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Sunday Slugfest – Identity Crisis #2

A comic review article by: Craig Johnson, Jason Cornwell , Shawn Hill, Jim Kingman, Javier Lugo, Shaun Manning, James Redington, Jason Sacks, Filip Vukcevic, Keith Dallas
Jason Cornwell:

I was a Marvel zombie in my youth, and it wasn't until the "Legends" miniseries that I really became interested in what was happening on the DC side of the fence. However "Justice League of America" (and the New Teen Titans) was a DC book that I latched on to right from the start of my comic collecting habit, and as such a large part of my childhood is invested in the adventures of the cast of Leaguers that we're following in this miniseries. That is why I'm a little saddened by the big revelation that is made in this issue, as Brad Meltzer has essentially taken a truck load of modern day angst & depravity and dumped it into the pristine waters of my childhood. Now I realize his actions will probably be praised for dragging these cornball characters kicking and screaming into the modern day, and if that's what it takes to get these under utilized characters accepted by modern day audiences than I guess this is a necessary evil.

Still I have to say I preferred Doctor Light as an ineffectual buffoon than the creepy deviant who does what he does in this issue. I also rather enjoyed my memories of the Justice League of my childhood who operated in a world that was far more innocent, rather than the Authority-Lite version that we get in this issue, who lobotomize a villain to protect their loved ones. Is it a well written story that grabs and hold one's interest? I'd have to answer yes but I can't help but feel a bit disappointed that he's building it on the back of an enjoyable period from my early days as a comic book fan, and that the charming innocence of that period in DC history has now been sullied by modern day storytelling sensibilities.

Rags Morales deserves every opportunity to show off his skills as an artist on this high-profile project, and he's put this platform to good use as this miniseries features some of his best work yet, as he offers up a small army of characters, and he's more than up to the task of capturing the moments of emotional turmoil, as the scene that delivers Doctor Light's attack is truly unsettling. I also rather enjoyed his take on Captain Boomerang as he looks exactly like the boorish half-wit that I came to love in the pages of "Suicide Squad". I also enjoyed the one page spread where Doctor Light stands confident behind the protection that his bodyguard provides, as one shot visually conveys a wealth of information.




Shawn Hill:

Plot:
Contrary to expectation, we find out about the dark secret past event alluded to by Ralph and the others immediately in this issue, and it’s a far murkier, more contrived and more upsetting mess than anyone could have predicted.

Comments:
This is junk. It’s pretty junk, it’s powerful junk, it’s big and splashy and oh so serious junk – but it’s still junk. The level to which the heroes sink here does them no favors, totally misses the concept of the JLA as Earth’s most powerful protectors, and ruins the memory of a character that, if minor, was long-beloved and who was working just fine in a supporting role.

Spoilers aplenty:
There’s simply no way the sarcastic but loving, sensible Sue Dibny from the eighties Justice League (not to mention years of Elongated Man adventures) could have suffered the fate visited upon here in this issue and kept it a secret all these years. There’s no reason, in fact, to keeping it secret, or to avoiding a legal process for dealing with Dr. Light’s actions. The JLA act like confused children in this issue, not like rational heroes. At least the children in stories like Stephen King’s “It” actually had the excuse of being juveniles when their lives were imperiled and they made their hidden "pact."

Also annoying is Meltzer’s approach to the other female characters in this issue. The competent and wise Canary (heck, for most of her entire career, including the Justice League of the seventies where she performed feats at Superman’s side as an equal) from Birds of Prey is nowhere to be found; instead we get a touchy but ineffective Dinah here, insecure enough to verbally spar with Ollie but apparently docile enough to take direction from all the men around her. Zatanna, while presented as the endless powerhouse she is in DC terms, is similarly without a will of her own, passively doing the bidding of the angry men in the story without question.

It’s a shame Rags Morales is doing the best art of his career, because this totally unworthy story looks as good as if Brian Bolland himself had illustrated it. It’s only on the visual level that anyone looks good in this issue, though, because their actions brand them not as heroes, but as ineffective fools incapable of protecting their own. There's a reason Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman are left out of this group of conspirators, I think. The in-story one is that they're too smart for this. Extra-story, a rift is implied between the big three, immune to this sort of sullying, and these more expendable second stringers that is yet one more bit of news we didn't need.

I had thought the vogue for turning spandex heroes feet into the dirtiest of clay was a nineties phase whose time had passed, but Meltzer resurrects it in unwelcome ignominy. What a disappointment, considering his knowledge of continuity (Phobia as a supporting character, though now revealed as a murderous dominatrix; Cap Boomerang ‘revealed’ as a “letch,” a word which has no meaning in the context of this story), but this is a complete missed opportunity, a nadir for the team, and maybe for the genre.




Jim Kingman:

I cannot give enough Silver Bullets to Identity Crisis #2, and I can neither keep this review short nor objective. Identity Crisis #2 taps into the sense of wonder that reading comic books has always inspired in me. I have been collecting comics for over thirty years. The Justice League of America is my favorite superhero team, and the members of the JLA are my favorite superhero characters. Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Flash, Black Canary, Green Arrow, The Atom, The Elongated Man, Zatanna…I know these characters through and through. Pre-Crisis On Infinite Earths continuity, Post-Crisis continuity, post-Zero Hour continuity, present trash-the-continuity-just-because-creators-can continuity, it doesn’t make any difference. These heroes have been in my life since I was ten-years-old. I care for ‘em, and I’m happy to see them together again.

Unfortunately, they are together under the most tragic of circumstances. That tragedy has brought to the surface the up ‘til now very well-concealed dirty secret of the Justice League of America. (I hereby announce the obligatory Spoiler Warning!) Several years ago, around 1980 -- historical comic book time, not present DC Universe time -- Dr. Light raped Sue Dibny, The Elongated Man’s wife, in the JLA satellite headquarters. The JLA arrived on the scene and took Light down. After Ralph took Sue to the hospital planet-side, the JLA took a vote on doing something fairly drastic to Dr. Light. A 4-3 decision (Hawkman, The Atom, Zatanna, and The Flash for; Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Black Canary against) was cast in favor of giving Dr. Light a ‘magical lobotomy,’ which basically made him a mentally goofier criminal throughout the 1980s and well into the 1990s. He was no longer as serious or slightly demented as he had been during the 1960s and throughout the 1970s.

The current tragedy is that Sue has now been murdered, as played out last issue. The primary suspect, as far as the former members of the JLA are concerned, is Dr. Light. Wally (The Flash) West and Kyle (Green Lantern) Rayner are invisible long enough to overhear them discuss aspects of the dirty secret. Now exposed, the ex-Leaguers fill them in on all the details of the aftermath of Light’s attack on Sue. Needless to say, Wally is stunned that Barry (The Flash) Allen voted for the magical procedure (in a clever homage to continuity, Ralph notes that the incident took place six months after Iris, Flash’s wife, was murdered by the Reverse-Flash).

Dr. Light is well aware that he’s the primary suspect, so he’s gone to other super-villains pleading for protection. He gets it, from Deathstroke the Terminator. That sets up the first cliffhanger of the issue. We also learn that the JSA’s Dr. Mid-Nite got his hands on Sue’s body before it was buried so that he could perform an autopsy on it. What he learns from his examination is that Dr. Light could not have killed her. That’s the second cliffhanger.

For this long-time reader, who has always seen the Satellite Era of the League in a positive and, over time, nostalgic light, the revelations are jolting. Still, it is all very well-handled. Meltzer works hard, and succeeds, in making this story connect to the League’s history. He gives a sense of urgency, drama, tragedy, and pathos to the proceedings. While reading this tale, Meltzer made me angry, amazed, sympathetic, and thoughtful, all at the same time. He brought back many good memories, and has messed with every one of them. Morales and Bair’s artwork is terrific. I can’t stand what’s happening here to my favorite characters in Identity Crisis #2, yet I’m going to read it over and over again, just like I used to read each issue of JLA in my younger days, enjoying every page and panel of it.




Javier Lugo:

I just found the antonym for decompression in comics: Meltzer. He packs more ideas and events into this one issue than most comics put into three.

After reading the book, I checked the cover and noticed the Comics Code Authority was removed. Good. This is the JLA for adults, which while writing this on my computer seems hypocritical, since I loved the JLA when I discovered them as a child, yet I wouldn’t recommend anyone under 11 read this title because of the adult themes and events that take place.

Overall, Identity Crisis seems to move the DC world into an adult, gray and more morally challenging place. This kind of story I expect out of a best-selling crime novel, not out of my comic books. I do now, with Identity Crisis.

The art is great. Morales and Bair put in a lot of work in the details, like the expressiveness of the hands and eyes. The settings are well-rendered and the art compliments the story well, as it brings the heroes down to earth while still making them larger than life.




Shaun Manning:

The big secret stands revealed, and it is indeed appalling. Appalling that a writer, holding a significant mass of the comic-buying public at fast attention, should choose to so utterly waste his opportunity to say something meaningful. Instead, Meltzer stoops to the lowest shock tactics and reinforces gender stereotypes already rampant in the comic book medium.

In truth, there are two secrets; one causes the other, with the latter being the “grave sin” of the Satellite-era JLA. Perhaps we’ve been desensitized, but the League’s actions don’t seem so dire, particularly since justifying such a choice is varying degrees of easy depending on one’s ethics. It is the first secret, rather, that causes the reader to transcend feelings of disgust at the book’s villain, and shift the feeling to its creators. Since many saw it coming (and it’s not the “darkest secret” anyway), the following paragraphs contain spoilers.

Crimes against women are very real, and ought to be addressed in popular entertainment, including comics. The unfortunate thing about comics, however, is that it is a largely male-dominated field, with a long history of putting women in danger just so the hero can rescue them from certain death. In the old days, the hero would usually win a kiss in the bargain. Eventually, though, some clever creators realized that a woman might be capable of saving herself. Lois Lane got tough, even occasionally gaining superpowers in the Silver Age, to the point that she could often be seen chastising Superman for plucking her out of the sky on a ten-story drop. The flipside of this, of course, is that other enterprising creators recognized that, sometimes, the hero doesn’t save the day after all.

The first issue of Identity Crisis featured the death of (recently pregnant) Sue Dibny, the wife of Elongated Man and one-half of the only happy superhero couple. I gave the book a glowing review, because the pacing was strong, the mystery was intriguing, and hey, somebody had to die. With the last page of that issue, however, I began to have misgivings. Huddled with a covert team of current and former JLA, Elongated Man shouts “Help me find Dr. Light!” Why Dr. Light? He must have had some connection to Sue. What could that connection be? No, Meltzer’s a better writer than that. He wouldn’t…

He did. He had Dr. Light rape Sue Dibny on the Satellite. To what end? To add pathos to the story? Had enough before, and this pretty much backfired. To give justification for a team of Leaguers to go after the villain for her eventual murder, which, in the plot structure of a mystery, it’s perfectly obvious that he didn’t commit? Or did Meltzer just throw that in because it’s the worst thing he can think of that a man can do to a woman? Perhaps it is, but such a plot device is utterly devoid of creativity and, if done frivolously, can utterly negate any virtue in the rest of the story.

While there are five issues left to prove that this was not frivolous after all, the writer’s haste to expose the “big secret” has caused a potentially stirring revelation to instead reek of cheap sensationalism.




James Redington:

Wow! This story just keeps getting better and better and without sounding stupid it’s down to the characters - even though I wouldn’t usually be interested in reading these characters (although I do read Green Arrow and The Flash). It is their humanity and the fact that we, the reader, are treated with respect. It’s almost like we are part of their world, we are not being treated like idiots, which other comics do. Our heroes are real and it makes it real for us - I completely forgot this was a superhero comic and followed the drama and felt their pain.

Even though the internet is full of “fans” moaning that this “event” is not hitting the big guns, it doesn’t matter! This is great stuff!! The writing is top notch, Brad Meltzer captures the hearts of the hero's and the minds of the villains. They are human and we can relate to them. Without giving to much away we are told of the big secret the original members of the JLA have been keeping and why they are after Dr Light. This is powerful and intense stuff, this is a grown-up superhero tale.

Let’s get technical... The art work is excellent, it suits the tone of the story to a T. Although I do think Rags Morales is still finding his feet with some of the characters but with others you can tell he is far more comfortable. Michael Turner’s cover is good but nothing special you have the main characters standing like they are keeping a secret which we know they are, duh! I get the impression DC were not planning to attract readers with this cover.

I have two comments to make regarding the comic which are both a plus and a minus at the same time. The first one is no Superman or Batman while this is a shame it did give some of the lesser leaguers a chance to shine, and interestingly the Flash did mention them by name... by their secret identity names. Secondly the voice other captions are an excellent way of getting into a characters head, but there are a lot of them here in this comic and can be confusing even though they are colour coded.

If this mini series continues to hit the mark and perform like it has in this issue and the last, we comic fans are in for a treat. There are few comics which have made the characters human to me, this is one of them. This is better than the 1st issue. This is superhero drama at its finest and I welcome the next issue with open arms.




Jason Sacks

Intense. That's the word for this issue. Intense because of the emotions each character feels. Intense because of the crimes that the villains commit. Intense because of the complex moral decisions that the heroes make in this issue. There's an intense cliffhanger and there's an intense group of villains.

This isn't your typical super-hero comic book. Brad Meltzer has elevated DC's core super-heroes from men and women playing at adventuring into a group that lives the life of heroes. They have experiences and stories that lead them to take the actions they take in this story, experiences that seem to justify their actions. They've become hardened by the lives they lived, living ever more in a world of gray instead of a world of black and white and bright colors. It's a scary world, an intense world, and Meltzer mines it beautifully.

The art by Rags Morales and Michael Bair is a perfect match for the story. The art is impeccable: every line is in its place, every character seems alive on the page, every emotion is conveyed beautifully. The style is a little reminiscent of Brian Bolland's work, except that the characters have even more life under Morales and Bair than under Bolland.

Ordinarily when a comic is promoted as having long-lasting consequences, that ends up being just so much empty hype. Usually that's because the events happen on the surface and don't affect who the heroes really are. But in the case of Identity Crisis, the characters change as people. What happens here will affect them forever. I can't wait to see where this story goes.




Filip Vukcevic:

The first issue was much better than everyone expected. As far as big summer comic events go, ‘Identity Crisis’ turned out to be surprisingly good. Meltzer and Morales managed to pull it off with the premier issue, and with that out of the way the next test would be seeing if they could keep the book interesting. In many ways the second issue is just as important as the first since it lets us know if the quality and momentum can be maintained – it is with this issue that readers will decide whether to stick with the series or move on. I’m happy to report that the goodness is there. This series is a keeper, and I look forward to watching the mystery unravel.

This issue we learn about the extent of the relationship between Dr. Light and Sue Dibny, along with the dark secret that several of the heroes share. It isn’t all that original, but it is compelling and just reading about how the different heroes want to deal with the moral dilemma they are presented with is interesting. The writing really cuts to the core of each character and brings their personal pain to the forefront. Good stuff. Also, even though I am not familiar with many of the lesser-known villains, Meltzer manages to infuse them with enough personality in their brief cameos to keep the reader from getting confused.

Personally, my favorite character thus far is turning out to be ol’ Queenie himself, the Green Arrow. Early on in the issue he makes a lucky ‘guess’ that had me grinning, and towards the end of the issue he has one line that is very well delivered. The other characters are great and really do seem to speak with their own voices, but for me Oliver Queen is stealing the show.

Rags Morales’ art is very good as well, his pencils have a realistic look to them and he has no problem rendering each of the characters in an unique and easily recognizable way. He does a great job of painting character’s faces with emotion which not only adds to the great look of the title, but it helps add a degree of subtlety.

The dialogue is crisp and the pacing quite cinematic. All in all, this series is turning out to be quite the pleasant surprise and I can’t wait to see what we get next.




Keith Dallas:

Too many specific details of the second issue of Identity Crisis bother me that I can’t possibly write a spoiler-free review, so without further ado…

SPOILER WARNING:
DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT YET READ IDENTITY CRISIS #2



I find several aspects of Identity Crisis #2 absurd. The issue reveals that Dr. Light raped Sue Dibny years ago in the JLA Satellite while the Justice League of America (then composed of Flash (Barry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Black Canary, Green Arrow, Hawkman, Atom, Elongated Man and Zatanna) was on Earth dealing with Hector Hammond. Just as the rape ends, the League returns to the Satellite and detains Dr. Light, who has become a raving lunatic, swearing to attack the Leaguers’ other loved ones. After a vote, the League decides to have Zatanna “clean up” Dr. Light’s mind, removing not his criminal tendencies but his ruthless sadism. In essence, Zatanna turned Dr. Light into a pushover, a pansy. Returning back to the present day, these Leaguers who voted to change Dr. Light way-back-when are convinced that Dr. Light murdered Sue Dibny and are now in pursuit of him.

Okay, let’s take this sequence of past events from its beginning:

1. Sue Dibny gets raped. In Identity Crisis #1 she was murdered. Now in #2 she was raped. I was not emotionally affected by this rape because I was already affected by her murder (which was hauntingly rendered in issue #1). The series has me to perceive Sue as a tragic figure in issue #1 because she dies, and now I’m supposed to see her as MORE of a tragic figure because she was raped. It doesn’t work that way. I shudder to think what else can happen to poor Sue over the remaining five issues. In #3 is someone going to take her corpse and drag it through the streets?

2. After raping Sue, Dr. Light becomes as mad as a hatter. This I didn’t understand. Upon learning the Justice Leaguers’ supposed “Achilles heel” (that they can be hurt by having their loved ones be hurt), Dr. Light goes cuckoo for cocoa-puffs. Why? First of all, isn’t going after a DC super-hero’s loved one a tried and true super-villain strategy? Which DC super-hero’s loved ones HASN’T become targets? More illogical though is Dr. Light going insane. I guess he had to appear insanely relentless in order to move the Leaguers to take the drastic action they did, but the development is not believable. Someone even makes the preposterous statement that they had “never seen anything like [Dr. Light’s lunacy]. Even at Arkham.” Wow! Now that’s a sheltered super-hero speaking there! Dr. Light’s got nothing over The Joker or any of the other barely coherent lunatics inhabiting Arkham.

3. Upon returning to the Satellite, eight Justice Leaguers restrain Dr. Light. Oh boy, Dr. Light must have yelled “Shazam!” just before these eight super-heroes showed up because he is mowing through them like Jim Brown in his prime would be mowing through the Rutgers University Freshman football squad. Dr. Light, folks, has energy-based powers. Here he seemingly has the physical strength of Solomon Grundy because he has some of DC Comics’ most seasoned super-heroes literally draped over him. Any ONE of these heroes can handle Light by him/herself. Eight of them together, on the other hand, would be able to incapacitate Light instantly, yet in one laughable panel Green Arrow is hanging onto Dr. Light’s leg, and all I can think of is the 1998 NBA playoffs when then-New York Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy got himself in the middle of a bench-clearing brawl and decided the best way to restrain 7-foot-tall Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning was to attach himself to the big guy’s leg and get dragged across the floor (it was NOT one of Van Gundy’s finest moments as a coach).

4. After a vote, the heroes decide to have Zatanna alter Dr. Light’s mind. Okay, I’m all for the democratic process, but even the most ardent democrat (that’s a small “d”, not a big “D”) would agree that democracy can’t be used to decide EVERYTHING, and what occurs in Identity Crisis #2 has to be THE most asinine application of democracy you’ve ever read. Hawkman makes the radical proposal that Zatanna perform a personality lobotomy (something that clearly would be deemed “cruel and unusual punishment” and unconstitutional, not that many super-heroes ever let the eighth Amendment get in their way), and the best way these heroes think to decide on this proposal is to vote on it!!?? That’s just dumb. And unbelievable. The Oliver Queen I remember wouldn’t acquiesce to a “majority” ruling when the punishment that he’s being asked to allow violates all his liberal convictions. They’re not picking sides in their annual fourth of July softball game. They’re not deciding if one of their own should be kicked out of the league. They’re deciding on psychologically neutering a man. The Oliver Queen I remember wouldn’t allow this to happen even if he was the ONLY person to object to Hawkman’s proposal.

Some of you might accuse me of nit-picking. I would contend however that I’m not questioning random unessential details of the issue; I’m questioning the very logic of the sequence of events presented here. WHY would Dr. Light go insane after the rape? WHY would it take eight Justice Leaguers to restrain him? WHY would Oliver, Dinah and Hal abandon their principles simply because they lost in a vote? I find most parts of the sequence of events here unbelievable.

But inexplicably, I want to keep reading the series. Rags Morales and Mike Bair are producing beautiful artwork. Their rendition of Hawkman is stunning. I still want to learn who killed Sue Dibny, and I’m looking forward to the showdown between Deathstroke and eight Justice Leaguers.

But I sure hope the series begins to make more sense.

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