BIGdamnREWIND: Identity Crisis

"I chose this life. I know what I'm doing. And on any given day, I could stop doing it. Today, however, isn't that day. And tomorrow won't be either." - Batman

With the DC Reboot in full swing, it only feels right to go back and talk about what has to have been one of the most influential and even controversial comics of the past ten years, Identity Crisis. Written by New York Times best-selling author Brad Meltzer with pencils by Rags Morales,  ink by Michael Bair, letters by Ken Lopez, colors by Alex Sinclair and featuring original covers by Michael Turner. When I got back into comics a few years ago, Identity Crisis was something that every fan of DC seemed to be talking about. In true Meltzer fashion, the book involved a mystery, in this case the murder of Sue Dibny, wife of the world famous detective the Elongated Man. You don’t read comics? I know what you’re thinking then, who the hell is the Elongated Man? The Elongated Man, Ralph Dibny, is a superhero who can stretch his body to amazing lengths like Plastic Man (that name more familiar?) but on top of that he is a detective who’s skills rival that of Batman himself.

Ralph cradling Sue.

When I tell you this is the best miniseries I’ve ever read, I want that to sink in so you understand just how good this book is. It’s written so well, with every detail taken into account by Meltzer. Rags Morales work makes the characters more real than they seem in other books. “Identity Crisis is designed to look at these characters through a microscope, pulling in so tight, we can see all of their flaws and imperfections” said Meltzer. The book brings out the “League within the League” of Green Arrow, Black Canary, Hawkman, the Atom, the Flash, Zatanna and Green Lantern are the characters who, along with Ralph Dibny, are the main ones out looking for the murderer of Sue Dibny. More characters become involved like the newly reunited father and son of Flash villain Digger “Captain Boomerang” Harkness and his son Owen. Tim Drake, who was still Robin at the time, becomes closer with his own father as his Dad expresses his fears about Tim going out and fighting crime. We also see Ray “The Atom” Palmer and his ex-wife Jean Loring come back together after an attempt on her life as well. In the introduction to Identity Crisis, Joss Whedon (Creator of Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, etc, etc, etc) says “Even if you’re a lifelong fan of DC, it’s unlikely that Elongated Man is your favorite-ever character. But halfway into issue-one he was certainly mine.” Ralph Dibny was a C list superhero most of his life. Many readers knew who he was, but he was never a star of his own book and rarely was the one nailing the knockout blow on a villain. Identity Crisis would change all that for the next several years as Ralph was suddenly thrown into the limelight. He’d play a major role in the DC mega-series 52 as well as the Green Lantern book Blackest Night.

If you’re a comic book fan, you owe it to yourself to pick up the collected series. Not just for the amazing storytelling and the breathtaking and often haunting images but for what follows as well. A “Director’s Cut” is added at the end as Brad and Rags pick apart the book and fill you in on details that before were only known to the people behind the book itself. You learn of the inspirations for who many of the characters were visually based on, how Brad and Rags would go back and forth on ideas about imagery, and even how one of the most iconic images from the entire book was almost very different. The image of Ralph in tears, cradling Sue’s body is something you can imagine easily if you’ve already read the book. The artwork is so powerful that it sticks with you. Meltzer originally wanted a higher angle, more like the film Shawshank Redemption where Tim Robbins is looking up into the rain. Rags suggested a more 90 degree angle and after some back and forth, Brad saw his sketches and went with it.

One of the amazing covers by Michael Turner.

Sometimes as fans we don’t realize how much goes into creating the books we love. We love to trash ideas, reboots, new characters and change. It’s the easy and anonymous age of the internet. Me? I like to give the creators, writers, artists, and editors a little more credit. I doubt the idea to kill Sue Dibny was something pulled out of a hat or to simply shock you. Along with her death, Identity Crisis features a flashback scene that involves the rape of Sue Dibny at the hands of the villain Dr. Arthur Light. While it was not displayed in a graphic nature, it was a case of “less is more.” The simple words and images (which I have purposefully left out of this blog for those who may be more sensitive) strike you in the chest and while certainly shocking, aren’t meant to be a cheap trick. In a few issues, Meltzer and Morales manage to take C list characters and make them more important than Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

For me, the most haunting image of the entire book.

Identity Crisis is a book that contains many images and story pieces that you will easily be able to recall after reading this book. One of the most haunting I will leave you with now, an image that finishes one of the most emotionally driven issues of the series. Identity Crisis is a book you can pick up with little to no knowledge of the DC Universe and enjoy for what it is. You don’t have to continue on in DC continuity to finish more of the story. It is what it is. Of course if you want more, themes and plot points carry over into books like Infinite Crisis, 52, and Justice League. Identity Crisis marked a great time to be a fan of comics and with the recent reboot of the entire DC line, maybe we’ll see more creative and emotionally driven stories like this that brings us closer into the lives of the heroes we love.

PETER loves comics and greatly respects those responsible for creating them, every step of the way. He gets quite upset when people bash things when they don’t have good reason to. He thinks we should all keep an open mind and enjoy new things and take them for what they are. Different. Identity Crisis is the one book he can read and still get teary eyed at even though he’s read it numerous times now. And if you don’t, you’re a crazy heartless bastard.

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