Alter Ego Adventures: Superheroes Off the Clock

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Maria Rainier
What do superheroes do when they're not being super or heroic? As it turns out, most of them act just like us – they go to school, work mediocre jobs, or (if they're lucky) pursue actual careers. But some already have it made with millions of dollars, good looks, and plenty of hot company. Wouldn't you think that being a superhero would come with a benefits package like doing and being anything that strikes your fancy? If crime doesn't pay, then preventing it should – but that's not always the case. Let's take a look at some famous superhero alter egos and find out exactly what goes on when the suit comes off.

Bruce Wayne

This guy is a billionaire philanthropist and industrialist, so he's already in with the ladies for having both big bucks and a kind heart. But what does he do when he's not Batman – besides date anyone he wants to and give away money by the fistful? Having taken classes at Cambridge, the Sorbonne in Paris, and other prestigious European universities at the tender age of 14, Bruce Wayne is clearly a genius – which is just another reason he can do anything he wants. It's clear that he spends some time out of the suit doing superhero-related work, such as tracking down Joe Chill and other unsavory characters, and he isn't too averse to partying. He also spends a lot of time with Alfred, getting advice and talking about his problems, and he uses down-time to come up with the third identity of Matches Malone. Judging by the number of ladies in his life, he spends a significant amount of time ogling women, taking them out on dates, and hooking up. Overall, Wayne has a pretty enviable alter ego, but that's mainly determined by his superior intelligence – partially the result of well-funded education. Bruce Wayne's resources are certainly part of his alter ego's success.

Peter Parker

For some direct contrast, take a look at Peter Parker – although he's supposedly a genius, similar to Bruce Wayne, he's still in high school at the age of 15 because he doesn't have the same resources. He's an orphan living with his aunt and uncle, who certainly don't have the money to send him to Cambridge. In fact, Peter takes a freelance job at the Daily Bugle selling photos of Spiderman to help his aunt with the finances once his uncle has been killed. With her increasingly difficult financial situation and failing health, Peter is forced to spend a great deal of his time caring for her and attempting to save her. He does spend some time with women, but most of that happens after he gets to Empire State University on a science scholarship. Again, he doesn't have the monetary resources to get the best possible education, but his intellect helps him on his way. Eventually, he settles into married life and works at Tri Corp Research to support himself, his wife, and his aunt – an ordinary life for an extraordinary superhero. Peter has more family obligations than Bruce Wayne does, and he's also far less endowed with resources, so his alter ego hours are filled with responsibilities rather than daydreams and leisurely conversation. Even superheroes' fates are shaped by material resources and the presence or absence of other obligations and responsibilities.

Selina Kyle

Orphaned, separated from her sister, and uneducated, Catwoman's alter ego has absolutely no responsibility to a career or family. She's also undaunted by her total lack of material resources – as a young girl living on the streets of Batman's Gotham City, she uses her natural ability to execute gymnastic movements, becoming a notorious cat burglar. She receives training in martial arts and boxing because of her natural abilities in these areas, so she relies entirely upon her own body to stay alive and make her “career” – prostitution, stealing, and giving to the impoverished in Gotham City's East End. Taking advantage of contacts she's made through business, she learns of more lucrative locations to rob and uses some of what she takes to feed the poor. Her moral compass isn't quite on target, but the morals she does live by entirely guide her alter ego's actions. She's reluctant to kill and eager to protect and help victims of stratified society, thumbing her nose at the rich life she could live if she made the effort to do so. Selina is defined by her moral (or amoral) code, and her alter ego acts accordingly.

Clark Kent

Unlike Wayne and Parker, Clark Kent isn't a super genius – he just plays football on his high school team in Kansas, travels the world for a while after graduating, and then attends Metropolis University. Although he earns high grades and becomes an award-winning journalist and TV newscaster, this alter ego's mind powers aren't as extreme as the sometimes over-exaggerated IQs of other superheroes. He wins journalism awards, writes three novels, and marries a journalist who also works at the Daily Planet. With no children and no biological parents, his family responsibilities don't cramp his style too much – but having a wife does change the game to some degree. Despite having the opportunity to be Superman whenever he wants to, Kent is passionate about journalism – the responsibility of his job is what really motivates him to be invested in his alter ego. This responsibility is a deliberate choice that keeps Kent firmly grounded in the human world.

Diana Prince

Now, to shake things up – Diana has no need of material resources because she's from another world. When she's not Wonder Woman, she's back home, spending time with her mother and accepting challenges from the gods. She tends to take advantage of human resources and other contacts to get her through life as an alter ego – she learns English from a Harvard professor and has a dedicated publicist, as well as the wisdom and advice of the gods in her own world. She has obligations to her mother, but doesn't always do as her mother tells her – in this way, her responsibilities are somewhat less demanding than Peter Parker's. Diana makes an interesting case for the superhero's elevation from the human race. In the cases of the other superheroes we've looked at, could they isolate themselves from the rest of humanity and rid themselves of the associated obligations and material needs? They probably could – but they choose to remain a part of society in their alter ego forms, embracing the people and things that keep them truly human.

Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education and performs research surrounding online kinesiology degree programs. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

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