Back in 2004, DC Comics came out with a 7-issue mini-series that they promoted as the “comic event of the year”. I know from experience that claims of this kind often lead to disappointments but I have to admit writer Brad Meltzer and the art team of Rags Morales and Michael Bair’s “IDENTITY CRISIS” did make its mark and may indeed have been the comic event of the DC Universe during that year. (Please note that I said “DC Universe” and not in all of comic fandom). The title became DC”s top selling series during that year, coming out with multiple reprints and variant covers. (one word of advise, you DO NOT need multiple covers, trust me). This series has finally been collected in a hardcover volume and is a must-see because it launched the plot thread in which the Justice League of America begins its breakdown of relationships and precedes the company-wide money grab called “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and the “Crisis of Conscience“ story arc in the pages of JLA.
Sue Dibny, the wife of the Elongated Man (while he was on stakeout) is murdered apparently dying of severe burns. Because of Ralph (the Elongated Man) and Sue Dibny’s links to the super-hero community, (Sue is an honorary member of the JLA) they mobilize to find the killer. They break down into groups to cover more area but a group of the JLA (Zatanna, Green Arrow, Hawkman, Black Canary, Elongated Man, The Flash and Green Lantern) has decided to stay behind to seek out who they believed was the prime suspect, the super-villain called Doctor Light. Why? Dr. Light had raped Sue Dibny in the past and this detail has been kept from the rest of the League. But there is more to this murder than it seems as it seems to be a direct threat to the heroes’ loved ones which also leaves the father of the new Robin’s (Tim Drake) a victim of murder. Secrets are revealed that threaten to destroy the Justice League…and how does the Atom fit into all this? The Batman may have the answer…
Covers were illustrated by Michael Turner
For a comic series that boasts of a stellar cast, I was impressed how writer Brad Meltzer was able to find a balance to all of this. Meltzer doesn’t appear overwhelmed with the series’ story and he seemed to have found his footing by not relying on a world-shaking threat to generate excitement but rather drawing out a simple murder mystery. I was also impressed that the tale seems mostly focused on a small group that didn’t have the big three of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman but rather the second leads that include Kyle Rayner (Green Lantern) and Wally West (The Flash). Ok, so maybe Wally’s not a second lead but you get the point. I feel that this is one of the rare occasions that the stakes feel very personal for the League. This is no easy task since DC has a habit of portraying their heroes as almost infallible.
You see humanity in the script as we see Ralph Dibny opening up to Firehawk on his birthday about his beloved wife. It is well-known that Ralph and Sue are among the heroes who went public with their identities, and this can be seen as either an advantage or a disadvantage. Meltzer took his time, gave new readers a chance to be introduced to the couple and once you feel invested, then the story goes into overdrive. Much of the story is about the investigation, autopsy and other possibilities that lead to some action and even some heart-breaking moments. We see glances at the relationships between Ray Palmer and Jean Loring, Tim Drake and his father, Lois and Clark, and many more. I appreciate the fact that Meltzer remembered to give the heroes a very human side and that they do have a lot to lose.
It also offers a lot of surprises as two and even three significant characters (third one possibly) are killed in the series. The script was able to generate the needed suspense and I was kept guessing as to what happen next especially the first 4 issues/chapters. Meltzer made a goal to establish an idea that there is distrust in the League and the revelation of secrets may just succeed where most opponents have failed. The series does manage to generate a feeling of dread but it does make some minor missteps as some revelations felt too convenient and it does present the identity of the killer as more shocking than one built on strong credibility. The identity of the killer does present a lot of questions but sometimes, things like this do happen. It may be a little far-fetched but I have to say it was necessary to get its point across; That sometimes the strain may be too much for a super-hero and his family.
For action fans, the encounter between Slade (Deathstroke) and this team of leaguers was pretty good. It was nice to see someone rely on skills and ingenuity take on opponents with the firepower of the Flash and Green Lantern in its roster. It was a good battle and it was real surprising to see someone outmanned, outgunned, give the League a good fight. (it was strange as I saw myself rooting for Slade at times). Other heroes such as Superman, Mister Terrific, Doctor Mid-Nite makes appearances but they were there for the investigation.
“Identity Crisis” re-established a concept that the JLA is no perfect fighting unit and that it is a group made whole by some secrets and somewhat dirty decisions. It was real fresh and a relief to see the otherwise invincible “League” feel much more human, but the comic series THE AVENGERS had done this many times before. (remember the domestic physical abuse by Yellowjacket on the Wasp?). DC didn’t do anything different from the pages of superhero fandom, but finally they had the nerve to go on a mature concept such as rape. It is a gutsy move and nicely executed, it may well be indeed be one of the gutsiest move DC had ever done.
Highly Recommended! [4+ Stars]
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