Identity Crisis #1–7 by Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales
Continuing my tradition for coming ridiculously late to important series in current mainstream superhero universes, I finally read the series that kicked off the new status in the DC universe. It was the centre of a furore among the comic book internet cognoscenti, which means that I don’t have to tell you the story. But that won’t stop me from condensing the plot to fill up this post.
Sue Dibny is found dead at the end of the first issue; the second issue uncovers the incident where Dr Light had raped her before; Atom, Hawkman, Zatana, Oliver Queen, Black Canary, Hal Jordan and Barry Flash get Zatana to alter his mind, to make him forget it and to make him less evil-minded (which is why he became a bit of a joke in the DC villain world). The third issue sees the group in the know go after Dr Light, only for him to have acquired protection in the form of Deathstroke (there are many things wrong with this story, but having Deathstroke able to plan and move quick enough to take down the Flash and the rest of the group, admittedly only for a short time, was just silly). The ensuing fight causes Dr Light to remember what happened to his mind (not quite sure how that works, but anyway), and we see that Batman was also there in his flashback. And this was not the only time – a famous old issue of the Justice League of America (issue #168, apparently) where the team swapped bodies with those of a group of super villains is referenced.
We see Jean Loring, Atom’s ex-wife, attacked but saved by the Atom. Lois gets a note telling her that they know who her husband is. The heroes go looking for answers (which causes Firestorm to die, albeit in a heroic fashion, but is it necessary?). Robin’s father is killed by Boomerang (who also dies in the attempt). Then, the autopsy on Sue reveals that she dies from a block in her brain – closer examination shows footsteps on her medulla …
So, let’s talk about the good. The first chapter dealing with the love Ralph and Sue have is beautiful and beautifully done: it makes the relationship so real and deep, which makes the shock at the end of the issue so much more shocking. The story is a classic whodunit – you have the culprit appear early on as an innocent in story element that is unrelated to the main plot (in this case, the beginning of issue 2), who then is attacked to put the reader off the scent. The story is well written – Meltzer has a good handle on ALL the characters, what makes them tick, their specific dialogue, their attitudes. He is matched in the delivery by the art by Morales – nothing flashy, just a nice style with good distinguishing between characters (important for such a large cast) and solid on faces and expression. Meltzer is plainly a big fan of the DC universe because he has a good understanding of the heroes and their place – the story requires the long-standing, shared aspect of the DC universe in order to work: what keeps a superhero’s identity if they are always dealing with a lot of villains? – but it is also in this respect that the story doesn’t work.
The thing is that the huge love of the DC universe and its big, shiny, noble superheroes from the people who grew up with it means that it is not a universe for rape and murder as casual story elements. I am not one of those people who objects to the presence of these aspects of life appearing in stories and comics, but they don’t fit with four-colour spandex, especially the DC universe. The Justice League fights alien conquerors, not rapey super villains. The comic blogaxy had a very good point when it rallied against the book.
The other thing is the stupidity of the reveal of the person behind it all – sorry for the spoilers, but I’m sure you all know – but having Jean Loring as the responsible party, who was only doing it to get back her husband, is really stupid. It’s something out of a soap opera, and a bad one at that. It really detracts from the story – the seriousness of the piece has been portrayed well but this just sweeps the rug from under it all. Meltzer constructed a good story, albeit in the wrong milieu, only to have it collapse at the end.