META: The Problem of Secret Identies

EDMLite robrogers72 at
Thu Apr 3 11:38:24 PDT 2008

On Apr 3, 1:41 am, Martin Phipps <martinphip... at> wrote:
>Does Batman get a warrant before
> he breaks into the Joker's hideout?  When the "Friendly Neighbourhood
> Spiderman" webs up a criminal and tells the police that they will
> "find all the evidence they need" is that evidence actually evidence
> the police could use or would any competant defense attorney cry out
> that not only were his defendents 4th Ammendment rights have been
> violated but that the evidence had come in contact with someone who
> the police could only identify as "Spiderman", somebody who refused to
> come forward and testify to the fact that he hadn't planted that
> evidence at the scene himself.  Consider all the people who Spiderman
> would stop only to have their charges dismissed even before they are
> brought to trial.  It sort of makes you wonder if J, Jonah Jameson
> didn't have a point, doesn't it?

This is probably why most heroes tend to be reactive.  If Spider-Man
shows up AFTER a known costumed criminal has begun wreaking havoc
in downtown New York, there are likely to be plenty of witnesses
around (not to mention television camera crews) to provide evidence
after the fact.

It's more of a problem when he's webbing up muggers in alleyways.  In
that case, it's probably helpful for Spidey that Peter Parker always
seems to show up with pictures of his activities.  You'd think there
would have been more of an outcry, then, when people discovered that
Parker and Spider-Man were the same person.

There was a great late-80s Daredevil story in which a tabloid TV
show catches Daredevil in action, and audiences are shocked to
discover just how brutal superhero fights actually are.  One
wonders if even more of that would happen today, in the age of
YouTube, and how it would change the way people look at their

> I grant that superheroes would need to maintain secret identities from
> the general public but I question how useful this would be in the real
> world where the accused has rights and defense attorneys are employed
> to protect those rights.  In any case involving a superhero, a red
> flag would go up in the mind of any defense attorney and it would be
> screaming "constitutional violation".   It made absolute sense to me
> that a district attorney would be very unhappy about having to try
> cases involving superheroes and would therefore have negative feeling
> about the heroes themselves.

I agree, and I think you've addressed these issues well in
"Superfreaks" -- it's one of the reasons I enjoy reading the
series so much.

On the other hand, people are often willing to sacrifice their civil
liberties in the name of security, despite what Ben Franklin said.
In the post-9/11 world, people seem to accept airport pat-downs,
streetlight-mounted video cameras and government wiretaps of private
citizens as a matter of course -- actions which would have been
clearly recognized as the intrusions they are just a few years ago.

I can't imagine living in a city where my police department
regularly shone a spotlight into the sky to announce that
they were asking a masked vigilante to participate in a
criminal investigation.  Then again, if I lived in the same
city as the Joker, I might feel pretty good about that.

And if I lived anywhere Mr. Mxyzptlk was likely to show
up, I'd probably spend all of my time in the therapist's

--Easily-Discovered Man Lite
--Always reads criminals their rights before
whacking them in the shins with a spatula

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