I didn’t realize we weren’t having a Friday Night Fight this week so I have to put something together quick. Luckily NerdSync gave me a good starting point. Is it illegal to reveal a superhero’s identity to the public? In the case presented it’s Hugo Strange who has revealed Batman’s secret identity to the world, but we’ve seen this happen in other continuities. Sometimes the hero did so willingly and sometimes not, but it’s an interesting bit of theorizing.
The secret identity is important to many superheroes for many different reasons, a topic for another time, but here are some immediate thoughts I’m having about this particular debate. But first let me show you the debate in question.
There is a point that The Lawyer didn’t bring up: the impact on a hero’s family, and the fact that he cited Peter “Spider-Man” Parker is particularly a misstep. Remember what the catalyst for Peter and MJ’s deal with the devil analog was? Aunt May was shot! Why was she shot? Because Peter’s identity, of his own free will in this case, was revealed to be Spider-Man. The Kingpin wanted payback on Peter and having an assassin target Mary Jane, his still-wife at the time, was the way they planned to go about it. Aunt May got in the way and what followed was rather stupid. But that’s a rant for another time.
Wilson Fisk had no reason to go after Mary Jane or May Parker until one of his hated enemies’ identity was revealed. Additionally, he exposed Matt Murdock’s identity as Daredevil, which cause a lot of personal problems for Matt trying to prove he wasn’t. There is an Iron Man story in which Tony has a nightmare about what would happen to his loved ones were his identity to be exposed…and then exposed it a few issues later under a different writer because that was the dumbest idea he could come up with. Even Batman’s life and livelihood would have been threatened. Look how much trouble he had when he admitted to simply funding Batman?
Actually I’m surprised that didn’t happen. My point is by exposing Bruce Wayne you put the other heroes and Wayne Enterprises at risk. And let’s not buy “Strange’s” comment about exposing him because he’s so important to the future of Gotham because of how big his company is. When Batman was thought dead (he was actually bouncing around through time–because comics) others took up keeping WE in operation. This was also true in Batman Beyond until Bruce got his drive back and reclaimed his company. Hugo makes a better case for exposing Lex Luthor’s criminal operations because at least Bruce/Batman uses his fortune to save lives and right wrongs. Luthor is potentially damaging his own company just to kill Superman, a beloved protector of Metropolis and not considered a criminal by anybody. In some continuities Batman is even a deputized law enforcer or even a government agent.
Meanwhile in every continuity Hugo Strange is a villain, whether he’s a mad scientist or a psychiatrist that needs a psychiatrist. As to whether it’s legal in OUR world to expose a hero’s identity, it’s a moot point. Is it illegal in a comic book universe? There’s another NerdSync video that adds to this discussion.
In the DC Universe at least there’s a law basically protecting the identity of superheroes and, vigilante or not, the many times Batman has worked with the Gotham City Police Department at the very least should offer protection as an anonymous source. We have those all the time. We have hotlines set up by both police and independent crimebusting groups like Crimestoppers or Unsolved Mysteries where you can make an anonymous phone call from anything to witnessing a theft up to potential terrorist activity. Wouldn’t superheroes thus be protected in this way to protect their families and their personal lives?
Yeah, let’s not forget the ability to go down to the store to buy bread without being hounded by the paparazzi or people wanting help from superheroes, possibly from even lame or jerkish reasons. Actors and sports stars can’t get away from TMZ. The only reason the Flash could is that he has superspeed or Superman because he can fly. You’re basically ruining any chance a superhero has of having a normal life, putting his or her family and friends in mortal danger, and pretty much ending their superhero “career” simply for bragging rights. And again, someone like JJ Jameson can make a stronger claim than a known criminal.
Superheroes in the real world share their identity but they were inspired by the fictional heroes and are really more like Neighborhood Watch or just people lending a hand, like helping drunk women not being taken advantage of on the way home from a nightclub. They don’t fight supervillains or the mob or gangs or any of that stuff…well maybe break up the occasional gang fight when guns aren’t involved, but the worst crime they usually deal with are pickpockets and muggers. It’s a bit different in superhero universes.
So yes, I think “Batman” has a good case against “Hugo” on this. Hugo’s reasoning is full of beans, he has destroyed Batman’s career, damaged Wayne Enterprises in this scenario, and quite possibly put the corrupt city of Gotham into a tailspin, endangering who knows how many lives. If I were the judge I’d probably give Batman the win here and maybe even consider criminal charges against Strange depending on what continuity we’re dealing with. Being a superhero Wikileaks is as much a threat to crimefighters and heroes as the actual Wikileaks when it exposes some secret government investigation into actual threats to the US.
Then again nobody’s hiring me as a judge anytime soon.