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by Kevin McCarley

A Closer Look at the Identity Crisis

DC Comics’ recently-concluded 7-issue mini-series Identity Crisis arguably did more to shake up the DC Universe than anything since the Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series back in the mid-1980’s. The ramifications of Identity Crisis have yet to be played-out, as many questions were left unanswered in the final issue. But was it a good story? Were the holes in the plot too much for the final issue to resolve? Should the comic fan feel cheated by this mini-series?

In this column, it is my intention to address some of these questions, and bring to light some of the other unanswered questions not resolved in the series.

First, was it a good story? In my opinion, yes. For me, a good story is one that keeps the reader interested in the characters and plot development from beginning to end. Identity Crisis did this, keeping the reader intensely interested for six months. Fans waited with baited breath for each successive issue to hit the stands, forcing DC to reprint several of the issues when the originals sold out. “Who done it” was the topic for discussion on many internet chat boards, with posters defending their suppositions with a plethora of factual citings.

Identity Crisis #1
Justice League of America #172 (1979)

Was it a perfect story? No, certainly not. There were many things in the series that could have been handled better. Take for example naming Jean Loring as the killer: nowhere in the issues did writer Brad Meltzer set the stage that Jean had mental problems in the past. Only a die-hard DC fan would know this fact from 1970’s and 80’s era Justice League issues.

The point of any mystery is to come up with an ending that makes the reader say “Of course, I figured that out from the previous issues’ clues,” or otherwise “Of course, why didn’t I think of that?” But there has to be clues…not some last-minute revelation from out-of-the-blue. In this case, the reveal that the killer was “crazy” is a motive that could have applied to any of the suspects in this case and was akin only to “the butler did it” syndrome plaguing many mysteries on early television. “Crazy” explains her motive that she was doing it because she wanted to get back with her husband, Ray. The problem is that “crazy” explains any motive and in this case, is a cop-out to readers trying to solve the mystery from the clues provided.

Another instance where facts could have been better-handled involved Jean once again. It has been well-established in continuity that Jean had access to Ray’s shrinking equipment. She probably had some cursory knowledge of how it worked, as she had used it before. And while I might believe it possible for someone unfamiliar with the science involved in Atom’s high-tech gadgets to follow a phone signal to the desired location, I do not believe it plausible for this same person to navigate the human circulatory system (which must appear to be endless rivers of red at this microscopic size) and reach the brain (how would an untrained person even know they were at the brain?). Sure, the series pointed out that Jean’s killing of Sue was accidental…and that fits the supposition that she had no medical training of how to only hurt someone rather than kill them from the inside. But the fact that she even got to the brain, unscathed and possessions intact, seems to me to be an even luckier accident.

And don’t even get me started on the whole flamethrower incident…..

Atom #4 (1963)
Lex Luthor armored up!

Those instances stated, there were also many wonderful things that happened in the series. One of the best, in my opinion is the long-overdue heroes-as-friends lifestyle that is missing from many modern-age comics. Back in the Silver Age, heroes visited one another, they had lunch together, and they fought Gorilla Grodd together, and then they took their wives out for a night on the town. In other words, they had lives outside the costume, and they interacted with one another in these lives.

In Identity Crisis, the heroes talk…actually talk to one another. They provide friendship and support. And they work side-by-side to find the answers. >Geoff Johns is fostering this trend in the Flash comic, and it was really nice indeed to see Meltzer bring it to the forefront in Identity Crisis.

Another nice aspect of Identity Crisis was the unresolved plotlines. While certainly frustrating, a mystery this large should contain unanswered questions….questions that will plague the heroes and the universe for years to come. What about Batman’s mind-wipe? Who is Owen’s real father? What about the Luthor-Suit? Will anyone take advantage of Jean’s knowledge during her stay in Arkham?

Sure, it’s a marketing ploy by DC. This mini-series brought in a lot of new readers, whether it be those who read other DC titles, or those who hadn’t read a DC book in quite a while. Now, those same people, if they liked the mini-series, will continue to pick up the subsequent tie-in books to see the answers to those questions. And that’s a good thing, both for DC and for comics in general: more readers equal more sales equal more new products on the market.

The character hit hardest by the whole crisis is undoubtedly Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man. Not only has he lost his wife, but she was also his best friend and constant mystery-solving companion.

Dibny made his debut in Flash #112 in 1960. He met heiress Sue Dearbon soon after, when he crashed a posh party of hers, and they were married soon after, in Flash #119, where the title character also served as best man.

Flash #112 (1960)
Ralph & Sue Dibny

Ralph and Sue led the lives of the rich, traveling the world and visiting exotic locales. Ralph also seems to find a mystery to solve, however, much to the chagrin of Sue at first, but she gradually began to see the humor in the situations.

The duo always had close ties with other superheroes, especially those in the Justice League of America. Ralph assisted the JLA in the early days. He was in on one of those JSA adventures where they hunted the Seven Soldiers of Victory, and pal-ed around with Black Canary, Green Arrow, Flash and Atom.

Sue was actually made a member of the League when Aquaman reformed the group after the satellite was destroyed. As she was married to Elongated Man, it made sense to the other JLA-ers to make her a member as well. She proved herself up to the task when the JLA moved back into their old Mountain Headquarters. There, some weird critter with tentacles was siphoning off the heroes’ life forces before Sue showed up, hit the JLA panic button, and alerted the original members who defeated the nemesis and restored the near-desiccated JLA to life.

Ralph and Sue joined Justice League Europe, probably as part of a penchant for their love of romantic locales, and fought-off the advances of Sonar (who had developed quite a crush on our little Sue). Sue even took command of the group, and served as fashion coordinator, making new uniforms for several members, hubby included.

After the battle with Sonar, Ralph realized that Sue could die due to his League involvement and the pair left to….you guessed it….travel! Ralph remained a reserve member and still assisted when needed.

So as we see, Ralph and Sue were pretty-much inseparable the entirety of their marriage. And although the effects of her death in Identity Crisis will undoubtedly change Ralph in some way, it will also change some continuity in the DC Universe. In the past, Waverider has shown a possible future where Elongated Man has a kid, a fact supported by the appearance of Gardner Parker, a lad living in the 25th century, descended from a Justice League member, probably Ralph. We will all have to wait and see if anything develops from this situation.

Justice League Europe #2
JSA #50

Another wait-and-see stance will have to be taken on the question of Batman’s knowledge of his mind-wipe. Either he knows and hasn’t said anything, or he doesn’t know. Regardless, the outcome could have major repercussions on the DC Universe. Batman is one of those thoroughbred characters in the DC stable. He touches just about every other hero in some way, whether personally or by reputation. If he knows about the mind-wipe, he is the kind of person to do something about it after painstaking preparation for every contingency. The JLA will have to answer some hard questions, if this is the case.

If, however, Batman doesn’t know, he probably will find out eventually. He is too well-connected through affiliations with the Titans, Outsiders, JLA, JSA, and several of the “loner-type” heroes, not to mention the all-knowing Oracle. Several folks know about the mind-wipe, and secrets don’t stay a secret forever. Heck, Doctor Light knows, Deathstroke knows, the Calculator (also known now as the Anti-Oracle) might even know, and you can be he and the Batman will cross paths sometime soon. And the mind-wiping wasn’t even related to the murder of Sue. So why else would Meltzer put it in if not to have it addressed in detail in later books?

So should the comic fan feel cheated by this series?

No. It’s a bit premature to feel that way. The series may be over, but it is definitely not concluded. It’s obvious that DC has even bigger plans in store for the heroes in 2005, with the DC Countdown and Crisis II series. The fallout will carry-over into the solo books, probably Flash, Batman and Superman titles more than others. And while some readers may have felt disappointed in the last issue of Identity Crisis, I’m sure the final revelations will make the ultimate resolution worth the prolonged wait.

Cover to Previews 
January 2005 (Countdown teaser)


Identity Crisis #2 Identity Crisis #3 Identity Crisis #4
Identity Crisis #5 Identity Crisis #6 Identity Crisis #7
Artwork for the Identity Crisis #2 Second Printing

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