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?