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A New Era?,
This review is from: Identity Crisis (Hardcover)
Ever since the epochal Crisis on Infinite Earths Series in the mid-80s, DC have annually produced one 'event' series every year, crossing over into various other titles, wherein all the numerous superheroes of the DC Universe are brought together for some reason or another, like an alien attack in Invasion, or the death of the sun in Final Night. Sometimes these series have an important, long-ranging impact on the DC Universe, like the original Crisis. Other times they are just so much sound and fury, like Genesis or Zero Hour. Identity Crisis is 2004's big effort and falls somewhere in the middle.
The plot concerns the murder of Sue Dibny, the wife of the Elongated Man. Unable to catch her killer, the fear that someone has found out the secret identities of the superheroes and is targeting their family members draws the heroes closer together, and also causes old secrets to rise to the surface. The job of writing this fell to Brad Meltzer, most famous as a thriller novelist, whose only previous comic work (that I know of) is a well-received run on Green Arrow, who has a significant role in this. Meltzer proves with this series that he has a considerable aptitude for comic-book writing. His script is littered with memorable scenes, like the fight between Deathstroke and the Justice League. The murder mystery itself is compelling throughout the series, but, although there are clues and foreshadowing throughout, providing for a rewarding second reading, the revelation of the killer's identity was greeted with a general sense of disappointment when originally printed. It is an intriguing ending but not necessarily one that bears being examined too closely.
Identity Crisis is different from most of DC's big events in that it is very small scale. Whereas in Zero Hour or Crisis on Infinite Earths we are witness to the destruction and recreation of the universe anew (Worlds will live, worlds will die and nothing will ever be the same), here it is more about the human side of the heroes, about the interactions between the different heroes and their families. While the more outlandish and powerful characters, like Mister Miracle, the Metal Men and Superman, are used, and used well, the heart of the story lies in characters like Green Arrow and Batman. In essence, it is a detective story, and even when Wonder Woman plays a part it is in the role of interrogator of a murder suspect. For forgoing the all-too-predictable cosmic apocalypse scenario in favour of a more intimate story, DC should be applauded. The great triumph of the story is in its characterization. Very rarely in the history of DC have the heroes felt so realistic, so believable as people. The funeral of Sue Dibny at the end of the first issue is startling in its emotional impact, and the relationship between Batman and Robin is very nicely portrayed. Many fans have complained that the only real effects the story has are the deaths of a couple of supporting characters, including Sue Dibny who has not really been featured for years, and of a similarly unused superhero, Firestorm, whose death is strangely rushed and not really befitting a formerly great character. This much is true, but the real impact of the story, hopefully, is that it introduces a new depth of character to the DCU. The villains have greater depth and individuality and the heroes interactions are more complex. No longer the superfriends, there are secrets and grudges, and a pervasive sense that their individual moral stances are not so clear-cut as they would like to think.
The biggest problem with this series is that it fails to resolve all of the issues it raises. To find out how much Dr. Light has remembered you have to continue the story in Teen Titans and JLA. The war suit that is the focus of the Elongated Man's attentions in the first issue is not mentioned again in the series, only elsewhere, and the subplot with Black Lightning and Katana has no real impact on the storyline. Its only relevance is to Outsiders readers. However, for those who simply wish to read a well-written, well-constructed story (for the first six issues anyway) with outstanding characterization this is about as good as it gets. The only real downside is that you may find yourselves ineluctably drawn to the nearest comic shop to find out more, and after that it's impossible to escape. In a lot of ways Identity Crisis now seems like only a prelude to DC's big event this year, Infinite Crisis, and this one is guaranteed to break the bank.