What’s a superhero without a secret identity? A common sense question because they can’t be super-heroes all the time, right? Well, if you go by what you see at the local cineplex, you could be excused for thinking that super-heroing is the only thing super-heroes do. Granted, the possession of a secret ID seems to be divided along Marvel/DC lines with Superman and Batman upholding the tradition (flimsy as it seems to be what with any of the heroes’ girlfriends able to penetrate it at a the drop of a hat) and Marvel’s characters abstaining. (Although there too, if one of their characters has an alter ego, he’s more likely to give the secret away to a female admirer than not).
So with the vast number of people now familiar with these characters via the big and small screens now trained not to think of the necessity of a secret identity, it behooves us to revisit just why super-heroes needed secret identities to begin with. And beginning with means going back to the beginning, namely the golden age of pulp heroes, the prose universe of superheroes that preceded the four color comics page with characters like The Shadow, The Spider, and the Phantom Detective all of whom operated outside the law or feared for loved ones who might become targets of the super-villains and gangsters they warred against.
That tradition, like many others from the pulp era, was transferred lock, stock, and barrel to comics when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster first introduced Superman to a waiting world and instantly created an archetype that endless numbers of similarly caped heroes would be patterned after. And although they would take from Supes the idea of a secret identity, ironically it was reversed for the Man of Steel whose real identity was that of Superman not the invented Clark Kent!
Be that as it may, secret identities became a staple of comics heroes if only as a springboard for endless complications involving its protection against discovery often with the seeming object of making any connection between the hero and the man as unlikely as possible. In addition, unlike the aforementioned pulp heroes whose occupations were simply being independently wealthy, our beleaguered comic book heroes usually had to earn a living when out of costume. Thus, our list of the top ten most interesting occupations/alter egos/private lives in the four color world (secret or otherwise)!
Consumer warning: The following list is based on traditional versions of the heroes, the versions that comics companies have returned to time and again and more often than not television and film have used as well. Editorial upheavals at Marvel (reboots and alternate versions of its continuity) and DC (the New 52) in recent years have made characters’ current back stories uncertain to say the least.
Surely one of the most unlikely scenarios is a superhero who takes pictures of himself in action and then sells them to media outlets to pick up a few fast bucks. Sound familiar? That’s because it likely is as Peter Parker was given the idea by classmate Liz Allen who wondered allowed after seeing pics of Spidey in the Daily Bugle if they might not have been taken by the superhero himself (Amazing Spider-Man #2). Overhearing her musings, Peter Parker was inspired to do just that and one of the most interesting and unique occupations in comics was born! Adding to the irony, in selling his pics to Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson, Peter was making money off the one man in town who hated him more than even such villains as the Sandman or Dr. Octopus!
9) Motorcycle Stunt Rider
Before selling his soul to the devil and becoming the skull headed Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze (!) earned a living defying death in another way: as an Evel Knievel wannabe performing dangerous circus stunts on his motorcycle. In becoming the Ghost Rider, did well meaning Danny end up taking a job that was even more hazardous than the one he was already doing? You decide!
Being a brilliant inventor and weapons manufacturer for every outfit in the Marvel universe from the U.S. Army to S.H.I.E.L.D. ought to have been enough to take up anyone’s time (not to mention acting as his “employer’s” body guard for the few minutes that were left), but for Tony Stark, extra hours were needed in the day for his real occupation as internationally known playboy and bon vivant. It was a tough job needed to keep his ID as IM secret, but somebody had to do it!
7) TV News Commentator
Okay, so being a news reporter wasn’t exactly the most original occupation a super-hero could have in his private life (after all Clark Kent was there all the way back in 1938) but at least Vic Sage aka the Question (mach I) upped the ante to television! But not content with plain old investigative journalism nor with just relating the facts of a story to a panting public, Vic used the stories he uncovered to harangue his listeners with his own stark opinions, echoing the take-no-prisoners Ayn Randian sentiments of artist/plotter Steve Ditko. Hoo boy!
6) Radio Newscaster
Captain Marvel had not one but two very cool things about alter ego Billy Batson: One, he was a 9-year-old kid (or thereabouts) so that nobody would ever suspect that an adult-sized big red cheese could ever be one and the same with a pint sized newsboy, and two, that newsie later graduated to hosting his own radio show newscast! Never mind being the perfect hiding place for a super-hero, digging up your own stories and reporting them on your own radio show was just about as neat a trick as you could imagine!
5) Frontier Lawyer
Way ahead of his time, Matt Hawk, frontier lawyer, lived a double life. By day, he was a practicing attorney in a dusty western town. The rest of the time he was the Two-Gun Kid, feared by owlhoots everywhere and spurned by the woman he loved who (you guessed it) blames the Kid for the death of her brother. Like any self-respecting modern super-hero, the Kid kept his familiar black duds in a secret closet where he could don them at a moment’s notice and, like the Green Hornet’s Black Beauty or Batman’s Batmobile, his steed Cyclone came from out of hiding whenever it was needed. Beneath his black hat and attached domino mask, the Kid dispensed justice in the old west where Matt Hawk’s law books failed to reach.
4) Museum Curator/Archeologist
An officer of the law from the planet Thanagar, Katar Hol came to Earth with his wife Shayera (Hawkgirl) ostensibly to study local crime fighting techniques but of course, ended up contending with a rogue’s gallery of super baddies all his own. As cover while on assignment, Katar (as the phonetic “Carter Hall”) becomes an archeologist and museum curator which comes in handy when he needs to use some exotic hand weapon from the museum’s collection to defeat his adversary of the moment!
3) Test Pilot
Hal Jordan had all the qualities necessary to qualify as a member of the Green Lantern Corps, a self appointed inter-galactic crime fighting agency from which, as Earth’s Green Lantern, he was assigned the Sol sector. In the early years of his career, Hal spent most of his time on Earth fighting super-villains rather than off-world threats and so was able to continue with his regular job as test pilot for Ferris Aircraft, one of the coolest (and most dangerous, hence heroic) occupations this side of Chuck Yeager!
Sure, Reed Richards (aka Mr. Fantastic) is a brilliant scientist with countless million dollar patents to his name; Susan Richards (aka Invisible Girl) is a mother and homemaker; Johnny Storm (aka Human Torch) busies himself suping up hot rods and maintaining the team’s many space age vehicles; and Ben Grimm (aka Thing) is the team’s pilot and sometime babysitter, but all of the members of the Fantastic Four are first and foremost professional celebrities! Even way back in 1961 when the four first formed the team (and incidentally, “the world’s greatest comic magazine”), they were instantly treated as paparazzi by the world’s press (witness the mania Reed and Sue started when they announced their engagement) but imagine how much more intense the coverage must be in today’s world where every movement of even non-entities like Kim Kardashian is followed, tracked, measured, and sliced and diced ad nauseum? In the “real world” of the Marvel Universe, coverage of any member of the FF had to be just as intense…and just as exciting for the Four at the center of the attention even as they went through the motions of complaining about having no private life. C’mon! Who wouldn’t want professional celebrities with that kind of attention and adoration while being able to escape into outer space, inner space, or other dimensions whenever it became too much?
Stunt rider, playboy, radio/television newscaster, curator, frontier lawyer, test pilot, even professional celeb; what other occupation could any self respecting super-hero have that could match any of those? Can you imagine any kind of life that would be as exciting to live as that of British royals Prince William and wife Kate? How about being the king of your own country, the high priest of its state religion, and a certified genius? Not only that, but you get to rule one of the most technologically advanced nations on Earth, one with the only known source of an incredibly rare mineral called vibranium. And to top it off, you get to be a super-hero too! Give up? To have all that, you’d need to be the T’Challa, otherwise known as the Black Panther, king of the African nation of Wakanda!