Rated | Alphabetical
Identity and Theft
Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales
September 30, 2006
The Gentleman (exclusive
to Shaking Through)
(Spoiler Alert: This review reveals critical plot
The secret identity isn't just a staple of superhero comics -- in the
right hands, it's one of the genre's vital thematic underpinnings.
Spider-Man and the X-Men work best when they serve as
metaphors for the ironically universal condition of feeling alone in the
universe, the defining existential dilemma, from puberty onward, of
being different, the outsider: The powers that set you apart from
everyone else; the fantastic other life you can never share. One way
writers like to play with the secret identity is by yanking it away --
see Daredevil, Iron Man and now Spider-Man.
But what really makes the secret identity intriguing is its effect on
others. That's part of the crux of Marvel's current summer
"event," Civil War, which we'll have to address at another time,
once it's concluded and wrapped up in a neat collection. It's also the
issue at the core of DC's status quo-shaking Identity Crisis,
collected last year in hardcover and now finally presented in paperback.
The secret identity is supposed to keep a hero's loved ones safe from
retaliation -- but what happens when it fails? And what would you do to
keep it from happening again?
Those are the questions at the core of Identity Crisis, in
which the death of just such a loved one -- Sue Dibny, the wife of
pliable detective Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man -- serves as the event
that brings to light a horrible secret shared by a handful of
superheroes: Years ago, the villain Dr. Light found his way to the
satellite headquarters of the Justice League of America, empty except
for Sue Dibny, whom he proceeded to rape. When the group of heroes
(Green Arrow, Hawkman, Black Canary, Zatanna and the Atom) returned and
stumbled upon Light, the magician Zatanna erased his memory of the event
(and, it's implied, subtly altering his personality in the process).
Suspicious of their secrecy in deciding to track down Dr. Light after
Sue's death, the Flash uncovers the group's secret; worse, he learns
that the group has resorted to this tactic on more than one occasion
when a loved one's life was threatened as a result of a secret identity
being compromised -- and worse still, that the group even performed this
act on a fellow hero who didn't agree with their extreme methods.
It's to the credit of thriller novelist Meltzer (The
Book of Fate) that he doesn't judge these characters or recast them
as villains as a result of their questionable acts (which isn't to say
that they get off scot-free). It's also to his credit that the true
murderer comes as a complete surprise, and that against a backdrop of
veiled threats against superheroes' family members and the gradual
revelation of the League within the League's actions, he crafts poignant
scenes of familial connection on both sides of the super-powered divide:
the uneasy bond between Robin and his father (mirrored by the newly
minted relationship between two-bit criminal Captain Boomerang and the
son he didn't know he had); the hesitant reconciliation of the Atom and
his ex-wife Jean Loring.
But credit is also due to penciler Rags Morales, whose slightly
cartoonish style (reminiscent, as I've mentioned before, of Pat
Broderick) might at first seem an odd fit with such a serious tale.
Morales nails the story's most dramatic scenes perfectly, and expertly
renders a rapid fight scene involving Deathstroke the Terminator with
vivid clarity. What's more, the DVD extra-style "director's cut"
commentary that closes the book offers revelatory insight into the
give-and-take relationship the two creators enjoyed during the course of
the series, divulging enlightening glimpses of the artist's
decision-making process and approach to certain scenes.
Identity Crisis is that rare "event" that actually changes the
status quo and reverberates throughout the characters' shared universe:
Yes, some characters die, but more importantly, moral lines are crossed
and interpersonal relationships are indelibly changed. It isn't
immediately accessible to new readers, although to be fair it almost
can't be. Nonetheless, Identity Crisis yields real rewards
for all its readers, and stands as one of those pivotal events that help
to redefine a superero universe. That it so wrenchingly alters the
emotional landscape in the process is all the more impressive.
design copyright © 2001-2011 Shaking Through.net. All original artwork,
photography and text used on this site is the sole copyright of the respective creator(s)/author(s). Reprinting, reposting, or citing any of the original
content appearing on this site without the written consent of Shaking
Through.net is strictly forbidden.