Comic books get a lot of flack, and are often labeled “kids stuff”, what with the flashy, eye-grabbing outfits, superpowers, and catchphrases (“Up and Atom!”). But every once and a while, a story comes out that reminds you that these stories can have as much artistic merit as any novel or movie. I’ve talked on and on about The Long Halloween and Kingdom Come, as being some of the finest stories written. Now I have one more to add to the list, DC‘s Identity Crisis! Written by New York Time’s best seller Brad Meltzer, with artwork by the talented Rags Morales, this story rips at the heart of humanity, and shows that it doesn’t matter how powerful you are, anyone can succumb to fear and heartbreak.
The story starts out with Elongated Man on patrol with Firebird. They talk about life and love. Elongated Man tells her of the first time he met Sue, his wife, and how he know it was true love. They crack wise about various heroes, as they watch a black market sale take place. While the sale turns bad for the villainous Bolt, Ralph can’t focus because he gets a distressing call from his wife. Someone has broken in and attacked her. They rush to his house, but he is too late. Sue Dibny has been murdered! The Justice League is devastated. Batman checks the house front and back, leaving no proverbial stone unturned. Green Arrow thinks he can best the bat and brings in a crackpot of heroes and ex-villains to search the house as well. Including The Atom, who scours every fiber of the house.
At the funeral, every hero still alive and walking attends the solemn event. As the eulogies are read and tears shed, the action heats up in the back as they form a plan of attack. Teams are formed and villains are dispatched to be retrieved. Everyone is assigned a villain, everyone that is except for a select few. The Atom, Green Arrow, Black Cannary, Zatanna, Elongated Man, and Hawkman are left without a mission. A fact that doesn’t escape The Flash(Wally West) or the Green Lantern(Kyle Rayner). Confronted about this event, Ollie finally breaks down and the group informs the two of what happened almost 20 years ago. They speak of a horrible night when Sue was alone in the Watchtower, alone that is until the villain, Dr. Light, manages to break in and assault her. Wally is struck by this, because he has fought Light numerous times and he has always proved to be a push over. That’s when Ollie reveals the secret and why they suspect Light as the murderer of Sue.
In a secret base that is being watched by the Oracle, Merlyn and a slew of sophisticated villains trade tales and look for odd jobs to perform. One however is looking for protection. They talk of course about what happened to Sue, and how they need to lay low because the heroes are now out for blood. The 7 heroes find Dr. Light, but he isn’t alone. He has hired one of the deadliest assassins known, Deathstroke. A fierce and bloody battle explodes as Deathstroke manages to take down each member, proving why he is the best. His only mistake is not keeping his eye on all the dangers around. Why they struggle, Dr. Light has a brief flashback of what happened which all the heroes experience. Light escapes and the heroes regroup. They learn that Light couldn’t have been the killer but now they have more problems, as The Atom’s ex-wife is nearly murdered in her home. Ray rushes and barely saves her. As they try to find clues to the crime, another of the hero’s loved one is targeted.
While the heroes are struggling to find this mysterious killer, another mission is under way by a desperate father. Captain Boomerang, long has he been a thorn in the Flash’s side, is now trying to turn a new leaf as a devoted father. He learns he has a son and struggles to meet him. Finally the two have some bonding time and Boomerang decides to make headlines for his son. He pushes the Calculator to get him a job, something big. He gets a hit, literally, as he is sent to kill another loved one of the heroes, but this ends horribly. More secrets come to life as the body count continues to rise. No hero is safe and now neither is their loved ones. How can they track this killer who has eluded them every step of the way, when now they find it hard to trust one another?
Wow is that story good. Brad Meltzer crafts a very engaging murder mystery and effortlessly places it into the realm of superheroes. At the forefront is their humanity. He strips the layers of super powers and ego away and we are left with characters that feel fear and anger the same as the rest of us. The group led by Green Arrow, they want to tear apart Dr. Light because that is human nature. If someone did something that unspeakable, and then attacked again, you would be ready to burn the city down looking for them. Even the betrayal they commit against their own, everything happens from fear, from instinct. They don’t let logic into the equation, and Meltzer brings that across brilliantly. The dialogue is some of the finest written on page in a long while. He brings a voice to each character that is unique and individualized. Their personalities shine through, even those that have limited time, like Superman and Wonder Woman. They come across as the gods they are. Yet even they can become susceptible to fear, but it’s the degree that it gets to them that makes them legend.
The plot has many twists in it, but they never feel tacked on. You get to the end and your jaw drops. You reread the previous panel thinking you missed something. Then you go back and read the whole thing again and your jaw remains on the floor. This story sent ripples through the DC universe without having to rely on intergalactic dangers, gods bringing about Armageddon, or super powered heroes threatening to rip the world in two. No the world of the superhero was shattered in the most intimate way possible, and in a way that is far harder to repair. In fact some never recovered. This was Meltzer’s first foray into the world of comics and he left a stamp that was still felt even into the Blackest Night
. The legacy of this story stayed until the universe did a reset.
Add to this amazing story is the equally compelling artwork from Rags Morales, one of the finest artists in the business.
His panels leap off the page. The heroes have never looked better. They appear larger than life whenever they are in the public eye. Behind the screen however we see a different side, a vulnerable side. Morales is able to bring their humanity to life as beautifully in his artwork as Meltzer did with his words. They almost shine off the page, even when the world is bleak. You can feel the pain in their faces as you peer from page to page. Some of the best images are the full page layouts of just the heroes standing there, looking on at the funeral of Sue, or meeting around a table, larger than life icons arguing with each other. The quality is stunning. You cannot overlook Michael Bair either, for his inking in this title is amazing. The colors are vibrant and rich. We have the heroes, larger than life icons, with the look to inspire, set against the ugliness of the world.
I cannot stress enough how amazing this title is. It spanned the course of 7 issues and received great critical praise. Fans were a bit thrown off by the dark nature of the story, which is the very thing that the critics hailed it for. No punches were pulled in this story. The way each character was treated is also great. From hero to villain, whether it was the Elongated Man, or Captain Boomerang, you felt their pain. You felt that they had a reason for what they were doing, maybe not the best intentions, or the right course of action, but a valid reason. No character was treated as fodder. I think that is one of the traits writers seem to overlook, it doesn’t matter how big of a name the character has, or how small, they are all individuals. Metzler and Morales bring that to life in a shocking and humanistic way. I urge you to go out and pick this book up, it is definitely one of the best reads from DC within the last ten years.