With identity, I could go the obvious route and talk about how superheroes have to protect their regular joe (or super rich joe, in the case of Batman and Iron Man) identities and whatnot.
Instead, I’d rather talk about identity relating to a different hero of sorts–he’s more of an antihero, really. This identity struggle doesn’t have anything to do with private life vs. superhero persona, but a struggle to establish what he is, a man who battles the monster within or a demon with the heart and soul of a champion. He’s done terrible things, yet strives for atonement while battling the evil that he knows lurks within.
If you aren’t a Buffyverse fan, then you may not be aware of the TV series Angel that was a spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I highly recommend both shows. Considering my musical recommendations yesterday, you’ll either go on a Netflix binge this weekend or raise your eyebrows and back away slowly.
(The show was brilliant IMO, and was such a throwback to comics, mythology, and much more. Or you could view it as just a vampire-detective show and enjoy it on the surface. I’ve watched the series multiple times and have done both.)
The show focused on Angel (obviously), the vampire with a soul. Angel was about as bad ass as a vampire could get in his heyday (when he went by Angelus), and was known for tormenting his victims both physically and psychologically. While he was a killer by nature, there was some part of him that went above and beyond the normal blood and gore expected of a vampire. Killing wasn’t just about survival for him–he enjoyed it.
Cordelia: [to Angel] You’re handsome and brave and heroic, emotionally stunted, erratic, prone to turning evil, and let’s face it, a eunuch.
One day Angel screwed with the wrong people, got a gypsy spell put on his ass, and his soul was restored (and would remain that way as long as he a) didn’t achieve true happiness in the form of sexing up Buffy, which he did or b) he didn’t use removing his soul as part of a plan to find out how to battle an evil dude, which he also did).
With his soul intact, Angel was very aware of every single wrong he had done, haunted by the people he had hurt in fact, and would spend the rest of his life trying to atone for his sins, even though he knew that wasn’t possible.
On the show, we see Angel taking on a number of evil characters, yet his biggest fear (IMO) isn’t so much the evil he fights while being the champion of the underdog, it’s the demon he knows is lurking inside.
Gunn: No matter what else, I think I proved that you can trust me when I could have killed you and I didn’t.
Angel: No. You’ll prove that I can trust you when the day comes that you have to kill me — and you do.
And by “demon,” I don’t mean just the vampire component. Other vampires didn’t go to the extremes that he did with their victims, so why did he? Who was the real demon–the vampire or the man?
I think most of us can relate to his identity struggle to an extent. There’s good and bad in us all–Angel struggles with his inner demon, one that may or may not have been there all along, yet there is such an innate goodness to him, too. Pondering the evil we could be capable of is scary territory to venture into.
(I’ve been over this post a dozen times. I don’t feel that it is quite complete yet, but I can’t put my finger on what’s missing, either. So, I’ll publish it as is for now and get my challenge post out of the way, but may come back to it later if I figure out what I need to add.)