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Friday, July 27, 2012 

One fan explains his problems - and ours - with Identity Crisis in retrospect

Here's one writer at CBR who's offered his opinions of why Identity Crisis was bottom of the barrel, though he could have done a lot better:
...while talking about DC’s Big Events with a friend on the way to the movies, I got a new perspective on the way these stories are received. Basically, my friend had seen Identity Crisis on a list of all-time worst comics and wanted my thoughts, because he had enjoyed it. Similarly, he liked Blackest Night not so much for the nonstop carnage, but for the sense that there were consequences.

Trying to be brief (I hear you snicker), I explained that in fact, Identity Crisis and Blackest Night were pretty much the bookends for DC’s constant-crossover period of 2004-10. During that time, DC messed with beloved characters major and minor, leaving frustrated fans in its wake. In this respect Identity Crisis was one of the worst offenders. It took two otherwise-innocuous Justice League spouses and revealed that one (Sue Dibny, married to Ralph “Elongated Man” Dibny) had been raped years ago by the villain Dr. Light, and the other (Jean Loring, ex-wife of Ray “The Atom” Palmer) had gone criminally insane and killed the first. Wrapped as they were in an emotionally-manipulative narrative, these events added to the list of superhero comics’ misogynistic tropes. My friend agreed that superhero comics have not treated women well.

That said, he comes from the perspective of an irregular trade-paperback reader, one step removed even from the regular trade-waiters. It made me realize just how close an every-Wednesday reader like me can get to these characters, and consequently how that nearness affects my reactions. Apparently, when Identity Crisis was originally published I liked it up to a point — although I know many of you did not, and for good reasons — and my biggest problems originally had to do with its (lack of an) ending.

In hindsight, though, at least some of my reaction to IC comes from my feelings about Sue and Jean as ongoing concerns within DC’s shared universe. (This may be moot: as far as I know, neither they nor Dr. Light have been so much as mentioned so far in the New 52. Maybe they just don’t exist anymore?) Without diminishing the larger sociological concerns, killing Sue was a fundamental change in the Elongated Man’s basic setup, because his solo adventures featured her pretty heavily. (Sue also showed up in his later Justice League adventures, working the monitor boards as a League administrator.) Indeed, two years after Identity Crisis, Ralph’s subplot in 52 ended up reuniting them in death as “ghost detectives.” This didn’t necessarily stop them from appearing in future stories, but no one did anything with it, and now their New-52 status is nebulous.

As for Jean, she spent some time in Arkham Asylum before becoming the new Eclipso, turning the Spectre evil (temporarily), and then being depowered and killed. For his part, the Atom traveled the Multiverse after Jean’s incarceration, returning towards the end of Countdown in 2008 after failing to save a parallel Earth from a killer virus. He’d been through a lot with Jean already, so perhaps it was easier for him to move on, even after her final criminally-insane-god-of-evil phase. In the New 52, Ray Palmer appears in Frankenstein, Agent Of SHADE as a SHADE physicist, not as the Atom; and again, I’m not clear on whether “now” he’s had any history with Jean.

Still, under the old rules, those were two well-established superhero couples altered pretty significantly. All of it could have been reversed (Ralph and Sue especially, since all they needed were new bodies), but there wasn’t much urgency to do so.

And that’s the thing: the more dedicated you are to the weekly habit, I suspect the more you want to see particular characters and situations; and vice versa. Someone who only occasionally picks up a DC collection may see the characters only in the context of those particular stories. For example, while Identity Crisis presents the Elongated Man and the Atom (and their spouses) as well-established characters, for purposes of that story all the occasional reader needs to know is that they are well-established.
More to the point, the biggest faults of the book is that it does not ask or want us to like the characters, not even the male ones, and worse, there's no female viewpoint; it goes by an almost exclusively masculine lensing through the unpleasant and uninspired artwork of Rags Morales, who lost my respect after lending himself to Brad Meltzer's abomination. I do find it very disturbing that someone who's an outsider could not initially recognize how crude and shoddy it was, written like a horrible fanfiction (eg-the contrived "fight" with Deathstroke that was clearly just in there because Slade Wilson - in image/powers/skills only- is supposed to be cool). It makes me wonder just how well educated even some novel readers really are, since some of the buyers may have been part of Meltzer's audience as a novelist, and if they bought into the miniseries' story hook line and sinker with virtually no objections whatsoever, then they're clearly not much better than rabid so-called comics fans who're predisposed to liking any particular comic just because they're told to.

And why wasn't their any urgency to fix the damage? Well gee, that's simple - DiDio obviously wanted to do as much harm as he possibly could as EIC, and Bob Harras doesn't seem much different. That's also why no attempt was even made to figure out whether Jean had been framed/set up to take the fall.

The lack of a real ending is also offensive, as it signals how the publishers were hoping that the gullible will empty their wallets for more and more meaningless and time-wasting crossovers that will only make their lives in retrospect seem like a lifetime wasted. It's still unclear whether the audience has learned its lesson, though we can be sure that there's plenty of terrible books spun from those deplorable "events" littering up the bargain bins by now.

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