Braving The Hogsback, Identity Crisis, and the Best of 2004!

Highway 12 in southwest Utah has been designated a scenic byway, and with good reason. It is a truly magnificent area of elevated landscapes and deep canyons, rich in buttes, mesas, rivers, streambeds, forests, plants, and high plateaus. Picturesque natural life zones appear painted in vibrant, spilled colors; majestic shades and bursts of orange, red, gold, purple, and green overlap and stretch to the horizon, all under a dome of blue sky. You can trace Highway 12 on any Utah map east of Highway 89 as it cuts across the top of Bryce Canyon, down into the small town of Tropic, veering west through Escalante and its nearby petrified forest, then north through the town of Boulder, where it eventually ends at Torrey, connecting with the also immensely scenic Highway 24.

What the maps don’t show you, what locals, park rangers and sign posts won’t warn you of, is that the road begins a steep ascension out of Escalante, switching back along and over ridges until it finally emerges onto a high ledge known as the “hogsback.” At this point there is no room at the top except for the two-lane paved road. On both sides of the highway are straight drops plunging at least a thousand feet (not that I took the time to stop the car and take measurements; I was told this the next day by an informative waiter at the lodge where we were staying). Deep below the ledge, deeper than a thousand-foot drop, are canyons and gulches and grottos and streams, while miles across from you are many high plateaus that help make up the sprawling Colorado Plateau, all of which are peaking at the same elevation you are. It is at once one of the most spectacular of views and most frightening of experiences.

In all my years of traveling on the road through portions of and across the United States, I have never found myself on a road quite like this one. My girlfriend Mary and I spent over a week before Christmas at Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in southern Utah, and there were breathtaking and beautiful natural wonders to absorb at both locations. But my thoughts keep going back to that stretch of road on Highway 12. It was as if we had reached Paradise on a circus trapeze high wire.

But enough of my recent travels for now…what do I think of DC’s Identity Crisis now that the series is complete?

Being a learned and longtime DC reader, I am not surprised by Jean Loring’s insanity. This is not her first bout with it. She suffered her first nervous breakdown in The Atom and Hawkman #45 way back in 1969 and experienced a second seizure in Super-Team Family #11 in 1977. Now, you could argue that these stories cannot exist in the post-Crisis DC Universe given the revised histories of Hawkman and Supergirl (who appeared in S-T Family #11). But in Identity Crisis #7 Ray Palmer can be seen thinking that there was a reason Jean became his ex-wife. Ray is most likely alluding to the prior insanity cases. (I’ll cut Jean some slack here: both of those occurrences were brought on by outside forces, one alien and one super-villainous). However, the beginnings of Ray’s separation from Jean had nothing to do with insanity and everything to do with Jean’s having an affair with another man (Sword of the Atom #1). So Ray’s thoughts are a little confusing to this reader.

Ralph (Elongated Man) Dibny comes out of Identity Crisis showing some strong character. His visiting Jean at Arkham Asylum is admirable, and his conversation with Sue at story’s end (which I firmly believe is in character and not some form of denial) indicates he will recover from this tragedy.

Identity Crisis writer Brad Meltzer has been quoted as stating that one of his goals in IC was to bring back a lot of those great Silver Age DC stories. And he did succeed in tying IC to an era of DC’s publishing (1979-1982) that has been, until now, pretty much neglected. But he certainly cast a dark shadow over that era with his revelations of the ‘dark side’ of the Justice League of America. I suppose if any super-team of the modern comics age needed a ‘grim and gritty’ overhaul it would be the JLA, but I can assure you it has not gone over well with longtime JLA fans.

On the other hand, if you align with the theory that had Identity Crisis been written twenty-five years ago Sue Dibny would not have been killed, she would have been attacked (it being a more ‘innocent’ era), take this into account: Just over twenty-five years ago, Zatanna’s mother, The Batman of Earth-2, Iris Allen, Kathy (Batwoman) Kane, and Mr. Terrific of the Justice Society of America were all violently murdered or killed in the pages of DC comics. Both Guy Gardner and Brainiac 5 were depicted as mentally unstable. The ‘grim and gritty’ era in comics started long before it was fashionable, and DC was right there in the forefront, although the Justice League of America was fortunately spared the then suddenly widespread rough treatment.

On an interesting note, with the exception of Zatanna’s mother, none of the superheroes I have listed in the preceding paragraph were killed under the editorship of Julius Schwartz. Schwartz may have put his heroic icons through many different personal trials and tribulations, but he did not kill them off. And when he and his writers did, as in the unique case of The Red Tornado, they kept bringing the android back to life while making him stronger in character.

I think artists Rag Morales and Michael Bair did a fantastic job on Identity Crisis.

On the surface, Meltzer wrote a good murder mystery. But this has been a series that demands scrutiny and study, so I’ll address my feelings on the crime and its plausibility in more detail in a future column.

Having the anguished Atom shrink the scene with, “Never have I felt so [small]…” was more corny than effective, sorry to say.

It will be interesting to see how the events of Identity Crisis and its repercussions play out in the DC Universe. I’m curious as to how Hal Jordan, once he is reinstated as Green Lantern, will feel about the JLA’s dark secret coming to light. Having been freed of Zatanna’s spell, Dr. Light will most certainly be going after members of the JLA with a rediscovered vengeance. There’s a new Captain Boomerang in town, but will he be hero or villain? And just who is his real mother? The Atom and Ralph Dibny both have a lot to deal with in their personal lives. What of The Batman? Does he know he was the victim of a mind-wipe by his JLA colleagues? Or is he just now growing suspicious that the JLA did something to him? And can new and former members of the JLA ever truly go out for a pleasant meal together after all that Identity Crisis put them through?

A look back at my comics reading in 2004. For starters, here are my ten favorite new comics of the past year, in no real order:

Fables. Identity Crisis. 100 Bullets. Y: The Last Man. DC: The New Frontier. DC Comics Presents: A Tribute to Julius Schwartz. Planetary. Human Target. JSA. Fallen Angel.

Honorable mention to three books that started late in the year: Adam Strange, Manhunter, Green Lantern: Rebirth.

Personal discovery of a comic previously released and finally given the royal publishing treatment: Palomar.

Comics I reread that gave me that warm, fuzzy nostalgic feeling, with absolutely no apologies: The Brave and the Bold by Bob Haney and Jim Aparo and Secret Society of Super-Villains.

Writer I am pleased to see once again producing for Vertigo: Grant Morrison (Seaguy and WE3).

As if I don’t read enough comics, here are the books on comics I indulged in: The Golden Age of DC Comics: 365 Days; Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book; Comic Book Encyclopedia; The Superhero Book; Give Our Regards To The Atomsmashers!; 100 Greatest Comic Books; The DC Comics Encyclopedia; and Comic Book Culture.

Setting aside comics for a spell, the books I read and enjoyed: The Circus in Winter, My California, The Devil’s Highway, and The Lost Treasure of The Knights Templar: Solving The Oak Island Mystery; the CD I highly anticipated and now keep playing over and over: U2’s How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb; and the movies that were above and beyond the Hollywood blockbuster fare: What The Bleep Do We Know? and Sideways.

What am I looking forward to in 2005? Hal Jordan as Green Lantern. Reacquainting myself with Bob Haney’s most unique creation, Metamorpho the Element Man. Rereading comics from my own personal Silver Age of comics, the year 1975 (Jack Kirby was out at DC, Gerry Conway, Steve Ditko and Wally Wood were in). Another road trip, this time to Nova Scotia (that’s a long way from my hometown of Pasadena, CA, but there’s purpose involved here, really!). And taking the time, on more than one occasion, to watch all three extended DVD editions of The Lord of the Rings (Fellowship, Two Towers, and Return of the King) straight through. Now there’s an almost twelve hour cinematic experience!

Happy New Year, everyone!

About The Author

Jim Kingman

Jim Kingman is a writer for Comics Bulletin