“The Hero’s Life”
Writer: Brad Meltzer
Artists: Rags Morales (p), Michael Bair (i)
Publisher: DC Comic
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following reviews reveal and discuss at length the identity of Sue Dibny’s killer. If you’re not aware who killed Sue Dibny and you’d rather wait to read the final issue of Identity Crisis, I really don’t know what you’re doing on the internet. Turn off your computer NOW! Don’t you realize the internet ruins ALL surprises? This is your only “Spoiler” Warning.
Plot: As the heroes of the DCU react to the big surprise discovery that was made at the end of the previous issue, the scene shifts to where the true killer is revealed, and the explanation she gives for the attacks makes it pretty clear that she is not playing with a full deck. As the issue ends, the revelation has rocked several characters to their very core, and we’re left with a decidedly darker DCU.
Comments: I’ll confess I had become quite caught up in the online speculation that centred around this final issue, as part of the fun was reading through the incredibly complex explanations that readers had cooked up to explain how everyone from Alfred to Zatanna could be the killer. However, in the spirit of the season I’m going to make use of an awkward Christmas analogy to detail my reaction to the big reveal that this issue offers up. Basically Brad Meltzer offers up socks and underwear to a legion of readers who had been expecting the coolest new toy to hit the DCU. I mean his explanation fits the various clues quite nicely, and I’m sure many readers are going to feel a sense of validation because I had seen this theory laid out in detail on line. However for readers like myself who were expecting a little more bang after the considerable build-up that this reveal has received, we are walking away disappointed. I also felt this issue made use of a few too many plot devices that are sure to be familiar to mystery genre fans, from the way it eliminated its killer as a suspect, to the moment when the killer exposed herself by revealing that she knew more about one of the crime scenes than she should have, though simple logic would suggest that there would've had to have been a note to connect the attack on Jack Drake to the other attacks. I’m also not a big fan of any revelation that requires the suspect’s crime to be the result of a cracked mind as frankly it’s one of the laziest tricks a writer can play on readers, in that madness can be
used to explain away even the most abrupt change in a character’s established personality.
While I’ve seen the cover image for months in advance of its actual arrival, the image is still an undeniably powerful image that effectively conveys the loss of innocence that has fallen over the Justice League as a result of this miniseries. As for the interior art, Rags Morales does a solid enough job of telling the story, as while I found some of the panels were a bit overly melodramatic, with the killer’s Joker like smile as she explains how successful her plan was coming across as being a little too deliberate in its attempt to sell the character’s madness. However, the art does an amazing job on the aftermath scenes, from the page where The Atom reacts to the enormity of what had been done in his name, to the final sequence where the Elongated Man has found a somewhat unsettling means of dealing with his loss.
My final evaluation of Identity Crisis is that it provides an unsatisfying conclusion to an engaging murder mystery, but the manner in which the mini-series changes the tone of the DC Universe and develops situations for other on-going titles to address and resolve is exemplary.
I’m glad that Sue Dibny’s killer didn’t turn out to be one of the several suspects the internet message board posters have focused on: Amazo imitating Atom’s powers, Dr. Light mind-controlling Ray Palmer, any villain not seen “on panel” in the first six issues (Lex Luthor, et al). All those suspects would have provided lame resolutions. I also don’t have a problem with Jean Loring as the killer per se (she does have a history of mental problems). I do though roll my eyes at the manner in which Jean reveals herself as the killer. Her mention of a piece of crime scene evidence (the “Protect Yourself” note sent to Jack Drake) that hasn’t been released to the press (and therefore there’s no way she could have known about it unless she was involved with the murders) feels taken from a B-movie. It’s a hackneyed and lazy mystery story device. We’re expected to believe that Jean is able to execute so brilliantly two murders and her own attempted suicide that involved not only her use of an Atom suit but Captain Boomerang and the Calculator and a precise knowledge of how everyone would react…, but somehow she can’t keep straight what evidence has and hasn’t been released to the press. Well… I don’t buy it.
There are other glaring problems. If Jean’s true motivation was initially only to hurt Sue, why did she feel the need to shrink “some other weapons… just in case“? Especially such an unconventional weapon as a flame gun? Sure seems like premeditated murder to me. (Perhaps Jean is so insane at this point that she’s delusional about her intentions.) Also, wouldn’t someone have taken the time to investigate all IN-coming phone calls to the Dibny residence? Jean did enter Sue’s brain via a telephone transmission.
Once the issue gets past revealing Jean as the killer and Ray Palmer admitting her to Arkham Asylum (now there’s a smart place to put someone who knows every super-hero’s secret identity), matters really become engaging. I found myself engrossed in the second half of the issue. The character portraits in the aftermath are subtle, poignant and touching, remarkably rendered by Rags Morales and Michael Bair: a disconsolate Atom, a consoling Oliver Queen, a soaring Superman, a flustered Flash, a penetrating Batman.
The second half of Identity Crisis #7 wonderfully leaves matters unresolved, ambiguous, uncertain: To where has the Atom retreated? To a microscopic universe like he did 20 years ago? How will Tim Drake recover from his trauma? Does Batman know his mind had been wiped by his fellow Leaguers? Will Wally tell him? What has happened to Ralph? Has he lost his mind or has he found a way to cope with the tragedy?
The crowning achievement of Identity Crisis is, again, how it changes the tone of the DC Universe and creates situations and developments for the other DC on-going titles to address, elaborate and resolve. As a murder mystery, Identity Crisis is disappointing. But as an “event” that impacts the DC Universe, Identity Crisis was both necessary and notable.
Plot: Here’s your answer. The one no-one wanted, but it’s okay, because it didn’t matter, anyway. Let’s go have dinner.
Commentary: Let’s try to think about the good things that happened in Fall 2005. I moved into a new apartment I like much better than my hated old one. I taught a small and fun seminar-style art class.
Oh, you mean in comics? No, I’m afraid this half-year will go down in memory as the year the genre made Dark Phoenix eating an inhabited planet look like a feminist statement.
What lessons have we learned about women from comics in recent months?
1) Women are hysterical, and want babies at all costs (Avengers #503).
2) Women, to protect others, will make any sacrifice, including self-immolation (Wonder Woman #210) because they are tragic figures.
3) Women, as young girls, will have pity sex with older men if they witness a rare vulnerable moment (Amazing Spider-Man #512).
4) And now, finally, women are so irrational that if they whimsically decide they want their ex-husband back, they’ll murder other women, men, orphan children and anyone who gets in their way without remorse or reason. Because everyone’ll forgive them once they understand, right? Right?
I’m annoyed that last issue’s red herring was merely that. Whatever promise I sensed in that issue is undone by this wan, extraneous excuse for a denouement. I’m even more annoyed at the ridiculous attempt to reset-button every plot implication Meltzer raised. Wally, legitimately disturbed to find that Zatanna and others had messed with Batman’s mind, just sits on that knowledge, for fear of rocking the boat. Wally? Always known in the past for his incredible subtlety and restraint? Worse, it’s implied that Batman wouldn’t want to know even if he was told. Bruce, the man who depends on absolutely solid intelligence to solve his cases? Tell me another one. And Meltzer even cheats us out of any righteous confrontations we might have been longing for. The heroes, so busy comforting their own loved ones, the ones she didn’t manage to kill “by accident,” never
confront Jean. Her mad voice is silenced off-screen. Wonder Woman sits with imbecilic docility, says one word (“Thanksgiving,” ironic I suppose in this context) and then shakes her hip as she strides away.
A flurry of milksop emotional scenes doesn’t make up for an empty and aimless exercise in sullying the reputations of DC’s premier super friends. The problems in pacing, tone and logic are exemplified by one scene, one panel, really:
After Ray turns his wife over to the doctors at Arkham, he is asked if he is okay. Morales does his best to sell the scene with his art, but his answer is ridiculous. “Yeah,” he says, obviously disturbed. Because why should he, a man, break down in public? Or in front of anyone? That’s clearly not possible under the ill-fitting film noir rules.
No, better go don his costume (the same one Jean wore for her murders) and shrink down to insignificance to brood. Alone. Because that’s how we all live and die, right? At least us men-folk, who at least have the comfort of possessing the sanity that women lack.
How much more powerful would an honest word (perhaps the first one uttered in this shoddy tale) have been? No, he’s very clearly not okay. How about a look into a wounded man’s soul? How about him having a friend? Instead Meltzer urges us to look away, and back to great scenes like women bleeding from their ears or hanging themselves to attract attention.
I fear we’re supposed to see Ralph as at peace and resolved to his loss at the end of the issue. No way. What we witness instead is the mad rambling of a shock-damaged victim, woefully losing touch with reality. Meltzer’s jarring attempts to intrude realistic crime drama upon the meta-hero world falls flat once again, because in the DCU, we know ghosts are real. What Ralph needs is a medium, not kindly advice to just hurry his impending senility along. Calling Madame Xanadu! Save Ralph from existential despair! Conjure up the ghost of Sue before he morphs into a villain himself!
Plot: Sue Dibny’s killer is revealed: Jean Loring, The Atom’s ex-wife. The superhero community struggles to deal with the fall out. The mind wipes of Dr. Light and Batman still remain unrevealed and the long-term ramifications of these occurrences are unknown.
Comments: So that’s it, huh? Because the lack of fisticuffs and jaw dropping revelations, it’s tempting to call this issue a letdown. But Meltzer makes all the pieces of the puzzle fit, with one or two minor exceptions. The little character touches remain, so the lack of fireworks is blunted. The epilogue with Ralph Dibny provides excellent balance to close out what has been the finest DC miniseries in years.
Identity Crisis’ success somewhat ironically feeds directly into this issue’s weakness. It’s safe to assume that many readers, if not new to the DC Universe, are certainly not versed in the minutiae of said universe, especially with a second tier hero like The Atom and his wife. Consequently, the lack of a “name” villain being the ultimate culprit (Lex Luthor, Darkseid) feels like a bit of a letdown, especially with a lack of a direct tie-in to the big three (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman). While DC has stated that Identity Crisis will echo throughout their books for the next year, such a minor character like Loring substantially lessens any anticipation and momentum DC might have gained.
After the killer is brought to justice, the remainder of the issue has the same feel as the final four or five episodes of Babylon 5 – quiet and character-driven content meant as a graceful exit rather than an exposition of explosions. Last issue’s Batman revelation should have been shifted to this issue to give it that jaw-dropping pop it lacked. As only a fair-weather reader of DC Comics, I can’t possibly judge whether or not Loring was acting in character.
Indeed, for the unversed – which is the majority of the comic buying public – the plausibility of this revelation rests on our faith in the strength of Meltzer as a writer. Since he’s hit the bull’s eye over the past six issues, it’s easy for the reader to grant him credibility about Loring. It’s a little eerie how the antagonists of this summer’s two big events – this and the Scarlet Witch in “Avengers Disassembled” – parallel each other. Female characters acting out of misguided emotions and trauma to create a happy home life that probably never existed. Some might see dual examples of a sexist trend in mainstream comics. All I see is coincidence.
It’s clear now the subplot revolving around Captain Boomerang and his son had nothing to do with the killer’s identity. Meltzer used it for a dual purpose – provide a red herring to throw readers off and update a character that he saw contained potential. Meltzer also left purposefully vague whether or not Batman knows the extent of what the League did to him. When he finds out – assuming he doesn’t already know – it will be worth the price of admission.
What more can be said about Morales’s art? For any series to be considered “great” there needs to be an equal balance of art and story. See The Dark Knight Returns vs. The Dark Knight Strikes Back as a prime example of what to do and what not to do. In the hands of a lesser artist, the necessary slights of face – quizzical looks, sly smirks, knowing glances – would fall well below the necessary standards. Thankfully, Morales has been equal to this task for all of Identity Crisis. I’d like to nominate him for a position on one of the monthly Batman books. His Batman is quite good.
The Final Word: The crisis is over and the guilty have been caught. While the killer’s identity could have been more satisfying, the journey from issue #1 to issue #7 was a hell of a ride. It will be interesting to see the consequences of this play out over the next year.
After the discoveries of last issue, it appears that Sue Dibny’s killer may be a man everyone thought a hero: Justice League mainstay the Atom! Despite microscopic footprints on the surface of Sue’s brain, Batman suspects someone else. He’s right. Only a short time after rekindling his relationship with ex-wife Jean Loring, Ray Palmer, the Atom, discovers that she has used his crime fighting equipment to murder one of their closest friends. Jean claims the death was an accident, but her continued malicious actions suggest otherwise. She wanted to scare the heroes, to shake up their lives, and drive the Atom back into her arms. In all this, she succeeded. But that doesn't mean she will live happily ever after...
Mystery novelist Brad Meltzer has given us six issues of well-crafted suspense, and then blows the big reveal with the most clichéd plot device in the entire pantheon of clichéd plot devices: “How did you know there was a note?” It does not even seem as though he was using this as a short cut, a time-saver to get to the meat of the story, or even a satisfying denouement. The mystery is resolved fairly quickly in this final issue, and the rest of the book is an excruciatingly tedious account of how different heroes reacted. Of course, the reader wants to know how the Atom feels about all of this, and Meltzer handles his disappearance quite powerfully. But was anybody really worried about Firehawk?
For a writer accustomed to writing self-contained stories, Meltzer left an incredible number of plot threads unresolved. Granted, given that Identity Crisis is supposed to impact the DC Universe for years to come, there’s no doubt most of these will be addressed in time. Still, the old theatre rule applies: if a gun appears onstage in Act 1, it must be fired by Act 3. Otherwise, the audience gets restless, uncomfortable. They are left unfulfilled. The Luthor armor from issue one, the genetic parentage of Captain Boomerang’s son, the return of Dr. Light’s memories, all of these are left unresolved. Dr. Light is set to make his triumphant return in Teen Titans, a story arc which may also address the armor. Over in Flash, the upcoming “Rogue War” might explain a few things about Boomerang, Jr. But readers who pick up this series because of all the media attention won’t know this, and, further, DC fans who might not read Flash or Titans shouldn't have to pick up future books to get the whole story.
For all this, the final issue of Identity Crisis is effective in establishing the new status quo of the DC superhero community. It is clear how the events of this series will reverberate through these heroes’ lives, as fundamental relationships are tested to the point of breaking. There were no “big deaths,” as some fans had predicted and clamored for, but the victims of this series have the potential to disrupt things to a far greater degree than the death of, say, a Green Lantern or Wonder Woman. Because Sue Dibny and Jack Drake will not return in any six-part miniseries, because they did not put their lives on the line fighting crime, because there was no sidekick waiting to fill their boots. The power of Identity Crisis was the very human sense of loss, permanent loss, in a world of gods where nothing is forever.
So… how was it?
Good, this issue didn’t pack the punch for me as the previous issues. It felt a little empty, but at the same time, there were some great emotional moments.
I don’t want to touch upon the art quality, it has been pretty damn good since the word go (apart from a dip around issue 2-3), and it is just as good here from all involved. The cover is great: nice simple images of the costumes left behind (plus it makes me realise how much I would love my own Superman cape).
I do feel let down by the ending, not for the quality of the work but because the killer ended up being Mrs. Atom – I was hoping for more. I really was. Where was the big villain – the big final fight? To be honest this ending does work because it was low key, and it kept with the level of the story so far. It was a story about the heroes as humans, about their identities and that’s why I can forgive the lack of battle that the fanboy in me wants. This story impacts where it counts and succeeds on every level.
Over the last six months, Identity Crisis has masterfully crafted a suspenseful mystery which has delved into some fairly dark places in the DC Universe, unearthed some surprising secrets about our favourite characters, thrilled us with some expertly-judged and well-rendered action sequences, and revealed the shocking truth that Sue Dibny’s murderer is someone far closer to home than first appeared. A shame, then, that this final issue manages to throw away many of the great sub-plots and more subtle elements that have made this mini-series so enjoyable, and fizzle out in dull anti-climax.
We begin with the revelation of Sue Dibny’s murderer: Jean Loring. It’s a neat and fairly logical solution to the mystery, and certainly something readers could have guessed if they were “playing along” (the most obvious hints being presented in the “Who Benefits?” issue). However, it does rely on some fairly silly moves being made by the antagonist, as well as a few coincidences and oversights being made by our heroes. Still, such things are part and parcel of superhero comics, and only detract from the story in a fairly minor way here. More disappointing is the lack of any real conflict, finale, comeuppance or advancement for any of the characters: sure, The Atom may seem to suffer emotionally for his betrayal; the heroes and villains may mourn their losses; and the killer may be left to the cruel mercy of the inmates of Arkham – but neither the writing nor the art manage to carry the amount of emotional weight that these scenes yearn to achieve, and as such the tone and level of excitement of the issue flat-lines after the first few pages.
Equally disappointing is the jettisoning of major subplots and secondary mysteries in this final issue. This series has been a success in part because of the multi-layered threads which have been woven in between the greater mystery at large. We have puzzled over the parentage of Boomerang’s son, been shocked at the graduation of Dr. Light to supervillain status, waited with baited breath to see how Deathstroke might get his revenge on the Justice League, and pondered on what might happen when Superman and Batman find out about the rampant mind-wiping which seems to have occurred in the League’s past. However, instead of reconciling any or all of these threads with some payoff or conclusion, all are left flailing – presumably to be returned to by other creators at their leisure – or virtually ignored, resolved only with ineffectual get-out writing which effectively defuses their original impact altogether.
I don’t want to sound too down on Identity Crisis as a whole, because the series has done some great things with the super-hero genre, remaining a classily-produced act all the way through (with it being a particular pleasure to watch Morales and Bair’s artwork consistently improve by the issue) and never being less than entertaining. Unfortunately, this can’t be said for the lacklustre finale. As a new DC reader, this final issue had all the potential to open me up to new characters and ongoing series, and get me interested in the DCU as a whole. Unfortunately, Meltzer’s conclusion hits far wide of the mark, succeeding only in wrapping up the book in name alone, leaving too much by the wayside and reverting to the status quo as much as the title’s premise would let him. Having set up such an easy final punch, this final floundering can only be said to be a sorely missed opportunity.
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