Superheroes Round 23: What The Love Interest Doesn’t Know
Since I’ve been on a bit of a superhero binge (with the current distraction being The Flash, which is fairly fun), I’ve had a few thoughts about some of the standard superhero tropes that I find most irritating. I note that I may spoil some content in the Flash up through the halfway point of the second season, but not thereafter.
Number one is the attempt to protect the love interest by not explaining anything about what’s going on, especially not the fact that you’re actually <insert superhero name here>.
News flash: villains are not the equivalent of the ravenous bugblatter beast of Traal. Just because your love interest doesn’t know you’re the superhero, doesn’t mean they’re not in danger of being accosted by your nemesis.
Ignorance is no defense.This comes up in almost every superhero TV show or film franchise that I can think of — with the Marvel films as the single notable exception, since most of them don’t bother to conceal their identities from the general public.
The issue occurs in Lois & Clark, in the various Spiderman films, and in the various Spiderman cartoons. It shows up in the modern adaptation of The Flash no less than three times so far. It even gets referenced in one of the old cheesy Adam West Batman films, where Batman just barely manages to avoid revealing himself to a love interest who is actually Catwoman — the near-reveal to an unknown enemy being another trope in the same vein.
So, why does this trope bother me so?
The trope basically comes in two flavors: justifiable in one case, and signs of relationship problems in the other.
In the one case, with a new romantic relationship (or, in some cases, new acquaintance of the platonic variety), it makes sense to keep the secret. The superhero doesn’t know the new person that well, and so it makes sense to keep quiet until they’re known to be trustworthy and likely to be able to handle it.
The latter case is the one that gets my goat. The masquerade has been going on long enough that the love interest (or friend) is getting weirded out by the hero’s behavior, or is simply suspicious. At this point, you may be far enough into the show that the villain may suspect the hero’s secret identity of involvement with the hero, even if the love interest hasn’t figured it out yet.
This is the turning point. The hero needs to either tell the love interest what’s going on — for her own safety, so she can take measures to defend herself if needed and knows who the hero is as a person — or break up. Sure, the hero could do a background check first, just to make sure she’s not secretly another villain in disguise. But a decision needs to be made.
The Flash actually has the worst instance of the hero not following this advice that I could possibly think of. During the second season, Barry Allen/The Flash is dating Patty Spivot, an intelligent police officer who wants to help handle the metahuman threat in Central City. She’s clever and trustworthy, and on at least one occasion early in the series comes up with a theory about a metahuman’s powers… which doesn’t get shared with the rest of the Flash’s team, and ends up causing them trouble. Later, she actually shoots one of the current team members, since he looks exactly like the Flash’s evil nemesis from the first season (even though he isn’t).
And then… she’s shooed away from the incident, and never told what was actually going on, and in later episodes, acts as though nothing ever happened.
This is ridiculous.
Real-world cops, even if they shoot someone in a case that’s justified, aren’t going to be happy about that (assuming they’re half-decent people). Many will need counseling afterwards. There are (in many cases) suspensions from active duty while the incident is investigated and the officer is checked out. It’s worse if they’ve shot someone innocent who wasn’t actually armed… and a decent person like Patty Spivot isn’t going to be okay with that. Having her partner immediately cover up the shooting has to be an enormous red flag. Why doesn’t she investigate this immediately? Or report it to the captain?
I recognize why this keeps happening in these shows — there’s a tendency to maintain the status quo, combined with the additional drama that having the hero keep a secret can provide.
But it’s not okay, and it quickly goes from being fun to feeling like the hero is treating the love interest (or uninformed friend) like a foolish child who doesn’t need to know. The feeling only gets worse when serious problems could be prevented by just telling the truth.
Thus, my firm resolution: if I ever end up with superpowers, I’m telling my husband immediately.