Wilfredo's Reviews: "Identity Crisis"

“Identity Crisis” was a comic book miniseries from DC Comics that was published in 2004. Basically, it’s a murder mystery where the victims and suspects were the heroes and villains of the DC Universe. It was written by novelist Brad Meltzer, in his first notable comic book work.

It’s probably the most controversial comics event of the past decade, even more so than Marvel’s “Civil War”. Its effects would be felt afterward for years. I must admit that I haven’t actually read the series - I could tell right away that I wasn’t going to like it. However I have read a lot about it, enough that I think I can offer a review of my own. Certainly, I need to get my feelings about it off my chest. As with my Civil War review, I’m going to start by describing the events of the series as neutrally as possible, then analyze it afterward.

The story begins with the superhero Elongated Man, aka as Ralph Dibny, out on an adventure. His wife, Sue, is waiting for him at home to give him a surprise. But when he arrives, he finds the house burnt down, and his wife a dead, burned husk. (The surprise? She was pregnant, apparently…)

Her funeral is attended by various superheroes. They discuss how the murder was possible, given the high-tech defenses the Justice League had set on the Dibny’s house. (Note: EM had made his secret identity public years before.) Ralph calls a particular set of Leaguers apart to tell them something: he believes he knows who the killer is- Doctor Light. (You might have seen him in the Teen Titans cartoon.)

It turns out that, years before, Light had discovered the Leaguers’ secret identities. He somehow got into the JLA headquarters while the only person there was Sue- and he raped her, which was shown semi-graphically in a flashback. Ralph and other heroes (Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Hawkman and Zatanna) arrived and captured him, then argued what to do with him. (Hawkman wanted to kill him!) Finally it was agreed that Zatanna would use her magic to erase his memory of the Leaguers’ identities, so he could not threaten their loved ones as well. But, it was suggested, why stop there? Why not try to cure him of his sick impulses? Zatanna was unsure, she had never tried anything like that before. They put it to a vote, and it was decided to try it.

As it turns out, Batman arrived moments after they finished the brainwashing. Knowing he would never stand for it, the group of heroes then erased Batman’s memories of the incident as well!!

Btw the process didn’t work well; while Light did indeed forget the heroes’ identities, he was reduced to a moron. The group of heroes kept this incident a secret, even from the other Leaguers. Now they suspected Light must somehow have recovered, and set out to kill Sue as revenge. The heroes then set out to find him.

They do, but it turns out he has hired Deathstroke (known as Slade in the Titans show) as his bodyguard. He proceeds to kick the asses of the heroes, until Green Arrow drives him away after stabbing him in the eye with one of his arrows. Both villains get away, though.

Meanwhile, other people related to the League also are threatened. Lois Lane gets a note warning her; Jean Loring, the ex-wife of the shrinking superhero The Atom is found by him hung by the neck, though he saves her; The father of Robin (the Tim Drake one) receives a gun, and is attacked by the villain Captain Boomerang, hired by someone to kill him; they end up killing each other. Firestorm is killed by the the villain, The Shadow Thief. As you can imagine, the superhero community starts getting very paranoid.

Meanwhile, Dr. Midnite, who is conducting an autopsy on Sue’s body, finds out that Sue was already dead before they burned her. She was apparently talking on the phone at the time. The cause seems to have been an aneurysm. On further investigation, they find microscopic footprints on her brain…

Later, Atom and his Ex have gotten back together. They talk about the case, and she mentions the note- which makes him realize that she had NO way of knowing about that part. That’s right, she was the killer.

It turns out that she had planned to set up a situation that would cause him to get back with her. So using an extra set of his shrinking gear, she went to Sue’s house to menace her (in disguise) to create the illusion that someone was threatening the heroes’ loved ones. She used the phone to bypass the house’s security, by shrinking to subatomic size and riding the electrons in the current (this is an old trick of the Atom’s.) Unfortunately her lack of experience with the device caused her to end up on Sue’s brain, accidentally killing her. Realizing she had just killed one of her own friends caused her to snap, and she went ahead with her plan, except now she was trying to kill the others for real.

The series ends with her being sent to Arkham Asylum, The Atom shrinking away to nothingness in his grief, and The League’s handling of Dr. Light being revealed.

Effects the series had:

-Ralph went on a trip to find a way to resurrect Sue in the miniseries “52”. In the end it turned out to be a trick by the sorcerer Felix Faust to exchange Ralph’s soul for his to the demon Neron; instead Ralph dies while sealing away the demon and the villain.

-Batman is left at odds with the heroes who erased his memory, Zatanna in particular. They feel ashamed of it as well.

-Doctor Light recovered his memories and became a sick villain again, until the supernatural avenger, The Spectre, killed him.

-Tim Drake now had to deal with the death of his father.

  • A new Firestorm (a black guy who inherited the other one’s powers by accident) was introduced.

-Similarly, a new Captain Boomerang (son of the original) also appeared.

-Deathstroke became a personal foe of Green Arrow, who had to train a lot to deal with him.

  • Jean Loring ended up becoming the host for the evil spirit, Eclipso.

-The Atom was found living on a parallel universe (where he replaced his own, dead counterpart, and was living a happy life) in the series “Countdown to Final Crisis.” Too bad that world was destroyed. He’s now back in the main DC Universe.

-And finally, everyone killed here and since then (including Ralph and Sue) have been resurrected as superpowered zombies under the control of Nekron, the God of Death, in the current " Blackest Night" miniseries.

My comments and opinions next time.

You lost me right there. At least read enough of it to get a general idea.

I’ve read Identity Crisis, and hated it. It seemed more like an overly long way to explain away Dr. Light’s descent from a semi-competent supervillain to the Ralph Wiggum of supervillains. That and the solution was just mean-spirited.

I believe I have read enough about the series to fairly assess it… and far MORE than I ever cared to (this included, yes, a posting of the rape scene. I looked it up because I just couldn’t believe that DC would do that to one of their characters, much less SHOW it.) In any case, this article is less about being 100% exact on every detail (I welcome corrections) and more on studying the effect that it had on the DC Universe. I’m convinced that it was the success of this series that convinced DC to start going for the cheap stuff (rape, gore and cannibalism) that has plagued its comics since 2004.

I was going to do my analysis tonight, but I’m too drained (spent New Year’s over at my sister’s house) so I’ll try again tomorrow.

Wasn’t there a rather quick look at the topic back in the Silver Age comics, where the Leaguers revealed their identities to each other, only to RETCON AMNESIUM them because someone read their minds and used the information against them? And a second story where everyone’s identities (save Aquaman) were switched, and they didn’t quite know it happened because they didn’t know each others’ identities (Green Arrow as Bruce Wayne went to a poor part of town, gets jumped.) and Aquaman, having no “secret identity” (“Arthur Curry was my birth name…”) has to save the day…

Identity Crisis is considerably darker than these, as these sort of have a happy, if return-to-status-quo endings–

Mabat: I believe you’re correct. At the very least, I remember the Dr. Light identity-switch story- in fact, it might be there where Light learned the heroes’ identities; IC may have started as a follow-up to that. Except, being written by a writer from outside comics, he turned it into a murder mystery.

Before I start my analysis, I feel I must give some background on the situation: 2004 was the year a Mr. Dan Didio took over as Vice President of DC Comics. He has been blamed for allowing, or even asking for much of the stuff I’ve been complaining about on DC Comics since then. And apparently, that’s true- it took me years, but after reading stuff posted online by him I concluded that he has a “Hollywood” kind of approach to comics- that more sex and gore (mostly gore) is what comics need to sell. (Sadly he seems to be right; of course, not everyone cares for such stuff, but they seem to be going for a college-age Frat Boy customer base, and people like me -or children, who, you know, are supposed to be the comics collectors of the future- can get screwed.)

Even more incredibly, I recently learned that the story originally did NOT include rape; that was added by a DC editor who decided the story wasn’t shocking enough (and the editor in question was a WOMAN! 0_0 )

I must remind you that, not only was this kind of thing never done by DC (at least, not in their all-ages superhero comics- IC had no warning in its cover, one of the facts held against it) but DC’s last big “event” miniseries before this one was “Justice League vs The Avengers” a crossover with Marvel Comics that was as pure old fashioned Superhero Geek Dream Come True as there has ever been- and it sold VERY well. Similarly, the miniseries “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League!” a revival of the humorous days of the League (featuring nobody less than Ralph and Sue Dibny) had also been published not long before (the writers of this series, btw had NO idea what was going to be done to their characters soon- more of DC’s poor editorship at work?) DC obviously didn’t need to go darker to sell. Still, it isn’t bad to experiment- it’s the way new trends are discovered, after all. Unfortunately, someone- Didio, most likely- decided that IC’s success meant that was the way they needed to go from now on… and they did. :frowning:

Anyway, let’s get to the story itself.

To be fair, the fact that Dibny had made his secret identity public years before was a bomb waiting to explode; of course some villain was going to go after him or his wife sooner or later! It’s just that Elongated Man never particularly made any foes, certainly not ones so vicious.

Adding in a pregnancy to the death scene was an even bigger insult; depending on the reader’s beliefs regarding gestation, that meant an UNBORN CHILD was also murdered.

And then came the revelation of the rape. Again, someone decided that the murder of Sue Dibney just didn’t make a strong enough story by itself, so they HAD to add a rape. Even if you agree, did they just HAVE to show it, even if it was only partially? Definitely, we had to have a combination of a writer from outside comics and some insensible editors to think that was necessary.

I must point out, btw, that the League (certainly, at least Green Lantern) had been shown messing with people’s minds during the Silver Age of comics. In fact, Lantern villain Major Disaster started as a crook who accidentally found out the hero’s identity, so he used his ring, not to cause him to forget it, but rather to know but be unable to tell anyone. Out of frustration, he became a supervillain just to get back at the hero. Oops. It seems certain that IC was not only about justifying Dr. Light’s fall as a villain, as mentioned by Galloway, but also as a big criticism of this kind of behavior. So, instead of assuming that the League never did such things after DC’s big history reboot of 1985, here they assumed they did but the consequences were ignored until now. The point of all this seemed to be to show how the great heroes of the League had shameful secrets to hide, to bring them down from their perceived perfection.

Unfortunately, the writer just understimated the personalities of the heroes. Would the Leaguers really kept this event from the other members? Much less remove Batman’s memory rather than own up to the rest of the Team? No; they’d certainly had their inner conflicts over bgger things (the time Batman quit after the League refused to help him rescue a friend from a war-torn country, afraid they’d cause an international incident, comes to mind.) The writer acts as if the league was just unable to deal with something like a rape, and just wanted to sweep the whole matter under the rug.

Another criticism of the series was the way Deathstroke almost beat the League so easily. Actually, Slade was created as a villain that could, and did, take on whole superhero teams (such as the Teen Titans); of course, when he did, he used advanced technology and prepared strategies; the battle with the League was just stupid, with him basically punching out the heroes, including people like Flash and Green Lantern??? Also, Green Arrow can’t think of how to defeat him than by gruesomely stabbing him in the eye (to be fair, that was Slade’s empty eye socket, but STILL) instead of using one of the dozens of gadgets he has in his arrows?? The battle in fact, had almost nothing to do with the story, and seems to have been thrown in to give the series SOME action.

I must point out, however, that having Loring go insane so easily isn’t incorrect- in the old days, her mind had been messed with at least once. However, her relationship with Atom was ruined by her when SHE cheated on him. This is never brought up in the story; instead it made to look as if he had been the one who walked out on her.

I also admit that the investigation (and the cause) of Sue’s death was interesting- again, we have a realistic consequence of the use of an action from the Silver Age- in this case, The Atom’s telephone-riding trick.

But for all the good mystery angle, the story deflates itself by having Loring accidentally stutter the truth, instead of having Batman or someone else confront her. And then everything basically grinds to a halt with Loring’s imprisonment (in Arkham, because heroes know how GOOD those people are at curing the insane! :noway: ) and the sad fates of Atom and Ralph. Even people who had enjoyed the story up to that point found the end a massive letdown.

So, basically: Identity Crisis came about because a novel writer felt like writing a comic about some facts he remembered having read about decades before, and DC’s new editorial thinking it was about time to trying something new (read: shocking for its own sake.) They then decided it had been a sucess (despite all the criticism made by fans) and they continued to go for the more base approach in stories and events up to this day. ( I wouldn’t catch on what they were doing until about two years later, after their next Big Event, “Infinite Crisis”; since then, I’ve refused to buy any DC Comics until I feel they won’t throw such stuff into any series without warning… sadly, it doesn’t seem they have changed their ways yet. :frowning: )