Secrets and Secret-Keepers
After nearly a decade of writing Spider-Man, creator Stan Lee decided to inject Peter Parker with a dose of maturity in Amazing Spider-Man No. 100. Spider-Man beats up a team of bank robbers, and realizes it doesn’t give him the same thrill it used to. He bounces along the rooftops: “Maybe I’m finally growing up, at last!” Peter laments his life as a “corny costumed clown,” and thinks of the alternative, a normal life with then-girlfriend Gwen Stacy. What would married life be like as Spider-Man? “It’s tough enough to keep my secret identity from her now. But once we were married, the strain could be too great.”
Wait. Hold on.
He plans to keep his secret identity from his own wife?! Yep. He decides his only option is to either quit being Spider-Man entirely or forgo any hope of marriage. Now this is a superhero who’s serious about maintaining a secret identity!
The superhero’s story, like all heroes’ stories, is a journey of selfdiscovery. As part of this, the alter ego has always been a central motif in the superhero genre. Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, the Hulk, Daredevil, Thor, and Iron Man, all of them and numerous others have hid behind a fabricated identity. Even Odysseus, in Homer’s The Odyssey (which I would consider to be the first true superhero story1), made use of the alter ego. When Polyphemus the one-eyed giant asks Odysseus his name, he responds with “Outis,” meaning “Nobody.” And then after escaping the giant, when his ship is …