Help Me Understand! Why Do You Dislike Identity Crisis?

Hey there everyone! I’m back for my second “Help Me Understand,” thread to get more insight into the reasons why I seem to be in the minority on some of my takes on DC content. If you’d like to take a look at my first thread on DC Universe/HBO Max’s Titans, you can find it here: Help Me Understand! Why Do You Like Titans?

With that said, today I wanted to talk about my FAVORITE comic run of all time: Identity Crisis. This was the first DC Universe crisis event I ever read after I picked up the trade when I was in middle school. I quickly fell in love with the story. I won’t deny that perhaps there is a bit of nostalgia at play for my love of the run, but I have reread it about five times now and can say that my enjoyment has held consistent throughout the years. Which is why I’ve been surprised to find that it’s a pretty controversial take to have. I’ve mentioned it in passing on the forums a few times and have found to get a bit of pushback on it. Further Googling has led me to believe that not a lot of people, particularly self-proclaimed diehard DC fans, enjoy this crisis. But I still haven’t really been able to figure out why it’s so disliked. So, today, I’ll be making my case for why Identity Crisis is phenomenal for you all to challenge me on.

Let’s talk about writing. Those of you who read my first “Help Me Understand Thread” know that I’m a bit obsessive of my analysis when it comes to writing since that’s where I have my background in. I think Brad Meltzer delivers an incredibly well-paced, emotionally impactful, and engaging story that reshaped the DC Universe in a great, but completely new way. While most crises in the DC Universe revolve around the aftermath of gigantic, cosmic battles; Meltzer instead changes the universe by diving into the more personal, dark, and real lives of the heroes we’ve grown to love over the years. This wasn’t a change in the universe on physical level, but an emotional one. It truly redefined the relationships of characters between each other and the audience rather than just wiping the slate clean again.

Meltzer really homes in on some characters to look at the psychology of what it takes to wield the responsibility of being a hero. The death of Sue Dibny is incredibly impactful for both the audience and the heroes themselves. Which is interesting because she wasn’t a very defining character of the universe. Yet her death hits way harder than even something like Gwen Stacy. Meltzer spends time humanizing her in those first pages between Ralph and Firehawk through anecdotes. It very quickly and effectively allows us to fall in love and relate with Sue. Only to upset us when we have her immediately taken away from us. This isn’t just because we like her, but because this death isn’t like ones we’ve seen before. It’s permanent.

Once again, Sue isn’t that important in the universe overall, so her death stands out amongst the crowd. We, as a reader, know that when we see a notable character like Wally West or Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent die, they’ll come back. Because we, on a meta level, know that characters like that are too profitable to stay dead. Not the case with Sue, which is why I think Meltzer is so smart to start are story off with her and Ralph. It’s a permanent death which leaves a big impact that can carry through the rest of the story. It subconsciously cues to the reader that if something bad happens it’s most likely irreversible. The events of this story and the way these characters act are going to have a huge and permanent impact. It’s great. I should also point out that all of this beautifully supported by Rags Morales’ incredible art. I mean Ralph holding Sue’s body in the rain?!?!? The way he physically manifests Ralph’s emotional destruction on a physical level is just haunting.

Now beyond that, the way that Meltzer uses Sue’s death to beat down on our favorite heroes on a personal level. We all know they can take hits and get back up, it’s what makes them superheroes. But what happens when they are hit in their heart? It shows us something different: their faults. It makes them real. It makes them: human. That is what I love about Meltzer’s work here. Slowly stripping away our favorite characters to their core by forcing them to face the realities and psychological tolls of what it means to be a hero. Oliver’s broken relationship with Carter continues to be strained late into his elder years. Bruce shows his true colors as the broken, paranoid, and even dangerous individual he is. Formerly unassuming B-level villains like Doctor Light are now revealed to be truly dangerous to the core. Showing us that even the most unassuming of us can wield great danger/power. All of this alludes to the fact that our heroes are maybe not as perfect as we’ve been led to believe. Culminating into the reveal of the Justice League’s actions against Doctor Light. It also is great at setting up the twist villain of our story. Who I won’t spoil, but believe is a great use of everything Meltzer does which I have described so far.

This is beautiful to me. It makes our heroes dynamic and developed, a work of great literature. It made comics a lot deeper than they had really gone before. It’s why I love this story. Which is why I continue to struggle with understanding why people don’t. The only reason I’ve been able to come up with is that people don’t like having their favorite characters change or grow in a way they don’t want. Diehard fans hold onto a singular vision of how a character is supposed to be and refuse to let them be shown in any other way. I strongly disagree with that standpoint, but I don’t know. Maybe there’s something I’m missing here. So, I call upon all of you! Help me understand! Why don’t you like Identity Crisis?

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personally Zatanna’s hair and earrings. I spent the entire time I read it being annoyed by them, it got to the point where every time she appeared I want to reach in rearrange it, so that I could never focus on the story itself. the earrings are far too big, you never were large earrings to a fight and the hair thing is ridiculous.

Huh. Can’t say I had an issue with this, though I will admit sometimes Morales’ art can exaggerate on some features, but you are very specific on this critique so that doesn’t feel like what you’re saying. Just to clarify, we’re in a world where magic is real, aliens have god-like powers, billionaires dress up in tights to cruise the streets fighting evil-doers, and men can stretch their limbs to any shape; but your problem is that a person’s earrings/hair were unrealistic? I’m not sure if I follow that logic to be honest, but to each their own.

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I’m with @OmniLad I loved it. The murder/mystery was fun, the story had emotional impact, Rags Morales’s art was spectacular, and Deathstroke vs the Justice League was priceless.

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the earrings were unrealistic in that context,no woman would wear those earrings in a fight or that head thing there’s just no reason for itif a reason were provided it would bother me less but as is it looks like her ear lobes could be broken easily and her hair pulled in front of her face when her power is verbally based not getting hair in your mouth would seem to me important

I’m with you this is one of my favorites, the mystery aspect made it so I couldn’t put it down. I do get the feels a little but when Ralph talks about his wife.

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There’s also no reason to wear capes, bat ears, top hats, or a flaming head. A lot of character design in comics aren’t incredibly practical, but they’re put in place for style and aesthetic. That said, where I will agree with you, women in comics are often placed in extra impractical costumes and designs for the sake of being sexualized. It’s something I’ve always had an issue with and feel needs to be addressed in the medium as a whole. But I don’t really think that’s the problem here with Zatanna in Identity Crisis. I view those hoops just like I view Oliver’s “Robin Hood” hat that probably should be falling off everywhere.

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It’s already been stated but I loved the murder mystery, i could feel the horror and trauma sue and elongated man were going through, the dark secret of that the jl were hiding, and seeing deathstroke was a treat.

I didn’t hate it, I personally liked it.

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dude hoods may be impractical( also sidenote they have a fun use of capes in supergirl season 3) but those earrings are dangerous trust me to have one pulled through your ear which take little effort hurts that said it may be personal since I kinda had an earing pulled through my ear

Haha. I’ll take your word for it. To each their own, but now I’ll be sure to keep earing size in mind from here on out

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I’m also in the camp that mostly really enjoys it, but I also didn’t read it until years after it was released and thus don’t have much of the context of what was going on in the DCU at the time, especially when it comes to knowing Sue’s character outside of what’s said about her here. If I was reading the comics at the time, I might feel differently about it; maybe it’d come across more like Heroes in Crisis, which I definitely didn’t enjoy

One thing I will call out about the book, though, was a moment at the beginning of issue #4 where Green Arrow points out internally that a criminal Wonder Woman is interrogating isn’t looking at her breasts. I get that the point was to highlight the Lasso of Truth, but the wording always struck me as completely unnecessary. Meltzer could’ve gotten the same point across in a lot of different ways w/out having to mention Diana’s “rack” :face_vomiting:

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For what it’s worth, I never liked the (decades-long) insistence on making Elongated Man a central character—someone who only exists because John Broome didn’t remember that the company bought Plastic Man and wasn’t intended to be “heroic”—and “canonizing” him is central to Identity Crisis. I haven’t read it since it was new, but my recollection was that the “mystery” was really just a series of absurd red herrings and then a grand revelation with no evidence, which wasn’t fun for me.

I’d also argue that graphically portraying the sexually assaulting of a female character to win sympathy points for the men around her is a cheap ploy that should never have ever gotten past an editor.

Most importantly to me, though, the core concept of the series is that superheroes need their secret identities, because they’re “targets,” and that’s garbage. If the police floated the idea that they should aggressively hide their identities, we would decry it as dangerously authoritarian and an attempt to escape accountability. In fact, it’s not hard to find historical and recent events where people decried exactly that. It’s especially dumb, since the entire series starts out by telling us that secret identities don’t help.

I seem to be an outlier, though. At the time, most unhappy discourse around the series was from readers who were big JLI fans and really felt protective of Sue and/or identified with Ralph.

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Those are all extremely valid points. I will say i didnt have an issue with the red herrings that you mentioned since i thought all of suspects (including the actual killer) were reasonable. And i felt her actual motivations for the murders were believable.

That said, the sexual assualt is pretty awful and I will concede that having this heroine have to be saved by her male counterparts is pretty bad. I will say that I dont think we should shy away from the realities that many women have to deal with and fear. I like when a piece of media is willing to make us really reflect on awful things in our world. But Identity Crisis is not the best at in this particular case.

As for the authoritarian aspects of secret identities, I actually agree. That was one of my favorite things that HBO’s Watchmen pointed out. I would like comics as a whole to adress a lot of the issues I have with character traits like that.

Overall, I think your criticisms are super valid and are definitely making me reflect on it a bit more. Not enough to completely change my opinion on identity crisis, but ill keep them in mind on my next reread.

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The sexual assault of Sue Digby was really horrible, as mentioned. To be clear, it’s not that I don’t think such subjects shouldn’t be in these stories, but I think it’s really crass when it’s just used for shock value and the character involved is just a bit player.

Not only that, but really, ALL the women characters in this story are portrayed horribly. None of them have any agency in the story. The only woman character who really moves the story along is Jean Loring and her motivation as a killer is so…stupid it borderlines on nonsensical and mysogynistic. She literally killed a friend, assaulted other friends, and caused other people to die just to get back with her ex-husband.

And you know what character really got hurt by this story that no one talks about? Doctor Light. Yeah, he was an incompetent Teen Titans villain, but you know what? I would much rather read about that kind of villain than the gross, sleezy, disgusting and evil Light we got after other writers really leaned into after this story.

Oh, and that fight with Deathstroke? Malarky. Just awful. Like – I can get him taking on characters like Batman and Green Arrow and being on their level if not better, that’s fine. But being able to just stop The Flash and ALL the Justice League with him? No. Just no.

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To clarify, here, I’m not looking to convince anybody of anything, and I assure you that I (along with everyone else) like media that’s absurdly problematic. I’ll (gleefully) condemn Meltzer for writing it, but never anybody who enjoys reading it…

Oh, I should mention that I’m also less concerned about the harshness of the various inciting events than the fact that it’s not Sue’s story. There was probably a good story following her struggle to deal with the trauma while spending her time with men who focus a lot of their time on violence. But Sue’s “purity” might as well be a confiscated death ray that someone stole. And yes, I came very close to mentioning Watchmen, but didn’t remember if the mask thing was ever actually cashed out, beyond “it was the White Supremacist’s idea.”

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yeah that bothers me to, there is more focus on erasing memories and drama with batman than Sue’s actaul trauma and expiernce, it like yeah it happened, oh look ethics and drama of mind control

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@Jay_Kay @Izzy11 @jcolag Definitely appreciate all your perspectives on this. I can definitely see the way Meltzer trivializes and takes away from Sue’s story in the way he handles it. Always important for me to hear out these perspectives since I admittedly am very privileged in that comics don’t typically undermine me as a cishet white guy. I’ll DEFINITELY be considering these thoughts more as I re-read the comic. The whole point of this thread is to challenge my own perspectives/pre-conceived notions so I really appreciate your insight as before I had just thought hate towards the comic came from people not liking new takes on the characters. Very eye-opening and appreciated. Thank you!

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I hated it.

Sue Digby was a beloved
character to me. I think writ-
ing a story about her murder
and r a p e is reprehensible.

Why did the plot require
Sue Digby to die? The
writer could have put her
in intensive care for several
months, with the same effect on the plot. Elongated Man would still have suffered and the same investigation would
have been done.

DC felt so bad about this idea that one of the objectives of the weekly 52 series was to reunite Sue and Ralph. So they became ghost detectives together, which was not used much and just removed both great characters off the chessboard. Gail Simon even
ignored Sue’s death and introduced both as characters in her latest Secret Six, so the murder did not stick. So why do it in the first place?

The r a p e especially was not needed for this murder
mystery. It was inserted just so the Justice League can be seen as hypocrites on justice, reducing them to lawless Vigilantes.

The murder of the father of Tim Drake was cruel and
robbed the character of his
uniqueness as the only Robin loving with a living, good active parent.

Captain Boomerang was killed as well. How does that add to the terror campaign of harming the loved ones of the super heroes?

I do not believe that Deathstroke could have defeated that many Justice League members. They know how to fight as a unit and not get in each others way. I don’t even understand why that scene was necessary anyway. It was not necessary for the plot and It added to the idea that they were incompetent fools.

Zatanna had never been able to perform delicate brain surgery before this, but it was needed by the plot, so she Can. Her magic does not work that way. It is physical not mental. How did she learn to do that anyway?

Sue is not only murdered but burned to death. How did that happen? Jean said she did not intend to murder Sue but brought a flamethrower
just in case. How? The
costume of the Atom can’t
shrink objects. Jean came
through the telephone. She
couldn’t have brought a
flamethrower that way.

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Once again, I will say the r a p e is awful and unnecessary but i strongly disagree that intensive care is the same thing. Once again, having a character like that die sets incredible stakes and has a much bigger impact. If it was a more important character that died or if she had just been put into a coma it would not have been the same because we know on a meta llevel that everything would turn out okay. Identity Crisis does a great job at really breaking down the stakes and showing the risks physically and psychologically that this style of hero in comics would actually come with in real life. While I love Tim Drake in his can do attitude, him having a father wasnt the only uniqe thing about him and saying it is really undermines his character. Tim is an incredibly intelligent, fun, and interesting character thathad his character deepened by the loss of his father. Forcing him to face the consequences of what he has chosen to do for work. I loved Tim as he was but I never want my heroes to stay the same forever. They need to go through ups and downs and face changes/growth. Its what makes them dynamic and interesting to me.

Hey I have had post about identity crisis ; I love this story; the hero’s are not perfect and the “big bad” is a shocker. ( not trying to spoil anything) I do want to say though this is one of the few books that ever made me cry especially the last page with Ralph Dibny that was a punch to the heart.

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