Thursday, May 21, 2015

31 Days of Comics: Day 21 – Rob's Secret Shame

ROB'S NOTE: May has become the go-to month of the Comic’s Industry (even though National Superhero Day is late April, but whatever… Congress… pshaw).  It is when Marvel drops their big movie of the year.  May also sees the annual Free Comic Book Day celebration take place on the first Saturday of the Month, so I hope you all got to check that out.  May also has 31 days of the month so what better way to celebrate the wonderful world of sequential art with the 31 Days of Comics?

Seth Hahne, who runs the blog GoodOkBad, has put together the 31 Days of Comics challenge.  A daily challenge in which you are given a category and you have to fill it with a comic that you think fits it the best.  You’re all on the internet, I shouldn’t have to explain it to you.  For the rest of the month I will be taking this challenge.  It is my hope it encourages others to make and share their own lists either in the comments here or on their own websites.  The sharing not only might turn comic fans on to works they have yet to sample but maybe catch the eye of a few non-comic fans and highlight the diversity of the form. 

Our prompt for Day 21 is “A Comic you used to love but now you hate.”

“Identity Crisis”

“Written” by Brad Meltzer
Pencils by Rags Morales
Inks by Michael Blair
Colors by Alex Sinclair
Letters by Ken Lopez

I’ve done a lot of things in my life, and I’m not proud of all of them.  I once stole a friend’s toy car because I really liked it.  I drank before I was 21.  I took the tags off a mattress even through it says do not remove under penalty by the law.  As I said, I’m not proud of those things but I learned lessons through them that have helped me become a better person.  Even though I wish I had made different choices at those times, I wouldn’t take any of it back, except for buying, reading, and enjoying Identity Crisis.

Whatever lessons I learned from it does not outweigh the shame and horror I feel every day of my life when I realized I bought this piece of shit.  And while some days are better than others I never have quite forgotten.  The last time I pruned my comic collection I gave away a long box full of books I’d either read too much, probably won’t read again, and generally didn’t like I ended up keeping Identity Crisis.  I wouldn’t push that on to my friends.  I wouldn’t take the risk of throwing it away and having it end up in some kid’s hands when he was playing near the dumpster.  Even if I shredded it I fear it would reassemble itself like the T-1000 and continue to destroy all it comes into contact with.  This is my burden and I will live with it.

For this I have no excuses, but I do have an explanation. 

Identity Crisis came out right as I was getting back into regularly collecting.  I got busy, didn’t have a lot of disposable income, and had fallen out of the comic scene.  Finding myself back in a shop every week I didn’t exactly have much to guide me.  I picked up things that interested me and when a story is pitched as a murder mystery with superheroes in it would be very hard for me to say no. Especially when it was centered in the DC Universe.  I was never an exclusively Marvel or DC guy.  I always felt good comics were good comics.  But DC has Batman and he is a detective.  So this should have been good.

It wasn’t.

I am not alone in disliking Identity Crisis but I am taking the brave step in admitting I liked it at first.  I remember being engaged at the start of the story, trying to piece clues together, enjoying the art, and thinking there was real emotion involved in it.  And while the enthusiasm tapered off towards the last issue, I certainly didn’t dislike it when it was done.  It was still, I thought, a very good comic.

Most people point to the reveal of the killer (it was Jean Loring, ex-wife of the Atom.  I’ve spoiled this for you so you don’t have to read it.  You’re welcome) and the mystery as being implausible and stupid.  To be fair, while it wasn’t the cleverest way to pull off the murder of Sue Dibney, I thought the motivation made sense and the method was clever enough.  I cut Meltzer some slack on the mystery part.

Meltzer then Carradines himself with the slack.

It is often said that comics learned the wrong lesson from Watchmen, and nowhere is this more on display in Identity Crisis (if you want a current version, please read every comic in the New 52 that DC is putting out).  The real lessons from Watchmen should have been that you can have a story that is mature on many levels (themes, motivations, and technique), that you can darken the mood in a comic book, and that you don’t have to have established characters to bring about a story that emotionally impacts comic book fans.  What was learned was that maturity means comics need sex and violence (and sadly violent sexual acts), that darkness means that heroes need to be just as bad as the villains, and that established characters need to start taking on these characteristics.  Alan Moore wasn’t presenting Rorschach as the hero, and DC put him on t-shirts.

At its core Identity Crisis not only sets the tone for an increasingly darker and infinitely less fun and interesting DC universe that we still see today but it retroactively goes back and tries to interject this darkness into the goofy charming silver age stories.  While the murder mystery holds everything together (that is a relative term) the biggest revelation is that the JLA in the past have used Zatana’s magical powers to mind wipe and, in some cases, lobotomize villains.  Why would they do that? 

Well, remember that fun story in the 1970s where the Injustice Gang swapped bodies with the JLA? Well apparently the first thing they did was unmask and figure out secret identities.  So when they were stopped?  They needed their minds wiped.

Oh and you know Dr. Light, the goofy and ineffective criminal who was also a main character on the Teen Titans cartoon show for kids?  Yeah, he actually is a violent rapist who raped Sue Dibney back in the 80s.  The reason he was goofy and ineffective is because Zatana magically fucked with his brain, not because some criminals were silly and not good at their jobs. 

Oh and they mind wiped Batman to make him forget about the lobotomy.

Identity Crisis not only centers on the heroes doing horrible things to villains and each other, but the worst part is that the story itself never deals with these issues.  The mind wipes are left to be dealt with later, causing a split in the heroes and tension between them that probably still lasts to this day.  Batman doesn’t realize he had memories and removed until later, which puts him at odds with Superman because apparently what we want to see is not Batman and Superman being heroes together, but them fighting each other.  In essence Brad Meltzer is why we’re being subjected to a Batman vs. Superman movie in which neither character is going to actually be a hero (and it will suck).

Identity Crisis is unique among bad comics.  It isn’t just a bad experience to read and ultimately set to the side and try to forget.  It isn’t just that Identity Crisis sets a tone that is still be followed in the vast majority of DC comics (and movies and TV shows other than Flash for now).  It’s that, like a bad time travel movie, Identity Crisis tries to reach back into the past and interject that darkness and moral grey area into the Silver Age. 

Without even touching on the underlying misogyny, bad storytelling, and the fact that Deathstroke can apparently take out the entire JLA in less than 10 seconds Identity Crisis is not only insulting to readers, it directly insults the readers themselves.  Identity Crisis is basically saying that those wonderfully colorful stories with fantastical plots and characters that had basic senses of morality are things we should be embarrassed about enjoying as adults.  But don’t worry, because underneath the cheer and positivity there was this deep dark stuff going on so you can feel adult about pulling them out of your long boxes. 

TL DR version: Identity Crisis sucked.  It confused rape and violently killing people with being a mature, serious story. 

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