Let’s start with the hard bit: I have never been a huge fan of the DC Universe and I know this is the worst way to start a review on a DC product like Identity Crisis but, well, that’s life I guess.
Also, since I am an idiot, this is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of an identity crisis:
From the start I knew this would be a very controversial review. This story polarise the opinion of everybody I know – people will either love it to the extreme extent of this being their favorite graphic novel, and some other will just hate it deeming it as garbage.
As an aspiring writer, this is already in itself an interesting reason to read it. If something can be so divisive it must have something interesting in it (or, like Marmite, the answer is in the DNA).
With all the weird stuff out on page, let’s get back to work.
Story, Plot and Characters
Identity Crisis follows what happens to the DC Universe’s superheroes when one of them (the Elongated Man) loses his wife Sue. She id dead, supposedly burned alive in her apartment, by an unknown killer.
Most of the story’s focus is on how the superheroes will cope with the grief while solving the mystery. Everything even darker because of a secret from the character’s past.
Brad Meltzer shows us all the knowledge he has of the universe he is writing his story into. He does so while putting us in front of the moral choices these heroes are forced to make. He shows us how these choices will impact their lives and how far they are willing to go to defend who they love.
The characterisation is good. Each character is unique and behaves in a believable and coherent way. The mystery is satisfying and the secret compelling. The only problem I find with characters is that there are way too many secondary ones and no enough space on the paper for them.
Hundreds of villains (most of which insignificant) and gazillions of superheroes make for very colourful artwork but consume a lot of space. Each one of them needs some time on-screen and this subtracts time from the main cast of characters I cared about. This also produces plot clutter leaving quite little space to the main antagonist. The net result is that, at the end, I am less emotionally involved with the outcome. In short, too much on-screen clutter.
Despite this, the fear of the superheroes to lose someone they love is present during the whole comic and these are the best parts of this story.
Similarly, the preparation for Sue’s death is remarkably executed. The love between Sue and Ralph is slammed right on our faces at the very start of the comic book. Ralph (the Elongated Man) recalls of his love story with Sue. The scene is sweet and nostalgic. It makes us feel for Sue and then stays with us when we lose her. Even worse, this memory is there when we discover the hardships of her life at the side of a superhero.
As said, the finale is bittersweet. The story at this point has revealed the secrets of the Justice League and this is now naked and showing all of its imperfections. We discover the murderer but the way this happens is quite dull as their reasons to kill – but I cannot stop thinking that much more could have been done given the potential in the plot.
The last scene is heartbreaking and makes it up for the poor mystery revelation. I am not going to give you spoilers here but, if you want to keep going, read below.
Rags Morales and the artwork of Identity Crisis
A quick note on this because, despite it is not what my blog focuses on, I believe it deserves it.
Everything Rags Morales has done on Identity Crisis is exceptional. The characters look real. Their emotions even more real. If Meltzer is narrating in words, Rags is doing the same with his drawings and he does so in such an incredible way that conveys the same if not more information. This is the first and only graphic novel I read with him being the artist but this will change.
My overall idea is that Identity Crisis is an interesting piece of work. It is far from being as good as some depict it or as bad as others do but I think it deserves a read.
One of the reasons Identity Crisis has spawned as much controversy is the mortification of Sue’s character. I know that violence on women is a delicate argument and that many may suffer at reading its depiction. So, be warned, if that is something you don’t want to see, this might not be for you.
The JLA’s secret (contains spoilers)
After Sue’s funeral, a devastated Ralph meets with other heroes from the supporting league (JLA’s minor characters). These, after being spied on and forced by The Flash and Green Lantern, reveal they did something bad – really bad – in the past.
They tell the story of when Sue has been raped and almost killed and by the villain Dr. Light. They saved her and then decided to break (mentally break) the man. Wiping him of his memories. We see here for the first time how messed-up the “light-side” is. The three main heroes (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) are there for the battle and the spotlight but never for the cleanup. The others do the cleanup.
This time though, Batman comes back and discovers what the others are doing to Dr. Light. He is a pure one – he will not compromise. All they can do is to fight him with everything they have and wipe his memories too.
Something like this in comics of a “standard” universe requires quite a lot of bravery and it is an exceptional topic to talk about. Purity of ideas versus compromises. Limits of the authority. How far should someone go to protect who and what they love.
Overall this secret, together with the emotional involvement, is the best delivered piece of the comic book.
The murderer (contains spoilers)
On the opposite side of the spectrum we find the main topic and revelation. Who killed Sue?
Everybody is convinced it must have been Dr. Light. Somehow he must have remembered about the past and finished what he had started years ago. Right? Wrong!
We get many other events in the way. A lot of informative noise comes from the introduction of way too many villains and the quick execution of the other assaults. One, unsuccessful, against Atom’s wife and another, this time successful where Robin’s father is killed and his killer (Captain Boomerang) dies in the process.
This could be ok if we weren’t wasting space and time talking about Captain Boomerang’s son and their relationship that adds nothing to the plot.
In the meantime Batman investigates in… well… the batman way.
He and Dr. Mid-Nite, who is running an autopsy on the woman, find out about the murderer real identity at the same time.
All of this doesn’t matter because the murderer, Atom’s ex-wife (Jean),accidentally reveals everything to her ex-husband in bed.
Apparently she had planned to scare everyone, included Atom, to get him back to her without having to admit she missed him. She found one of her husband’s costumes – with the power of miniaturisation – and decided to knock out Sue. She dies instead. At this point Jean, evidently insane, organises the other assaults.
Ok. Bear with me now… what on Earth?!?!
Jean (I had to look back her name) appeared in two short sequences in the entire comic book before the reveal. She has a dull motivation since her husband is clearly in love with her. The discovery is way too simple. Her plan is a mess and she turns insane at the end. This is probably the only narrative error in the comic book and it is sad that is such a determinant one.
Well, this was my opinion on Identity Crisis. A graphic novel that is and will be a piece of history in the comic space. Let me know in the comments what you think. Also, if you want, there should be a subscribe button around the top of the page.