Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Unsecret Identity

I just watched the new Supergirl trailer, and I quite liked it. It looks like it's mostly stuff from the pilot (or they've edited several episodes together to look like it tells a complete story). I think that's Dean Cain behind Helen Slater as her Kryptonian parents (whose names I have totally forgotten, so sue me.) Anyway, I was never hugely attracted to the character though I did like the Earth-2 version, where I feel like they had more chance to be free with her characterization...though that fell apart after Crisis on Infinite Earths. Yes, I am old.

Anyway, one of the things I noticed is that at least four people know who she is (five if you count the unmentioned Superman): her sister, James Olsen (and I like the changes I see in this trailer), her friend whose name I didn't catch, and the DEO operative. Now, since this is by the same producing team that gave us Arrow and Flash (where it seemed like Iris West was the only person in Central City who didn't know who the Flash was), perhaps that's not surprising, but it got me to thinking about secret identities.

In games, it's been very difficult for us to generate secret identity concerns. Oh, we do it...I recall the Wendigo-possessed Blizzard having problems, and Batman ripoff Shade was forever trying to hide it, but no one knew or cared who Silver Mirror was, and Ta'Shrin was a fox-like alien so she couldn't hide anything if she wanted. Firewall was a paroled criminal so you could find him if you wanted. (Only one of those characters was mine.)

Part of that is the nature of the beast: Superhero RPGs are largely modeled after superhero team books, where the concern is the team, not the individuals. Historically, in the comics, secret ID problems were mostly the concern of individual comics. In a team comic, you don't have time to worry about whether someone has figured out that Wayne Brewster is Wombatman; you've got a world to save!

On a TV show, you want interaction between different people, and while it's useful to keep some people in the dark, the more people who know, the more different kinds of interactions you can have. And, frankly, we've had 75 years of the kind of story where "she loves the hero but thinks his regular joe persona is a nebbish." Yeah, you can wring some interesting changes out of that, but it has been done before.

In Champions, they separated it into three categories: Secret Identities, which you worked very hard to preserve; Public Identities, where everybody could find you (worth some points), and no points for the disadvantage at all, where you could be living next door to a superhero and maybe you knew and maybe you didn't, in the same way you could be next to Chris de Burgh's drummer and not know until he said, "Yeah, I'm going to be in France next month on a want me to get that item for you?"

That latter is still my default, but I admit that I often have a Sam-and-Ralph view of it (after the sheepdog and the coyote in the old Warner Brothers cartoons).

Plus, I have to think that it's really hard to keep your identity secret these days. Between cell phones with tracking devices, computers that keep cookies, and the various ultratech that really exists, the best defense is often making sure that you are not a person of interest. 

EDIT: Helen Slater and Dean Cain show up as her adopted parents. And fixed a typo.