Identity Crisis (2004-05)
Collects Identity Crisis issues 1-7. Writer: Brad Meltzer, Penciller: Rags Morales, Inker: Michael Bair, Colourist: Alex Sinclair, Letterist: Ken Lopez, Original Series Cover Art: Michael Turner. Published by DC Comics in 2004-05.
I grew up reading Marvel Comics, so my knowledge of the DC Comics universe is a little slight. Basically, it's limited to what I could gleam from Wizard, conversations with other comic book fans, the all-time great Batman stories I sought out, and crossover pop culture offerings like movies, cartoons, and Kevin Smith's run on Green Lantern. So, going into this series, which is basically a Justice League story, I was familiar with the characters involved, but not invested in them.
However, Identity Crisis is written for the unfamiliar, designed as a newcomer-friendly event, drawing in outsiders by enlisting best selling suspense novelist (and co-creator of the short-lived TV series Jack and Bobby) Brad Meltzer to write the seven issue series. The series is a pre-cursor to another DC event series, Infinite Crisis, setting the stage for what I assume is the third or fourth attempt by the company to reset its jumbled continuity. Maybe they'll get it right this time.
Identity Crisis deals with the murder of a family member of one of the JLA (in fact, a sort-of former member), leaving the grieving heroes to figure out who did it. When more members of their families are targeted, the heroes realise how vulnerable they are, and grow more desperate to put an end to it. The series serves as an example of why secret identities are invaluable to heroes, revealing that beneath their masks and costumes, they are human beings with lives and loved ones that require privacy and protection. Meltzer is interested in what separates one identity from another, and what happens when those barriers are threatened. It's a good theme, offering human perspectives on larger-than-life heroes, presenting some characters in greater detail than they had previously been given (or so I'm told). In particular, Meltzer shows a gift for using dialogue for characterisation, and making his characters sound like real people.
In any super hero team book, especially one that contains most of the heroes in the DC Universe, you'd expect excitement and fun, and Identity Crisis delivers. In attempting to solve the serie's initial crime, Meltzer presents his version of CSI: JLA, with various heroes using their powers to uncover evidence, be it The Atom inspecting carpet fibres, The Ray doing spectrum analysis, or Dr. Mid-Nite serving as medical examiner (alright, I admit: I'd never heard of any of them other than The Atom, but they're explained enough to understand why they're there). The series features a few big fights, in particular, the big stand-off with Deathstroke in issue three was fun.
The art in the series by Rags Morales is pretty solid, giving him plenty of opportunities to play around with the vast array of characters in the series. Colourist Alex Sinclair does an especially good job at mixing the darker themes of the book with the bright colours a superhero comic demands, particularly one featuring this many costumes. Morales gets screwed a bit by the importance placed on covers in the marketing of books, and thus does not get the showcase spot in the books to show what he can do, instead stepping aside for carpet-bagger Michael Turner, who brings his standard pinup style to the seven covers of the book. To be fair, he can draw a pretty picture.
All of which makes the series sound promising, and it is. Unfortunately, it fails to live up to the promise set up early in the book. The looks into the characters are good, the art is good, the idea for the book is good. But the execution is merely average. As the story develops, it becomes clear that Meltzer isn't doing anything special, but rather falls back on clichés and contrivances to twist the mystery around to its unsatisfying conclusion. Pieces don't fit, especially if you really know the characters (which I don't, but even I had problems with some of his twists. I won't get into specifics, as I believe in keeping reviews as spoiler-free as possible, but will get into in comments if anyone is curious).
Other parts of the story seem to exist merely to make the book seem more mature and edgy, but instead come off as yet another example of the women in refrigerators syndrome that seems to be an unfortunate trend. I'm not opposed to mature themes in comics, even superhero comics, but I'm not much into sensationalism for its own sake. Finally, as the series progresses, things are rushed together for little other reason than to fit into DC editorial decisions about the new-look DC post-Infinite Crisis. In particular, a significant mid-level character is killed, and gets all of three panels dedicated to the character's passing. True, the character isn't marquee, but the character did have monthly titles twice, so you'd think they would have made a bigger deal about it. Like, for instance, mentioning it more than just in passing. But, I guess DC has already re-cast the role, because in their universe, who dons a costume isn't anywhere near as important as the costume itself. Which, ironically, runs completely contrary to the entire point of this series. (Sorry about some of the awkward sentence constructions there, I was trying to avoid using gender-specific pronouns so as to not give hints about the character in question).
Identity Crisis is a series that starts strong, but finishes flat. It's not terrible, but it is disappointing, mostly because it held so much promise from its start. If you're a big fan of the DC universe, it may be an important read as it sets changes into motion that should affect the entire line. That is, until they change everything again in a few years.
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