 
            Frankly, I wouldn’t want to run the actuarial tables on ANY of Superman’s near-and-dear.  They’re constantly being threatened, kidnapped, and so on.  Is Lois more safe from a wrathful underworld by virtue of being only Superman’s “girl friend,” not his wife?  Doubtful.
            Another handy use for Clark Kent, the guy who is DEFINITELY NOT Superman, becomes plain when a character tells the reporter something which they wouldn’t pass along to Superman.  This is similar to the concept that there are things you’d tell your barber, but not your wife.  One example of this practice is in Action #306, when Clark feigns amnesia to uncover “The Great Superman Impersonation.”
            I have always held that the most important benefit for the Clark/Supes split is that the Daily Planet reporter may interact with people on the same human level.  Kent is allowed preferences, likes and dislikes, and leisure time; a 24-hour Superman would encounter many problems trying to express such views.  Clark can relax with his friends as peers, freed for a moment from (dare I say it?) the world’s dependence on him.
            For a well-written and absorbing look at the Secret Identity question, read the fun, in-depth “Why Superman Needs a Secret Identity,” in Action #305.  (You may read my page-by-page posting and discussion of this classic Silver Age comic book, beginning here.)
            What a secret it has been, come to think of it.  One riff on the Kryptonian ode to duality is narrated in Action Comics #371-375.  Not even Superman knows his civilian identity, after he’s been zapped by an alien computer-ray machine.  After finally latching onto his own resemblance to Clark Kent, an exposure to Bizarro Amnesium restores his memory.

            With an eye to balance silliness with existential angst, in this article we'll survey a Bizarro’s Dozen (and more!) of my favorite Secret Identity stories and situations.

 End of Part One
See you next Monday for more!
All original content
© by Mark Alfred