The Two Identities of a Super Hero
This clip from Justice League pretty much sums up one of the things that had been on my mind when I was creating my own super heroes.
In most super hero (or super villain) stats, identity is given as a simple statistic. The hero is either publicly known, meaning that the world knows that (for example) Legion is David Charles Haller; or secret, where the world does not know that Clark Kent is Superman. There are some variations to that (known to authorities, no dual identity, etc), but it is still boiled down to a simple statistic.
But, this simple use of an identity statistic does not really reflect any sort of world, real or imaginary. Just as Lex had no clue who the Flash really way, in many situations, a super hero’s unmasking will not be the end all and be all of his super hero career. Electro is not going to pull off Spider-Man’s mask and say, “Oh hey, you’re Peter Parker!” most because Electro has not had any prior contact with Peter Parker, at least none to establish Parker in his memory enough for him to make the connection.
So, when I set about creating my own heroes, I wanted to reflect this dual nature of identity. Thus, when I created my own stats for my heroes, I included both Identity – Civilian and Identity – Heroic.
Identity – Heroic
A superhero’s heroic identity is exactly that. But, instead of tying into his civilian identity, it stands alone. But, since it is not tied to the civilian identity, it can be used to identify the hero so much more.
Independent of civilian identity, heroic identity can be used to describe how the hero operates, be he in the open, or in the shadows. Thus, a hero like Superman would have a very public heroic identity, while someone like Batman would operate more discreetly. One of my own heroes works on the level of urban myth, a vigilante whispered about, but is generally believed not to exist.
Identity – Civilian
Just as the heroic identity works to describe how the hero operates when he is fighting crime, the civilian identity works to describe how he acts when he is not in uniform, as it were. Using the example above, Lex Luthor (possessing the body of the Flash) had no idea who Wally West really was because Wally West, as a civilian, is not all that visible as an individual. On the other hand, Bruce Wayne is enough of a celebrity in real life that if Batman were to be unmasked, he would be recognized instantly.
Using Civilian and Heroic Together
Using the two in conjunction can give a better idea of how a hero operates in both aspects of a hero’s life. A hero with a high civilian identity (say a famous musician) might work to function more secretively. Either that, or he may not make any effort to keep the two separate, relishing in the celebrity that both identities bring.
Similarly, a super hero that is very visible might make sure his civilian identity remains low-key, thereby keeping anyone who happens to know him as a civilian away from harm.