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Identity Crisis

Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2005
By: Dominic Organ




Writer: Brad Meltzer
Artists: Rags Morales (p), Michael Bair (i)

Publisher: DC Comics


DC is an interesting entity. Human beings learn and evolve thanks to their pasts; they are the sum of their experiences essentially. I pick up something incredibly hot, I get burned and put it down. Yes, I may repeat this almost a hundred times but eventually, after being told, shown and finally tested for myself, I learn the lesson. Itís the way of all creatures I suppose (George W. excluded of course) and yet DC constantly picks at its own history like an unseemly scab. For some bizarre reason, DC feels the need to play around with the past and future, resulting in numerous stories that cause my retinas to burn out with rage as they are rarely handled properly. I think this is typical of comics on the whole, sodding around with the continuity of a hero is a bad idea. An interesting anomaly here is the Sentry, who was woven into the fabric of Marvel's past very well in his mini (I exclude New Avengers as they have just altered this to remove him from everyone's memories bar the heroes involved, essentially altering this uniquely handled plot pointÖ.hmm). Iím pleased to say that Identity Crisis goes about sorting out some of the weaknesses in the transition from old to new. That can only be a good thingÖ..canít it?

The first claim I should make about this story is, readers need to go in emotionally open about it. Try to put yourself in the position of the characters; youíll find it far more fulfilling, much like eating an Oreo in front of someone on a diet or having sex on your bossí deskÖÖ.with his wife. Second, I am going to reveal the minimum amount possible regarding the story as that is how I read it, with minimal knowledge. Beyond that, I am going to have to at least reveal what I knew beforehand to make this a review worth reading. Otherwise this is just 6 paragraphs of me saying funny things and as hilarious as that is to read, I would have a hard time getting it put on the site.

The story begins with Elongated man, a hero long left out in the cold along with numerous other JLI\JLE members as writers are hard pressed to match the Giffen\De Matteis formula that worked so well in the eighties. The entire story is really about Elongated Man and his wife Sue, though the story is padded out beautifully with additional characters. This reads like a JSA story; itís all about the past. Moreover it takes the past, spits on it, swipes at it with a rag and actually makes it sparkle a little bit. Ralph reminisces about his life with Sue, how they met and his feelings for her. As I read this, I took a moment to wish I had spent more time reading about them. Oh sure I read the JLI\JLE series but if Meltzer had written a series just about these two with this sort of emotional depth, I would not only read it but marry it also. Now I knew Sue was going to die; I had stumbled across that fact when IC first came out. Unavoidable as a TPB reader. To be honest it is a miracle I didnít find out everything else that happens, but I was fortunate with this one. All the same it didnít prepare me for the brutality of what happens to her, nor for Ralph's naked grief. If you have ever seen a person so totally destroyed they canít even hold themselves up, be prepared to see it again.

What gets addressed here is some of the weaknesses of the old stories. When the JLA got possessed or their identities were found out, what happened to that knowledge? The book deals with it in the right way I feel. Itís also an appropriate choice of characters for the darker side of this story. Green Arrow, Black Canary, Carter and even Zee to a certain extent could all be considered far more black ops than JLA. They have proven their worth in the past, but also shown they are prepared to be brutal to get the job done. The surprise is the other inclusions, most notably the Atom and Barry Allen. Could they really be a party to this sort of behaviour? You bet, and the story doesnít hold back in explaining why. We also get to see how organised the heroes are when a crisis of this sort strikes, but not in the way you think. Yes, the security systems of the heroes are impressive and the way they mobilise is equally interesting. However, what the heroes donít do speaks volumes. Iconic heroes like Superman and Batman areÖ.selective in what they discover. So long as the job gets done, the dirty work can be pushed to the background. Laced throughout the story is betrayal which is presented in spades. It really makes you think about the characters and how they have been forced to tarnish the very ideals they are attempting to safeguard.

The battle between the heroes and Deathstroke is very satisfying. Some of the best the DC universe has to offer go up against a foe we rarely get to see anymore, which is a shame given the way Meltzer handles him. On top of this a small army of heroes spread out looking for clues to the crime and get nowhere. There is an obvious sense of panic here, and itís orchestrated well, illustrating people on the brink, trying to maintain the aura of calm.

Where the story really stands out though is in the human tragedy of it all. I am a big fan of titanic battles, of seeing Superman (who I readily admit I donít actually like) get hit and not miss a bit. It gives a child-like giddy thrill which is quite satisfying. This story provides this but in minimal amounts. Instead, a soap opera style story unfolds and for once, Iím not flicking to the soccer. The intensity and focus does fluctuate though. The Firestorm situation is weak compared to, say, the Atom and his ex-wife. Something I never saw coming and was pleasantly surprised. The most shocking, most poignant and most memorable part of the entire story has to be Batman and Robin racing back to Tim's apartment. The fear is palpable and all over Batman's face, a single panel that will stick with me for some time I am sure. It is just one of the brilliant moments featured in this story which makes the heroes seem really vulnerable. Not vulnerable against some vast enemy or some unconquerable evil, but against their own fears and insecurities. The bonds between them get so stretched you think they might snap. Of course they donít, but for a second thereÖÖ.

The reason I donít give this a perfect is the bung I requested from DC still hasnít cleared yet, and I'm nobody's fool. Also, the art is incredibly spotty in places. At times it is downright ugly and this detracts from the story. God knows what the artists was aiming for in the first few panels, Ralph looks like a bloody alien. On top of that is Conner, who is given a Guy Gardner-esque haircut and made about fifteen. These are minor matters and not indicative of the art on the whole, which is actually excellent, but it is enough to lower the rating in my eyes. On top of that the curse of the JLI continues to march on with Sue dying and Ralph distraught. Add to that the recent deaths of both Blue Beetle and Maxwell Lord, wellÖÖÖÖÖyou can shove up your arse, DC. It could be golden pages and the finest story ever told, but if it kills another JLI member, Iím visiting your office with the new Celine Dion single. Then where will you be? Hmm?



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