What’s So Special About Secret Identities Anyways?
Poor Dick Grayson. By now, you’ve either read Forever Evil or seen the news on the comic websites: Dick Grayson has been publicly outed as Nightwing by the Secret Society, the evil counterpoints to the Justice League from Earth 3.
Of course, this brings up a myriad of questions, from some characters (like Lex Luthor) saying “who is Richard Grayson”, to whether or not this news can implicate Barbara Gordon, Tim Drake, or Bruce Wayne in their roles as Batgirl, Red Robin, and Batman. The DC universe, more so than the rival Marvel one, has a very old-school approach to secret identities. Remember, in a world with such modern inventions as iPhones and Youtube, this is a universe where a superbeing can still put on glasses and suddenly blend in with the human population.
Of course, that’s a simplification of the Superman mythos, but it definitely has some legs when you look at the way secret identities are handled with DC’s characters. A few years ago, Bruce Wayne came out as the “financial backer” of the Batman and his allies, starting up the “Batman, Inc.” division of Wayne Enterprises. The fact that not a single reporter at his press conference A) asks if he’s Batman or B) puts together the fact that his 10 year old son also looks kinda like Robin should give you an idea of how the DC creators feel about secret identities.
But then again, maybe DC writers do understand the world their characters inhabit. In the second volume of Grant Morrison’s Batman, INc, the writer shows Bruce Wayne on message boards, feeding the rumors that Batman IS in fact Bruce Wayne on one site, and then turning the tables and arguing that he isn’t on others. In a world where everything is connected, Morrison is one of the few writers to tackle DC’s old-school approach to secret identities in modern context. Which brings me back to the Nightwing reveal in Forever Evil.
It’s easy to make comparisons between this reveal and the one Spider-Man pulled off waaaaay back in 2006’s Marvel event, Civil War (remember that?). While both involved a character revealing himself to the world, Spidey did this willingly in a show of support for Iron Man’s pro-superhero registration beliefs. Nightwing has his mask pulled off during a press conference that Ultraman, Superwoman, and the other members of the Secret Society hold to announce their takeover of Earth.
At the time, Spidey publicly revealing himself as Peter Parker was a massive revelation, one that Marvel stated could supply “years of stories” (it didn’t). It did lead to “One More Day”, one of the worst and most convoluted ways to undo a 20 year (in real life time) marriage, and fix the public unmasking. Now, Spider-Man is one of the only Marvel characters that still has a secret identity. Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men all have identities that are in the public eye. Hell, even Daredevil’s secret identity as Matt Murdock is constantly being called into question. Spidey’s secret identity is entirely essential to the character,especially now, with Otto Octavius inhabiting his body, making it a double secret identity. This may lead to a more believable, reason behind “One More Day”: the Marvel creative staff, after revealing the character, realized that there were only so many “unmasked” stories that could be told, and how important Peter Parker’s double life is to his character.
Of course, Spider-Man is much bigger character than Nightwing. I’m sure when DC released this news to the major news outlets the general response to it from the average joe was “who’s Nightwing?”. this has more to do with DC and Warner Bros. inability to transfer some of their “B” (and even “A”) level characters into the mainstream, but using Nightwing’s identity as the big reveal does show how high the stakes are in Forever Evil. If nothing else, it shows the remaining heroes that nothing is off limits when it comes to the Secret Society.
Nightwing’s unmasking presents the “worst case scenario” type of story that’s always fun to read in comics. Matt Murdock’s identity reveal in Brian Michael Bendis’ Daredevil was fantastic, and I even enjoyed the “Back in Black” story that followed Spidey’s reveal in Civil War. We follow these heroes because we enjoy seeing them rise up from the absolute worst things that are thrown at them, and it doesn’t get much worse than having your identity go public. I’m definitely interested in how this will play out for Dick Grayson, and I may even pick up Nightwing again to see if any of this is touched on in his solo book.
Dick Grayson’s now public life as Nightwing, aside from being another way for DC to sell Forever Evil, could also be the start of a possible new way of approaching secret identities in the DC universe. Maybe it will lead to higher stakes for the other heroes.
But seriously, I hope someone says “If Dick Grayson is Nightwing, then is it possible that Bruce Wayne could be Batman?” at some point in Forever Evil.