(Issues #1-7, available in trade paperback)
written by Brad Meltzer
art by Rags Morales
published by DC Comics

Identity Crisis was DC Comics 2004’s big “event” comic, one that promised to have lasting effects ripple through the entire cast of the heroes of DC comics. [The DC Universe is home to Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern, and the Justice League (*sigh* the Super Friends, if you must).]

Murder mystery scribe, Brad Meltzer, opens the series with the words of Dr. Fate “Life is a mystery.” In this case, it is a murder mystery built around the conceit that someone is going after the significant others in the lives of the community of super-heroes. Tragedy befalls one of the few happy couples in comics. As the Elongated Man, the character who bears the brunt of the tragedy, says: “anyone who puts on a costume paints a bull’s-eye on his family’s chests.” Though extremely dramatic and an absorbing read, there is something about the story that leaves a pall over the work. I think it boils down to the fact that there are lines not worth crossing, taboos not worth breaking, memories not worth tainting; not even for the sake of a riveting read (see Amazing Spider-Man review).

“An era can said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.”
-Arthur Miller (quoted in issue #7 of Identity Crisis)

As comic book afficionados were well aware, event comics are cross-over series with ramifications that spread through the other titles of the comic book company. Whereas once they were harmless marketing ploys–used as excuses to have a majority of the heroes gather together in one place–the big events took increasingly darker turns. These events were punctuated by death, as the medium entered this age of realism. Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, Final Night, each brought their share of deaths, sometimes to beloved characters. Granted, this being comic books, it depended on what your definition of “dead” is, but for the most part, (for death to have any meaning) many of the characters have remained dead.

There’s nothing like the reality of death to make one examine their lives, especially their pasts. “Even godless physicists can appreciate the past.” (The Atom). Identity Crisis, in a fit of fanboy mania, re-visits the more innocent age of comics in order to reveal that they weren’t so innocent. Our heroes have their silver age morality is questioned.

You see, part of this era of being real and dark involves the deconstruction of the myth of the iconic hero. We love heroes, but we hate the example they set so we have to prove that they are no better than us. We seem to constantly compare ourselves to one another, as if we are trying to find a kind of redemption by trying to find our self-worth through others. Not wanting to have to live up to too high an ideal, this leads to an obsession with proving that our heroes have feet of clay.

In a nutshell, Identity Crisis is a well-plotted series developed from an oddly gratuitous feeling circumstance. The storyline, with its pot boiler whodunnit trappings, is thick with implications because of the series of escalations: grand fight scenes; one-time silly villains deepened and darkened; friendships betrayed; and a slow unraveling of the tapestry of the vanguard fighting team, the Justice League. It is filled with cool scenes and powerful images, if not a cohesive unifying thread. For such a cornerstone series, it can’t resolve the emotional issues at play. Its rushed resolution ends up feeling like the 30 minute sitcom wrap up of a “very special episode”.

The conclusion, at first pass, proves oddly unsatisfying and anti-climatic. That is, until you realize that at its core, Identity Crisis is a story about relationships and our desperate need for them. Identity Crisis ends up offering a better answer than Dr. Fate’s bit of wisdom. Life is about relationships; the deeply personal nature of, and the ties that bind, relationships. Parent and child. (Ex) wife and (ex) husband. Colleagues. We were created as relational beings. We are defined by relationships and we are vulnerable through them. It sounds weak, codependent in therapy parlance, but we aren’t meant to be alone.

A human being is defined by who loves them. Loved by God, we have our identity; defined by that relationship we find our self-worth. Love is risk, but we’re wired to be a part of a community. In that way we are fulfilled.

One could forgive the flaws to make the meticulously constructed mystery work. The series both highlights and humanizes the heroes of the DC universe while at the same time exposing their flaws in a deeply personal story. However, that doesn’t negate the solution to the heroes’ identity crisis. It could be best summed up with this quote from Doc Childre: “Our true identity is to love without fear or insecurity. Our higher potential finds us when we set our course in that direction. The power of love and compassion transforms insecurity.”

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