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Sunday Slugfest – Identity Crisis #4

Posted: Sunday, September 19, 2004
By: Craig Johnson

“Who Benefits?”

Writer: Brad Meltzer
Artists: Rags Morales and Mike Bair

Publisher: DC





Average Rating: 7/10

Jason Cornwell:
Keith Dallas:
Jim Kingman:
Michael Lucinski:
Shaun Manning:
James Redington:
Filip Vukcevic:
Dave Wallace:






Jason Cornwell

Plot:
After opening with Ray Palmer's efforts to keep his ex-wife from becoming the second victim of the killer who has targeted the loved ones of the Justice Leaguers we see that in spite of having a second crime scene there is still no real evidence that would suggest the identity of the killer. As the frustration level continues to rise, we see the team begins to turn on each other, while the final page reveals the next victim that the killer has targeted.

Comments:
I'm not going to deny the fact that I was delighted that the issue opens with the rescue of Jean Loring, as while I've never been a huge fan of the character given previous writers haven't exactly painted the character in a sympathetic light, I'm glad to see this miniseries hasn't become an attempt to make the secondary players more interesting by turning them all into grief stricken widows. However, this issue does have a sizeable downside as it doesn't have a shocking development that the previous issues employed to keep one from noticing that the plot wasn't really moving forward. I mean we have a rather simple plot that involves a mystery killer targeting the loved ones of our heroes, and the heroes are frustrated by the fact that they have no clues as to who the killer may be. In fact if nothing else this story is a bit frustrating in that in order to keep the mystery from being solved by the considerable deductive minds like Batman and Miracle Man, Brad Meltzer has offered up a story where there are no clues, and instead we spend our time watching the heroes chasing obvious non-starters. Still, I will give Brad Meltzer kudos for his character work as there's a great moment where Miracle Man points out there seventeen different entry points into a secure house, and the meeting scene between Green Arrow and Hal is sure to please long time readers. The last page cliff-hanger is also pretty powerful, and leaves one wondering how much rope has DC given Brad Meltzer.

Rags Morales turns in another fine effort that hopefully will serve to raise his profile among readers and get him on one of the main titles in the DC line that I feel could use an artist of his considerable skill level. In any event the art opens with a great display of the Atom's power as he works to save Jean, and the desperation on his face during these efforts are well presented by the art. There's also a nice moment where we see the lower levels that the attacks have driven our heroes, as Wonder Woman's anger is clearly conveyed without ever actually showing use her face. There's also a number of solid little moments like Captain Boomerang's look of fatherly pride when his son tells him how he dealt with an intrusive reporter, and the concern shown in the eyes of the next victim as they read the letter adds a real sense of emotional weight to this closing sequence. Michael Turner also turns in a wonderfully evocative cover image.




Keith Dallas

I admire how Identity Crisis thwarts readers’ expectations and assumptions and keeps us so unfocused that all of our guesses about the killer’s identity have been blind shots in the dark. On the message boards I frequent, I didn’t see anyone predict the opening events of Identity Crisis #4. Like all well-written mysteries, the plot of this story is always (and only) one step ahead of our assumptions, but by the time Identity Crisis #7 puts the last piece of the puzzle in its place, we’ll all be slapping ourselves for not recognizing how the pieces fit together. But right now the puzzle pieces lie scattered chaotically in front of us, and we’re trying to figure out which pieces belong and which don’t. Is Captain Boomerang’s “love child” a distraction to throw us off or an integral part of the mystery? When Batman questions who is benefiting from these crimes, the issue presents characters we can consider the narrowed-down suspects… or red herrings. Identity Crisis #2 and #3 focuses on Dr. Light and what the Justice League had done to him years ago. Light isn’t a part of Identity Crisis #4. Will he return in the fifth, sixth or seventh issue, or is his situation somehow peripheral to the mystery? And what about Lex Luthor’s battle armor that appeared in the first issue? Was it placed there for nostalgia’s sake, or does it play a more crucial role in the story?

Many questions. No obvious answers.

That’s a well-written mystery.

But the pay-off better live up to the build-up.

The opening issues of Identity Crisis have favored Green Arrow as the story’s “voice.” The events of Identity Crisis #2 and #3 have, for the most part, been presented through his perspective. While this continues in Identity Crisis #4, Superman and Batman are finally being moved to center stage where they belong and where I’m sure they’ll stay until Identity Crisis runs its course.

The series, however, needs a feminine voice besides these masculine ones. Many readers and reviewers have labeled Identity Crisis as misogynist, and I would agree, not just because of the way the series parades these female victims but also in the way it subordinates DC’s super-heroines, makes them passive counterparts to their male colleagues.

This leads to my one complaint about Identity Crisis #4. Although the cover to the issue features a threatening Wonder Woman, her presence in the issue is limited to two pages, on which only her lasso, right hand and left butt cheek are shown. She really needs to be placed besides Batman and Superman as a major player of this story.




Jim Kingman

After reading this issue of Identity Crisis I want to break out all my Justice League of America comics from the 1970s and enjoy each and every one of them. But first I want to get some good things off my chest.

I want to jump up and down and praise The Atom for arriving in the nick of time to save Jean Loring. I had hoped that since she was left ‘hanging’ at the end of last issue there might be the slim possibility of her being rescued, but with the way this series has been going I just wasn’t sure. The Mighty Mite came through!

I want to cheer The Batman for finally making the crime scene (at least as far as the reader is concerned). The Caped Crusader has been huddled up in the Batcave, piecing the clues together, asking the right question -- “Who benefits?”-- over and over in trying to understand the killer’s motive. So far, he seems sure who it isn’t.

I feel I can finally put behind me that absolute downer of an ending in Zero Hour #0 (has it really been ten years?). I want to welcome Green Lantern Hal Jordan back to the DC Universe! Okay, we’re not officially there yet, but the positive hints keep right on coming (I can’t wait to see Hal and Oliver Queen battling side by side -- and sometimes each other, but in a good way).

I want to pat writer Brad Meltzer on the back for having Green Arrow the main narrator of this story (while it’s nice to have Batman and the Atom give their thoughts, Green Arrow’s has the most intensity). And I want to commend artist Rags Morales, whose work just gets better each issue (somebody offer him a Mister Miracle series; better yet, give him The Atom!).

All this enthusiasm aside, there is a very powerful panel in this book that reminds the reader of the tremendous loss Ralph (The Elongated Man) Dibny has suffered.

The past three issues of Identity Crisis have been full of shocks, surprises, and revelations, and at times I have found this story very exasperating to take in. Identity Crisis #4 is the first issue of the series that I felt truly comfortable reading. The Justice League is no longer acting on the defensive. I’m starting to feel confident that the superheroes will bring the mystery menace to justice. Hey, I want good to triumph over evil! That’s hard to come by these days, especially in comics!

While the cliffhanger ending is kind of weak (and somewhat removed from current continuity over in the Superman books), it’s enough to make me really, really want to discover who the villain is. Someone, or someones, very powerful and very smart is behind all this. I believe that if I studied IC hard enough the answer would be right in front of my face (up until now I’ve been making guesses; now I feel as if I’ve been supplied with clues). On that note, I’m going to read IC #4, and the issues leading up to it, one more time! And then it’s on to the hallowed pages of Justice League of America!




Michael Lucinski

The Plot:
The Atom arrives to save his ex-wife from the killer’s noose just in the nick of time. Forensic evidence reveals this assailant was not Sue Dibny’s killer. Tensions among the heroes increase as the mystery deepens. Green Arrow begs The Spectre (Hal Jordan) for help, but to no avail. Meanwhile, as the super villain community covers in fear of the heroes’ wrath, Capt. Boomerang finally works up the courage to meet his teenage son for the first time. Batman finally joins the investigation as Lois Lane receives a note at work telling Superman’s wife will be the next to die.

Comments:
This issue is a breather from the breakneck pace and emotional turmoil of issues one through three and it’s the weakest as a result. A weak issue of this mini-series, however, is better than the strongest issue of most others. For the first time in a long time, Meltzer and Morales have crafted a tale that far exceeds the hype. The intriguing plot, excellent characterization and top-notch art allow even casual fans to become fully engrossed in the mystery.

Given that Meltzer’s previous work for DC was a stint on “Green Arrow,” it’s not surprising Oliver Queen is one of the main characters. Queen is the perfect vehicle to be the “narrator” given his everyman perspective and jaded nature. His meeting with Jordan is a bonus for fans of both characters and eliminates a potentially troublesome plot point (why doesn’t the Spectre just punish the guilty parties?). It’s odd that Wonder Woman appears on the cover, but appears in only one scene and on two pages.

Considering the meticulous nature of the series thus far, it’s unlikely that Batman’s delayed appearance in the series is a coincidence. (It has yet to explained, to my knowledge, how a flashback panel in issue #3 shows Batman fighting Dr. Light on the JLA Satellite, yet none of the participants recalled his presence in issue #2). It’s certain that Capt. Boomerang’s relationship with his son has some relevance to the overall story, though exactly what is unclear.

Morales brings an incredible level of detail and precision to this issue. Capt. Boomerang looks like his son. Barbara Gordon’s glasses aren’t drawn on her face like eyebrows, but they’re drawn as an actually accessory. Though Batman appears on just two pages, it enough to make readers hope DC editorial put him on a regular Bat-title soon. Morales also presents a unique visual for Superman, a more grounded, bulky version. While not my particular cup of tea, the image is certainly appropriate for the Man of Steel.

Regarding the killer’s identity, I’m picking Lex Luthor. He mentioned “a crisis” in “Superman/Batman” #6. He re-formed the Suicide Squad as president, and Jean Loring’s attacker was a member. He learned Clark Kent’s identity during Jeph Loeb’s “Superman” run. One of his battle suits appeared in issue #1. He’s sworn vengeance against Batman numerous times in the past. Though an obvious choice, the big reveal would be tainted if the villain turned out to be Snake Boy or some other obscure nerd villain.

Final Word:
It’s no mystery why this is the biggest hit to come out of the summer. Whatever larger changes occur as a result of his mini-series, hopefully DC will resist the urge to undo them. The quality of this survey deserves no less. It’ll be a long month until issue #5




Shaun Manning

The Story Thus Far:
Sue Dibny, wife of Justice League stalwart Elongated Man, has been murdered, her killer escaped without leaving a clue. EM and the Satellite-era JLA hunt down the man they believe responsible–Dr. Light, who had attacked Sue years before. After the severity of that encounter, Green Lantern, Flash, Zatanna, and Hawkman agreed to rewire Light’s mind, destroying his career as a capable villain. Further investigation shows that Light was not behind Mrs. Dibny’s murder, but the criminal underworld has banded together under the leadership of the Calculator, so this may be only the beginning…

On the Cover:
This looks strangely familiar. I’ve seen it recently. The look, posture… oh right, it’s “F*** Me Girl” from the Victoria’s Secret catalogue! This week’s brochure is just about an exact match for Michael Turner’s art for ID 4.

This Issue:
Another false lead (or is it???) sets the Justice League’s sights on the Suicide Squad. Batman is skeptical, but when isn’t he. The villains club grows restless at the new attention the recent crime wave against heroes’ families has brought on their lot, and rumors abound about what happened to Dr. Light. Meanwhile, Captain Boomerang meets his son, who is eager to reconnect with his old man. Green Arrow pisses on Hal Jordan’s grave to call the Spectre, who turns out to be less than helpful. There is a wink, however, to Hal’s upcoming Rebirth. And who’s the next victim of the Spouse Serial Killer? An empty threat closes the issue!

Thoughts:
After a strong start and an outrageous #2, Identity Crisis has lost some momentum over the last two issues. There is some continuing tension, a mounting (but fluctuating) body count, and some unresolved tidbits from the first issue keeping things interesting, but there’s something flat about the ensemble cast. While an emotional, character driven script requires a good deal of dialogue, filling a book with talking heads really only works if that dialogue is, well, dynamic. Aside from the heavy exposition (“here’s what Superman’s feeling, etc.”), Meltzer’s distaste for profanity manifests itself in a rather distracting manner, calling attention to the fact that, oh, Deadshot wants to drop an F-bomb, but we’re all PG here. There is a difference between avoiding naughty words, and letting the audience know you’re avoiding naughty words. Having characters cut each other off at crucial moments is contrived and makes the rest of their speech ring false.

That said, Identity Crisis is bloody hard to put down, and not many readers will be dropping out halfway into the story. It is a good story, even if the execution isn’t dead-on. Further, the mystery is compelling, and, morbid souls that comic readers are, we’ve got to see who gets it next. And if Meltzer gets away with offing the prize he promises on the last page of this issue (here’s a hint: he won’t), Crisis will propel itself far beyond its promises. Here’s hoping.




James Redington

The first really noticeable thing about this issue is the art is back up to the standard of issues 1 and 2. I felt that the last issue seemed a little rushed and there were some awful panels and some even worse panels of Superman – but the fight scenes were pretty cool and it wasn’t really that bad, it is just the art is so much better here.

Anyway the issue starts off with the Atom’s ex wife being hung in her home, the Atom manages to get their in time and just about save her after some excellent panels and pacing from writer and artist – you never really knew if she was going to going to make it, and gain we care about a character who has no real importance to us except they are important to our heroes. That is the genius of this series, I find myself caring about these 3rd rate, hell – 5th rate family members because of the way it affects the justice league. And as the last page shows… no one is safe, not even the wife of a boy scout!

The writing is smart, clever and grown up. The mystery is intriguing, I haven’t got a clue who it is and why, I would guess Luthor because I have no idea and its always Luthor lately. But I really don’t know, and I can’t wait to see it revealed.

What Brad Meltzer has done is turn these heroes into us, he has made them human – while keeping them super-human – this is why this series works, it will make one hell of a graphic novel that’s for sure.




Filip Vukcevic

Perhaps the thing that I like most about Identity Crisis is the fact that it doesn’t focus on one particular hero (or villain) and instead mixes everything up. We have everything from two pairs of fathers with estranged sons, to a variety of heroes worrying about their loved ones, to villains trying to take advantage of the situation, to the Green Arrow stealing each issue with a killer line.

So we learn that Jean Loring survived her attack - I sort of wish she hadn’t. Her death would have added even more emotion to the story in addition to giving the mysterious murderer more of an ominous presence. Then again, it wasn’t really necessary for her to die, the attempt itself is all that was really needed to fray nerves even more.

So Lois is next, eh? In a way I like how each issue ends on a cliffhanger as it makes for great serialized storytelling (something comics are great at) but then again empty cliffhangers take away from the story as a whole. What is the point in the villain saying ‘Boo! I’m gonna get you next, Lois’? Why not just go out and kill her? Well, obviously because that wouldn’t be allowed because it would change Superman too much, but I’d prefer if he didn’t tease us with her death since we all know it isn’t going to happen. Then again, perhaps the point isn’t to tease us with her threats of her death, but to tease Superman. I really look forward to his reaction in the next issue. Knowing that the murderer is serious, how far will Superman go to ensure Lois isn’t next? What lines will he cross? These are some great topics that I really hope Meltzer explores; I don’t doubt that he will.

As for the rest of the issue, I really liked the scene between Ollie and Hal Jordan. For whatever reason, Meltzer has decided that in this series Oliver Queen will be THE man and I’m happy about it. His line about how he has been sharpening arrows all week was both really cool sounding and great at showing the nature of the character. I also enjoyed how continuity was coming into play here (see Marvel, it can be a good thing) with the nod towards Hal Jordan’s return. Great stuff that adds both to this issue, and to the ‘Return of Hal Jordan’ event itself.

As usual the art is good and bordering on great. There are certain panels where I think Morales didn’t hit the mark he was looking for –like when Superman turns to Ollie to tell him he wants someone talking to Slipknot – but for the most part he does a great job. I like how the book has a realistic style to it that matches the tone of the story perfectly. Furthermore I like how the book goes easy on the splash pages and instead fills valuable page real-estate with more story.

Overall I would say that this is probably the weakest issue in the mini thus far, but that is still saying a lot. This is a very interesting and well-crafted series and now that we’re half way through I only hope the latter half of the story will prove to be as engaging as the first half




Dave Wallace

The DC event of the summer continues, and to be honest it isn’t quite following up on the promise of the first couple of issues. With a cop-out on last issue’s cliffhanger followed up by pages of dialogue, some character development and a couple of nice unexpected moments towards the issue’s end, there’s precious little (if any) real action to be found this issue – a first for the series. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s debatable whether all the talk and wild goose chasing which makes up for it warrants a full issue to itself.

A killer who leaves no clues might be a great story premise, but if it leaves the heroes – even Batman - with nothing to go on then they come off looking pretty whiny and ineffectual. It also grants licence for Meltzer to pull anything out of his hat at the end of the story – and I’m hoping that’s not going to happen. However, this issue does redeem itself somewhat with a couple of nice moments – Clark’s boy scout comment and Oliver’s reaction is fun, and Batman’s broodings in the cave carry all the weight of an addict who can’t tear himself away from his vocation, despite his assertions that he could stop at any time. It’s nicely observed moments like this which keep Meltzer’s writing nice and readable, even for a DC newbie like me who doesn’t have much of an investment in the characters.

Art-wise, there are a couple of mis-steps – a shot of Clark with his neck twisted round (almost Exorcist-style) makes him look more like Plastic Man than Superman, and his strained features in this panel and the Smallville scenes don’t exactly sit easily with the hugely chunky and buff boy scout we saw a few pages earlier. Having said that, there are some equally impressive scenes – Oliver’s supernatural encounter at the graveyard, Wonder Woman’s interrogation at the prison and Batman’s brief appearance – which restore faith in Morales’ pencils and gain a lot of dramatic weight through the artwork alone. I’m also a huge fan of Michael Turner’s covers, which are everything comics covers should be – bright, attractive, eye-catching, and an excellent tease of what’s inside.

This is the first issue of the title not to impress me, but that doesn’t make it a downer on the entire series. Maybe it’s just a case of middle issue syndrome, but this instalment feels less like a continuation of all the intrigue and action which has preceded it and more like a breather between the set-up and the finale. It doesn’t really go anywhere, but gives us time to think (and ask ourselves “Who Benefits?”) and checks that we’re all still listening. Roll on issue #5.



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