The Mask: Comics and Secret Identities Part 2

Welcome back. This is a continuation of a previous post. I suggest that you read the first part before this one, just so you know where I’m going with it.

Superman and Clark Kent as an Anomaly

Superman poses an interesting contrast to the traditional mask in that he doesn’t wear one. It’s a constant joke among fans that no one recognizes him. I mean, how can anyone be that stupid? I’ll explain below, but first I want to talk about what makes Superman unique.

Both Clark Kent and Superman can be called his “true persona.” He was raised Clark, and until his powers manifested, he was an ordinary boy and unaware of his lineage. This parallels the classic stories of Hercules, Moses, Harry Potter, Jesus, etc. But when he comes into his power, Superman leaves Clark Kent behind. He still carries much of his personality and morality, but they are not the same. He smashed that shell like the many buildings he’ll smash in the future. When you can look at the Earth from a dozen miles up, you never look at it the same way again.

I want to find who said this, but the writer is wearing a mask.

But Supes wants to be Clark Kent again. He doesn’t have to lead a human life, but he chooses to. The “new” Clark Kent is Supes fantasy of what his life would’ve been like if he was a human, not a Kryptonian. In the movie Kill Bill, Bill claims that Clark is an example of how Supes see humans: weak, bumbling, and awkward. I say that it’s a mask, but the one Supes wears to experience some of his old life. Through his upbringing, he is neither human or Kryptonian, but a little of both.

I wish they focused more on this in the recent movie, or at least the next one.

As for nobody recognizing him, it’s because people don’t see the man, they see the mask (or uniform). Last year, Jimmy Fallon did a bit where he had Mets pitcher Matt Harvey ask people questions about what they thought of Matt Harvey. No one recognized him out of his uniform, and hilarity (sorta) ensued.

People didn’t recognize Harvey–even though he was the hottest thing in New York–because he was out of uniform. It makes perfect sense to me that they wouldn’t associate Clark with a red and blue blur (Smallville reference).

Masks and Identity in The Watchmage of Old New York

watchmage small

In my serial (and forthcoming novels) The Watchmage of Old New York, masks and disguises play an important part of the setting. The Dwellers–mythical creatures drawn into our world through people’s dreams and beliefs–all wear magical disguises in order to survive in the city. They know the cruelty of humans, and they understand the danger if they were discovered.

When I devised that, I drew on a few scenes from Maus, where the jewish mice wear (polish) pig masks to move around the ghetto. Maus always had a strong effect on me. Most of my family immigrated before the Holocuast, but still.

If you haven’t read Maus, start.

I know that in real history, some Jews were able to hide their ethnicity, and even do it in America. Here, Jewishness (and all ethnicities) is in danger of being assimilated by the larger culture. They’re–if you will–being thrown into the melting pot. It’s tragic to immigrate and save your life, only to lose your identity.

The Watchmage has to hide his identity as well. At the time the serial begins, he’s already 150 years old, and has lived several lives. Each time he has to build a new identity, but he doesn’t have the luxury of leaving and starting again elsewhere. He will spend all of eternity taking new identities, living many lives that are never his.

Everybody Wears a Mask: It’s Called The Internet

I’m not the first person to point this out, but we all wear masks. You are not the same person at work as you are at the bar. You’re not the same around children as you are around the elderly. That’s normal. A person is not a piece of paper. A person is a gem with a thousand facets, and each facet shines with its own light. People are way too quick to judge another as “fake” when they see a facet they’ve never seen before.

If we were to approach the world as a simple paper, it would surely tear us apart. The masks that we wear protect us from the world. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the world is not a pleasant place.

I’m wearing a mask right now. So are you. You’re reading this through an interface, where you can use any avatar you want and reply as any persona you want to be. Hell, you can be Batman for all I know. We live in a world of masks now: Twitter, Facebook, blogs, they’re all masks that let you deal with the world around you.

Don’t be sad. Don’t be ashamed. When Spiderman or Batman dons the mask, they become something greater than what they were. There’s no reason why you can’t too.

Excelsior.

Like my posts? Follow my website or “Like” my facebook fan page. You can also purchase my debut novel, Song of Simon, at any online bookstore or a real one (they both exist).

The Mask: Comics and Secret Identities Part 1

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” –Oscar Wilde

It’s a long-standing tradition in comic books for the heroes and villains to wear masks. Everyone from lone rangers (but not Tonto, for some reason) to secret squirrels (But not Morocco Mole) don the mask. The mask is the symbol of the genre. But why?

Different Secret Squirrel

The logical reason is that they need to protect their true identities from the public. They give rationale like “protecting their loved ones,” and there’ve been enough “women in refrigerator” incidents to give this validity.

Less spoken of is the less virtuous “freedom from repercussions.” They act in anonymity, not unlike the horrible comments at the end of every internet article (but that’s a different issue).

I think there’s more. There’s a psychological aspect to it, where the small and helpless can take on a new identity, free of their former self. Like the Oscar Wilde quote above, once inside the mask, they can be their true selves, or at least the self they want to be.

Which One’s Real, The Man or the Mask (Spiderman and Batman)

I’m going to use Spiderman and Batman as examples, because 1) everybody knows them (who would get it if I talked about Atom Smasher and Moon Knight?) and 2) they are great representations of what I’m talking about. Both heroes are one man with the mask on, and one off. The difference is which one is the true self (or is either?)

My friend, Dr. Osvaldo Oyola, (whose website The Middle Spaces has just about the best comic analysis on the Net) recently wrote an article that talked about Spidey, responsibility, and identity (among other things). Part of the article was born from a conversation we had about The Superior Spiderman storyline and a post I wrote. He noted how when Peter Parker regained his body from Doc Ock, Green Goblin noticed it right away from Pete’s wisecracks.

What Osvaldo notes is that Spiderman is a joking, obnoxious, free spirited hero, but Pete is not. Peter Parker is quiet and shy, always picked on by guys like Flash Thompson and ignored by girls. He grows out of this somewhat over the years, but there’s no doubt that they’re two separate personalities.

Stupid Sexy Spidey…

In this case, the Spiderman mask gives Peter the strength and confidence to be the person that he always wanted to be. He went from a shadow in the back of a classroom to a bright red and blue dynamo that won’t be ignored. Remember, when he first got his powers, the first thing he did was try his hand at Pro Wrestling. He wears a loud costume of primary colors. He wants people to SEE him. He wants to be noticed.

As Spidey says on the cover of his very first appearance, Amazing Fantasy #15: “Though the world may mock Peter Parker the timid teenager, It will soon marvel at the awesome might of Spider-Man.” He couldn’t state it any plainer than that. The mask makes him the man he wants to be.

Batman is a bit more complex. He underwent a psyche-ripping trauma as a kid. He’s obviously insane (people seem to gloss over that). I would say that unlike Spiderman, who affects a strong persona to hide a weak one, Batman is the strong persona that wears a weak mask.

Bruce Wayne is the mask. Batman is the real person. Bruce Wayne is a role that Batman made up so that he can interact in society. His real psyche is so destroyed that he can’t handle the real world without some buffer. He can only handle the world of madmen criminals and two-bit thugs.

Sad Batman is Sad

This damage even bleeds in under the mask. Look at how he treats his Robins, or how he acts around other Justice League members. Hell, he devised methods to kill every one of his friends in case he needed to. No sane man would do that.

But Bruce Wayne would never act that way. He’s just a rich playboy with not a care in the world. There’s no way Bruce Wayne could be Batman, right?

Maybe Bruce Wayne is the man Young Bruce wanted to be before Joe Chill shattered his world. Batman is living out a fantasy through his alter-ego. It’s the fantasy of a normal life, one that he’ll never have.

Read Part 2.

Like my posts? Follow my website or “Like” my facebook fan page. You can also purchase my debut novel, Song of Simon, at any online bookstore or a real one (they both exist).

Good Ol’ Peter Parker

So it looks like Otto Octavius is ending his vacation inside of Peter Parker’s body and Pete’s gonna be back soon.  I haven’t been reading the series (I prefer to wait for trade paperbacks), but I’ve been intrigued by the whole idea.  From what I’ve heard from my fellow geekerlings, it’s been a great run.

Superior?

Otto’s always been a complex villain, and the idea of him taking over Spider-Man’s body to prove himself a “superior” hero is great.  He doesn’t have the emotional hangups that Peter does (he has a different set of hangups) and in many ways, that makes him better at fighting “evil.”

My friend Marc Buxton does a great analysis here, and if Marc says it (and it’s about comics) it’s probably true.

The thing about Otto is that he is a creature of cold logic, free of encumbering emotions.  This allows him to make the hard decisions, stuff that Peter could never do.  But in the end, he lacks Peter’s humanity, and that’s the spark that makes a true hero.

If you don’t read The Middle Spaces yet, you should.  It’s a great comic resource, and the author, Osvaldo, is one of my best friends.  He wrote an article some time back about how Marvel has embraced a gray area of justice, where heroes will do unheroic things, such as use torture villains or exile The Hulk to a far off planet.  Even Spider-Man beat a suspect to get information out of him at one point, which is completely out of character for him, and in my opinion makes him less heroic.

I think that establishing the contrast between Peter and Otto will return Pete to his previous state, though that depends on the writer.  They could have him go the other way and incorporate some of Otto’s methods, which I think is a terrible idea.

In the forthcoming novelized version of my serial, The Watchmage of Old New York (free with registration, blah blah blah), the main character suffers through a similar crisis of faith.  If you have near unlimited power, how do you avoid overusing it to mold the world in your image?  How do you punish evil without succumbing to it? The Superman comics have dealt with the same thing over the years, the latest example being the video game Injustice, which I enjoyed very much.

So let me be the first to welcome Peter Parker back into his own body.  Otto’s good, but not “superior.”

Also, I got a new phone today and all the fancy shit on it is overwhelming me.  I’m not computer illiterate, but I compute on a 4th grade level.