I knew this was going to hurt.
Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales is a book I have wrestled with for years. I’ve openly admitted I love it. I’ve also admitted I know everything wrong with it. I haven’t gone back in a long time though. So when I hit a beat where the death of Tim Drake’s father was relevant I decided I needed to cover it.
And I’ll be blunt with y’all. I still don’t have my mind made up here. This book frustrates the hell out of me. It’s a mess. It’s a toxic mess at that. But it’s a mess with some genuinely brilliant ideas. I want to throw it away but I can’t. So instead I’m going to wrestle with it.
Full spoilers ahead.
Identity Crisis was a 2004 miniseries that dealt with a murder mystery. Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man, dies. The murder looks like it’s by Doctor Light, who has a damn good motive. But it’s not even though it’s the main thrust of much of the plot. A series of other attempts, one of which succeeds, makes it clear something more is going on. The eventual killer is one of my big issues.
That’s the simplest synopsis I can give. As I said this book is a mess. Meltzer is a talented writer but I can’t stress enough how much that talent is scene by scene. His plotting is so disastrous here. It requires study piece by piece.
Let’s start with the worst part. The rape of Sue Dibny. I don’t believe this is a subject you can’t broach but I’ve come to believe it doesn’t belong in superhero comics. It’s been used once or twice and it worked, bizarrely one of the best examples coming from Kevin Smith of all creators. But not here. It’s a useless revelation that simply harms an innocent character for no other reason than to shock the reader. I get that the point of the whole work is those who fight monsters have their loved ones impacted. But rape? It’s a subject that’s way too much for this comic. It wasn’t needed.
That leads us to the mindwipe of Doctor Light and Batman. And you know what? This is rape too. It’s a violation of their minds by force. It’s evil. And I can’t accept that good characters went along with it. It’s an act that I know we aren’t supposed to accept as ok but the second you reveal Barry Allen approved you’ve muddied the waters.
And here’s my big issue with these plot points. They’re just red herrings. They don’t actually impact the plot. They’re a reason we suspect certain characters but not the actual motive. Mystery novels thrive on red herrings admittedly but maybe rape in two forms isn’t an acceptable way of doing this. The second that’s on the table the rest of the plot doesn’t matter really.
That’s a crime because my motivation for looking at this was the death of Jack Drake and that material? It’s kind of art.
Yeah my big thing that I wrestle with with this book is the central idea is brilliant. The idea of someone realizing that a crisis within the community tightens the ranks is a powerful idea that Meltzer crushes. It means he has to kill off Tim Drake’s last family member but unlike the death of Lian Harper in Cry For Justice there’s a reason and it hurts. This side of the story is profoundly effective.
Though I have to concede I don’t like all the execution. The idea is great but did he have to destroy Jean Loring for it? She was a stable woman moving past Ray Palmer. It would have been nice to have someone else fill this role. Though maybe it would have meant another character got this treatment.
Back to the good. Meltzer has other genius moments. There’s a scene between Green Arrow and Hal Jordan that acknowledges the meaninglessness of death with superheroes. Hal is asked when he’s coming back. He says he’s working on it. By the time the mini is finished Green Lantern: Rebirth will begin. It’s a great meta touch.
There’s also just general great character writing. Aside from Jean Loring, who is frankly assassinated here, everyone is their most honest and real. It’s obvious Meltzer loves the characters. It’s a shame he had to write what he did and couldn’t just tell a happy story as he did in his amazing Justice League run.
As for the art, it’s not great. I hate to say that but this is very much the 90s house style continued. There was an aggressive move to ape Jim Lee at DC in this moment which makes sense as Hush sold ridiculous amounts on its way to classic status. Morales and inker Michael Bair do good work for a book that’s more action driven but this isn’t that and it’s distracting. There are some exceptions though. The Elongated Man being unable to keep his face together is poignant.
I started this review saying I was conflicted. I don’t think I am ultimately. This book has a great concept but the execution is at best a mess and at worst a repulsive wallowing in tropes that need to end, a book weirdly steeped in misogyny. It’s not good. I loved this book at 20 but it’s okay to leave it at 20.
This was not the end of the story of course. The heroes were splintered in the lead up to Infinite Crisis. Ralph Dibny would chase Sue in 52, dying in the process though as ghosts they would show up later. Countdown was heavy in Ray Palmer’s tragedy and it was ugly. Jean Loring got it bad there. Final Crisis seemingly killed Batman but Tim believed he was alive. Unfortunately Captain Boomerang, his dad’s killer, was alive due to the end of Blackest Night. And that’s all ahead.
Next: Red Robin