What's that? Up there in the sky! It is a bird? Could it be a plane? No! It's Superman! He's coming to save the day. Criminals and villains had best beware. Superman will not tolerate any evil shenanigans while he's on duty.

If you're familiar with Superman from comic books or the movies, you know that he has a secret superhero identity. When he's not wearing the cape and saving the day, he's Clark Kent, a mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet newspaper.

Superman isn't the only superhero with a secret identity. When Batman isn't fighting crime on the streets of Gotham, he goes by the name Bruce Wayne. Likewise, Spiderman goes by Peter Parker when he isn't spinning webs to catch criminals in the act.

Why do superheroes have secret identities anyway? Couldn't they just live amongst the public as Superman, Batman, and Spiderman? Why walk around in disguise as Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, and Peter Parker?

Since superheroes aren't real, we have to look to their creators for the reasons for their secret identities. Putting yourself in the shoes of a superhero, though, you can imagine that there would be some good reasons for keeping your true identity a well-guarded secret.

The persona of Peter Parker allows Spiderman to live a relatively normal life when he's not saving the world. Can you imagine how difficult it would be for Spiderman to shop for groceries or go to the movies?

Clark Kent's identity allows Superman to protect those he cares about from retribution that might come from enemies who knew his true identity. If Lex Luthor knew about Clark Kent, you can bet that Lois Lane would be in big trouble!

Batman also wouldn't be as feared if his enemies knew it was Bruce Wayne behind the mask. Keeping his human identity secret allows Batman to be a more effective crime fighter.

Superheroes could probably list many other good reasons for keeping their true identities secret. For example, fighting crime and saving the world isn't always a neat and tidy business. Superheroes wouldn't want to be held legally responsible for collateral damage that results from their heroics.

So how did all this secret identity stuff get started? While people have used secret identities throughout history for various reasons, the use of a secret identity by a superhero dates back to the early 20th century.

In the 1903 novel The Scarlet Pimpernel, Englishman Sir Percy Blakeney keeps his true identity hidden when he performs heroic acts as the Scarlet Pimpernel. Why? According to the novel, "Because the Scarlet Pimpernel works in the dark, and his identity is only known under the solemn oath of secrecy to his immediate followers."

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