Sunday, January 27, 2013

Blogathon 36: Identity Crisis (Shawn Starr Guest Post)

The failure of Identity Crisis is that it’s goals outweighs it’s author’s abilities by such a large margin that it collapses in on itself and reveals the fatal flaw of realism in comics, that it is impossible.

Meltzer attempts, with Identity Crisis, to recreate Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen within the confines of the DCU, but Meltzer (no matter how many New York Times Best Selling titles are in his bibliography) is not Alan Moore, and even Alan Moore knew better than to be saddled with the DCU (or Rags Morales for that matter) while writing his magnum opus. What we end up with then is a surface level mimicry of Moore’s masterpiece, Identity Crisis touches on many of the themes of Moore and Gibbon’s Watchmen (generations, maturity, violence, sexism, political commentary, and the psychosis of a “hero”), but it never strains to go deeper than to push those buttons while misinterpreting why they were there in the first place.

Watchmen redefined what superheroes could be; Identity Crisis shows us what they cannot be.


The biggest failure of Identity Crisis, and the one which doomed the entire series from the start, is the DCU itself. Even though much of the continuity and characterizations in the DCU were relatively new compared to Marvel (following 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths), Meltzer still had to deal with nearly twenty years of history. Where Watchmen used analogues (characters with the perception of history, but devoid of any experience Moore himself did not craft explicitly), Meltzer had to contend with the lived in originals (A.K.A. “The Big Boy Toys”). This forced him into the dilemma of retconning in major moments (the rape of Sue Dibny) in order to make his mystery have any legs. The problem with this is all the stray threads it produces. Joss Whedon called Identity Crisis an epiphany in his introduction in that he changed the very concept of DC history, I’d call it lazy writing.

Once the League chose to alter Dr Light’s mind following several threats to rape their wives (for about 14 pages) in the early days of the League, why didn’t the idea of neutering every villain in the DCU become commonplace? Dr Light was a dufus following his “realignment”, a straight up joke. The plan had worked! So why not just “R.P. McMurphy” the Joker and be done with him? He kills people, I mean a lot of people, and so why is the Flash’s wife more important than the lives of every citizen of Gotham? Huh, Flash? Huh?

(They even mind wiped Batman for Christ sake!!!)

Where Anthony Burgess could deal with the idea of reprogramming the mind, and its moral implications in A Clockwork Orange, Meltzer simply opens a Pandora’s Box of implications and tries to ignore he ever opened it. He needed that rape to happen, so that we knew it wasn’t like the old days. The difference is Burgess controlled his universe, both future and past like Moore, Meltzer though could not by definition as the old days still existed.


Another odd trait of Meltzer’s writing is its political aspect; Meltzer grafts onto the superhero community a definitive post-9/11 “American Vigilantism” reminiscent of the Bush Administration and also found in Neoconservative wet dreams.

Green Arrow’s vow of revenge against those involved in the killing of Sue Dibny "And whoever did this-he better pray the cops get him before we do." reads more like a Clint Eastwood line from Dirty Harry than something the DCU's permanent liberal would say (Unless he experienced an overnight epiphany like Christopher Hitchens). That vow though is, inevitably, expanded upon to mean anyone that could be connected with the perpetrators (fire was used, you use fire, you’re on the list) which resulted in goon squads of super heroes busting down anything that even resembles a hideout.

Wonder Woman goes so far as to choke and physically abuse an inmate because he used a specific type of knot while committing his crimes (a knot so common its Scout 101, as Superman comments), even when the perp had been incarcerated during the assault.

The political aspects of Meltzer’s scripts may be the most successful thing about the series; the only problem is that they cast the heroes in the role of the villain, and the villains as the oppressed to a large extent. A league of Rorschach’s defiling the Geneva Convention and habeas corpus to solve a crime one of them committed only to create a greater monster in the now-unwiped Dr Light.

This political message also ties into Meltzer’s attempt at “serious comics about serious stuff”. While many argue (and to some extent are correct) that the 90’s Image era was based on a misreading of Alan Moore and Frank Miller works (along with a dozen other creators I’m omitting because I don’t have all day), most of those comics (at least the popular ones) are the definition of anti-seriousness. Rob Liefeld never dropped his V for Vendetta for a reason, and the latter half of Miller’s career only goes to show where his allegiances lied.

Meltzer and the generation that followed him, the Post-Image, are the ones guiltiest of a wild and unsophisticated appropriation of Moore/Miller motifs. They make a mockery of it, with the intent of honoring it. Meltzer along with the Geoff Johns and now Scott Snyder’s, pile on these moments of seriousness, rapes, murders, miscarriages, etc., until they collapse on themselves and become a Johnny Ryan parody.

The final page of Identity Crisis #1 depicts Elastic Man holding the charred corpse of his wife (which as a scene is rather well done on its own), it’s not that exploitative, but then Meltzer just has to add onto it with just one more panel, to really nail the scene. That panel is of course of a pregnancy test lying on the floor with a note attached “Daddy, Two lines = POSITIVE!” and then that scene just becomes the funniest thing I’ve read since the opening story of The Furry Trap.

This isn’t the only instance, following the rape of Sue Dibny by Dr Light; Light spends 10 pages hunched on the ground foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog screaming about how he’s going to rape everyone’s families. Everyone from The Flash’s wife, Batman’s wife, Superman’s Wife, Green Lanterns alien lover, Whatever Hawkman does stuff with. I figured he would start threatening people’s dogs next if the page count allowed for it.

He just can’t stop himself from going that extra step, and it ruins everything he was trying for.


Then there's the ending of Meltzer’s mystery which is a last minute twist no one saw coming, just like EC comics, and just like Watchmen. The problem though is Ozymandias's plan was foreshadowed the entire time, it just that no one saw it coming. It was a perfect reveal because it made complete sense, but you couldn't see it coming (His confession at the end and the “I did it 35 minutes ago” meme it spawned is also a brilliant deconstruction of the villain plot reveal).

But Identity Crisis, I still don’t get it.

It doesn't make any sense. It’s like Armageddon 2001 where they just changed it at the last minute, but at least in the case of that book it was because people guessed the ending, but in Identity Crisis no one ever could because there is nothing in the prior text to predict it.

It certainly is Jean who killed Sue, that's undeniable, or it’s undeniable in the face of 10 pages of exposition as confession which says just that. A “fair play mystery” this is not.

The problem is that as Batman (A.K.A. the voice of reason) keeps repeating, who Benefits? I still don’t know the answer to that query. For example, how did Jean think she would benefit from this? The Atom in the beginning seems to still be in love with her, she seems past him (she was the one who left him), moving onto new experiences (signing back all his patients so she wasn’t indebted to him). So how did it go from that, to grabbing one of his suits and killing an unrelated person (which she brought additional weapons for, even though I guess it was an accident?) only so that she could get The Atom to come back to her and fall in love all over again. And how did that plan work?

Just to give an alternative scenario, a “cape killer” in Watchmen did not make Silk Spectre fall in love with Dr. Manhattan MORE after they began to disconnect, all it did was accelerate her leaving him and having awkward couch sex with Nite Owl. Jeans plan to have had the exact opposite effect and pushed him towards getting freaky with Tigra.


So my point is Identity Crisis isn’t as good as Watchmen.

Or something.

“An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted." -Arthur Miller (from Identity Crisis)

P.S: Chad picked the joke book off my list.

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