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Tuesday, January 29, 2019 

Meltzer's still unrepentant, and CBR won't ask any hard questions

15 years since Identity Crisis, CBR interviewed Brad Meltzer again about the miniseries that's offensive to victims of sexual assault and child abuse, but did they try to ask any challenging questions about it? Nope. And Meltzer himself still has no mea culpa to offer. Here goes:
At its heart, Identity Crisis was a murder mystery that shook the Justice League to its core. But when it arrived in 2004, the turns of the plot proved some of the most controversial and consequential changes to DC's heroes in the modern era. It also proved a runaway best-seller in both comic shops and bookstores and gave birth to some of the firmament of what DC has been ever since. Meltzer's always kept a hand in comics, but his legacy will always begin with Identity Crisis.
Some "legacy" alright. One involving a filthy tale with a resolutely masculine viewpoint, superheroines who prove even more ineffective than the superheroes, a contrived battle with Deathstroke where Zatanna gets rammed in the stomach resulting in her vomiting, Black Canary a leather bag over her head and handcuffed, Hawkman falls to the ground when his wings are cut, even though his 9th Metal belt would keep him afloat, and Kyle Rayner attacks Slade with his fists, NOT the GL ring. Do I need to point out how disgusting and sensationalized all that shock value was?

I think the claim it was such a best-seller is exaggerated at best, but nevertheless, it does suggest Meltzer's own audience - who apparently comprised a significant chunk of the buyers - is pretty morally bankrupt. Or, that he draws quite a soulless crowd, and that's the really galling part. As is the following:
I don't know how much time you spend reflecting on your own history, but considering that milestone, it's very strange to look at that book as a precursor to a lot of the ways superhero graphic novels are sold today. That's the first collection I have a memory of seeing the author's name on the top of the cover, as big as the title. It looked like one of your thrillers more so than an average DC book. What's your memory of the push to make this thing so different?

It's interesting. People always ask me how I make best-selling books. And what I say is that a bestseller is like catching lightning in a bottle – the only way it works is if everything happens at once. You have to have a good book – that goes without saying – but you also need a great cover and a great marketing plan. And you also need a publicity plan and getting the press to weigh in with good reviews. And then the sales team has to place the book at the front of the store. It's just everything needs to happen at exactly that moment. Wonderful books have been written that never get that chance.

For me, I remember that Green Arrow was this wonderful move by [then DC editor] Bob Shreck to bring in someone new. Comics weren't as cool as they are now. Kevin was a big get for them. I remember when back in the day, the screenwriter Sam Hamm did an arc for Detective Comics and it was like "Oh my God! A screenwriter is writing a comic!" But really no one outside of comics wrote for comics. Kevin said he wanted to do it, and then I was the next guy through the door because I love this world. I think Green Arrow, it worked for myself and DC realized that we could then do something even bigger.

My memory of Identity Crisis was that it felt like the launch of one of my novels. We all sat down, and we had this incredible publicity machine ready to help with David Hyde and Alex Segura back in the day. They were really pushing interviews with the New York Times and Entertainment Weekly and saying, "This is not just a monthly comic book. This is an event for us." And then the sales people like John Cunningham came in and said, "We want this in the front of the store like one of your novels. We want your fans coming in and looking for this book." It wasn't a comic book. It was a book. And to me, there was never any difference between those two things. But DC was consciously under Dan DiDio's leadership reaching for this bigger audience.

And I also remember that this was at a time where if you read [Diamond's distribution catalogue] Previews, everything was ruined. Everything in terms of spoilers was right there. You knew what the twist was. You knew who the surprise guest star was. All of it. And the comics I remember reading growing up were Marv Wolfman writing "The Judas Contract" where you had no idea Terra was a bad guy. When that moment happened, it blew your brain apart.
Wow, he sure seems to miss that Terra's treachery - and collaborations with Deathstroke - were revealed early on, nearly halfway through the storyline that ran for a year. Ditto that unlike Meltzer's abomination, Slade's breaking the law by having implied sex with an underaged teen girl wasn't depicted positively or as something trivial. Even if Changeling let him escape an official sentencing because he was thinking of seeking revenge himself. Nor were the good girls denied viewpoints in the stories. All that aside, his comments about spoilers and twists are almost hilarious, because he left some giveaway clues that only further demonstrate why the book doesn't hold up well in multiple readings, like red lettering for one of Jean Loring's word balloons.

And this reminds me of why Marvel apparently hired people like J. Michael Straczynski to write Spider-Man: they were hoping his audience would give them a boost too. Which only hints it's not based on story merit for one particular story alone. It's also quite interesting he'd say comics weren't as cool up to the turn of the century as they are now. There's plenty of stuff - in far better taste than he ever showed - leading up to that time that's cooler than what the Big Two have been publishing since, that's for sure.
CBR: The response to that book was tremendous. Every new issue was hotly debated, but I don't think it's anything compared to what we see on social media today. Do you feel the series was a precursor to how the discussion of superhero comics has evolved? And do you think the response to the book would be different now?

Brad Meltzer: The way we are today, the one secret creators whisper to each other when they're alone and no one is around to hear, is just how ruthless the readership has gotten. There's no pleasing anyone in any medium, and we all know that. Somewhere along the way, the culture got meaner. There was a beautiful article that came out the past couple of days ago in Esquire that was about how we owe Hootie and the Blowfish an apology. They put out this great album, and then their second album came out, and we tore them apart. And it's not because we didn't like them. It was because we thought that it wasn't cool to like them. We started making our consumption something for public consumption. Our taste was for public consumption. It's no surprise that reality TV gave birth to the Internet gave birth to Donald Trump. It's just this culture of judgement and hatred and venom.
Ah, look at that, he couldn't resist the opportunity to attack Donald Trump again, as he did shortly after the election! Doesn't sound like he's particularly fond of the internet either. And it goes without saying he's pretty much villified the comics/superhero audience in the process. No doubt, he's no fan of Comicsgate. But, he does seem to be quite a Tom King fan:
I was texting with Tom King a little bit when Heroes In Crisis first came out, and I said, "Prepare yourself. You won't believe the passions you're going to find from everyone on their favorite character." I think that rather than being able to read and calmly judge and look at things, we turn everything in the superhero world into black and white. You're either the greatest writer of all time, or you're the worst. You're ever the hero to everyone who loves this character because you gave them a great moment or you're the worst thing to happen to writing since...insert whoever it was last month.
Well, I think that sums up what he thinks fans who care about the characters. Whether or not Wally West and at least 2 other Titans were killed off as sacrifices on the alter of sales-through-controversy and trolling the audience, he sure doesn't seem to care. So we the audience see everything sans color, but people with politics like his can see and do whatever they please with it, huh?
The biggest part of the response to Identity Crisis revolved around the female characters in the book. It was bookended by tragic events for Sue Dibny and Jean Loring, and that aspect of the series got a very polarizing response even back then. Now we're in a different place in society in terms of how we talk about issues like domestic abuse and so much of what informed your series. Would you write it differently today if you had the chance to do it again, or do you not play those mental exercises?

I think it's dangerous to take old work and try to rewrite it for whatever today's standards are supposed to be for a particular moment. If you do that, you're starting to write by focus group and by groupthink. No great story will ever come from that. I think that anyone who read the book knows there are really hard issues in that book. There are moments about people and about us – about rape and about violence. Even when I look back on it, it's a hard moment to read. It's designed to be.

I remember at the time, people were writing, "Rape has no place in a comic." To me, if you say in any medium that subjects are off limits? Well, I'll say it this way. I wish there was no rape in the universe. I wish that awful event never took place. But if we say that we can't discuss this as a culture, we're in an even worse place than just having it exist. It will always be uncomfortable, and that's what art always has to do. Our medium has to deal with those issues, and that's what it's always done. Whether it was Stan Lee's soapboxes, or Black Panther being introduced, or the Hard Traveling Heroes dealing with issues of the counterculture. Wherever it might have been, there have always been places where comics have taken on the hardest issues in society, and I hope it always will. It may not please everyone, but art is not always meant to please you. It's, at its best, meant to challenge you.
And here, he reduces it all to a mere "belief" that sexual assault has no place in a specific medium, not whether the subject itself was minimized. Let's be clear: the smart person doesn't think sexual abuse has no place for discussion in the medium proper. The subject was actually addressed in the 5th issue of The Question series Denny O'Neil wrote in the late 80s. And the difference there, in a story that was geared for adults, is that it wasn't presented as a trivial issue. Why, the office manager who'd forced himself on the company employee in Hub City was finally feeling so guilty for his violation of the woman (who angrily lambasted him afterwards), he committed suicide by jumping off the roof of the office building. Back in those days, most entertainment producers had more common sense.

No, the issue with Identity Crisis, which CBR's incompetent interviewer missed a golden opportunity to clearly cite, is that it largely erased any female viewpoint, with Zatanna/Black Canary not even saying anything while the JLA are discussing what to do with Dr. Light (and Sue Dibny was absent), acting like juveniles after the incident and just keeping everything secret, as if they'd literally done that before.

And while art may be meant for challenge, is it suitable it should offend victims of serious offenses while pleasing their tormentors? Should it be sympathetic to criminals? More importantly, while it may not be possible to change the story itself, wouldn't it at least be helping matters if Meltzer were to admit he made a mistake from a moral perspective? Well, he's not being very honest with the following:
Do I think Identity Crisis would be treated differently today? Absolutely. But I can't change it. No artist should ever go back and rewrite their work if it made a couple of people upset. I think it's far more important if you're writing from a truthful place rather than a reactive place. And the sad truth is, that issue needs to be dealt with and talked about more than ever. It's the only way we're ever going to make any progress.
Umm, what issue would that be, exactly? That US authorities are waterboarding terrorists in Abu Ghraib? That 9-11 was an "inside job"? Because that's what the miniseries seemed to serve as a metaphor for: leftist "trutherism". He's right though, that the miniseries would be treated a lot more differently today - as an insult to victims of Weinstein/Cosby/Spacey, for example - but that doesn't mean there weren't people 15 years ago who saw this slimy tale for what it was too. I get the feeling the change in atmosphere post-Weinstein annoys him, because he realizes it'd be much harder to market such a story today when people are not only more aware of sexual assault, they'd take far more offense at stories making light of it too.

But the problem here is that he doesn't admit he belittled a serious issue while building up the JLA's actions against Dr. Light as the real concern, in what was the mini's possible allusion to terrorists and other criminals being given therapy to try and cure them of their twisted beliefs.

Some of the commentors saw through this latest charade, and one said:
Meltzer is a talented novelist for sure and I loved his TV show. But he totally doesn't understand the concept of superheroes (he enjoys flawed heroes and that's not a superhero). Also, the overall premises of Identity Crisis was nonsensical. After all the lies, rape and death, he had the characters surmise they had to pull together as a family to survive. When all the lies, rape and deaths were caused by the heroes pulling together as a family. If they never shared their secret identities none it would have happened. Sorry Brad, you've done a ton of great work, but Identity Crisis wasn't one.

As for “mind wipe”, well I'm pretty sure the term existed before Identity Crisis. But I had assumed Brad had done his home work and had known it was fairly common place in comicbooks. Justice League of America #168 dealt with it as the Secret Society of Supervillains learned who the heroes were. Geoff Johns even brought that old Gerry Conway story together with Brad's IC in JLA #115, “Crisis of Conscience”. Again, I assumed Identity Crisis was just Brad's 'adult' twist on the concept of mindwipping and that old JLoA tale. But hearing he thinks he may have invented it?! Whatever.
Another said:
I thank Brad for helping to make it so that I can't share my love for super hero comics with my young grandson. There is a place for adult themes in comic books, but not in comic books starring characters that are marketed to children. Identity Crisis wasn't even all that original. It was just a rehash of themes from Moore's Watchmen.
Which is honestly overrated, even by today's standards. Here's another:
I don't think anyone was necessarily saying there's no place to discuss an issue like rape in comics, as much as they were saying that maybe a Justice League comic book is not the best place to try and address the issue.
Let me put it this way: it's actually harder to take things seriously when you have a cartoonish looking guy with a goatee-style beard in a costume as the culprit. If Yousemite Sam from WB's Looney Tunes were depicted as a rapist, then putting aside for a moment what would be the offensive misuse of a guy from a cartoon for children, would it be possible to take such a story seriously if it used an absurdly cartoony crook in such a scenario? Also:
There's a difference between "discussing an issue" and "exploiting an issue for cheap shock value without giving it any due thought nor real care."
Exactly. If they think a criminal's "rights" matter far more than a victim's, that's where they've blown it big time. It just demonstrates a refusal to make distinctions between good and bad, and that's precisely why the miniseries hasn't aged well.

And CBR - surprise, surprise - once again missed an opportunity to bring up some challenging queries about the structure, such as whether Meltzer thinks he did it at the expense of real life victims, whether they set out to conceive a leftist metaphor for real world politics, and all they've done is show why they were never really fit for the job in the first place, because they're only establishment-leaning.

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Warren Newsom writes "Identity Crisis wasn't even all that original. It was just a rehash of themes from Moore's Watchmen."

"Which is honestly overrated, even by today's standards."

Today's standards are so low, that Watchmen would be an extremely good sjw comic if it was done in recent years.

Every couple of years someone tries to do another Watchmen rip-off. Every couple of years someone tries to use superheroes to tackle serious social issues in hopes of getting some money from the coffeebook market as well as academia,

The latest example is Phonogram and The Wicked + The Divine
works, written by Kieron Gillen,who, like Warren Ellis, who he is friends with, writes comics for people who don't even like comics but care about social issues.

Watchmen, and other "Biff! Bam! Pow! Comics Aren't For Just For Kids" comics that were released in the 1980s, spearheaded the entrance of sjws into comics. Some of them were quite good, but many, many of them were not. For a while, sjw comics creators were confined to alternative comics but now we live in a time, where sales for superhero stuff is so low, that Marvel thinks it could good get a boost by asking a feminist writer to explore the toxic masculinity of Wolverine with Chris Ware drawing and this would be applauded by academia, the real customers of comics these days. Maybe a few fanboys would buy the hype, despite being anti-sjw. I mean, they got that shitty cartoonist, Ed Piskor, do X-Men: Grand Design with approval from anti-sjw fanboys.

Ed Piskor,Kieron Gillen, Warren Ellis, Brett Meltzer, and Tom King owe a lot to = Watchmen. Piskor even makes a tribute to Watchmen for X-Men: Grand Design. The influence of WATCHMEN has been recognized by Alan Moore to be so awful that he spent the 1990s and the first couple years of the 2000s, trying to undo the influence of Watchmen, which, back then, was called "grim and gritty" superheroes. He failed miserably as many people in the comics "community" continued to praise Watchmen and ignore stuff like Tom Strong. Frank Miller took the "grim and gritty" approach to absurdity with his return to Batman in the 2000s, and he was criticized for everything his "grim and gritty" approach to Batman.

The influence of Watchmen was not just "grim and gritty" superheroes, or deconstructing superheroes. It has become a license to do deconstruct the entire medium. Shitty art, non-existent storytelling, things that were confined to places like Fantagraphics,
is now being accepted at all the major comics publishers.

The alternative comics sensibility is now everywhere. Its supporters will defend it by saying there are a lot of diverse voices in it, which they mean there are a lot of neurotic nerds whining about being failures and why they hate social norms everywhere instead of a shitty indie comic no one reads. We can all thank all those trailblazers that showed the world that "Biff! Bam! Pow! Comics Aren't For Just For Kids" anymore, they are for Progressive politics and people in academia who enjoy Contemporary Art, deconstructed art, for this situation.

So what do you want to do Mike, blow up academia itself and then watch the education system rebuild over the next 20 or so years?

Aren't a lot of the problems in the Middle East right now because of America and Soviet Union arming a lot of trigger-happy bandits to do the fighting for them?

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