I knew in rereading Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer I would very likely have a very different reaction to it than my first timing reading the story. My first read was pretty much my first step into the bigger DC Universe. I had read some more self contained Batman stories, and there was of course all the Timmverse cartoons, which at this time were in the stages of Justice League Unlimited and Teen Titans, I believe. The other change in this reading was reading it as a single volume rather than across a seven month span as my roommate collected it, previously.

My original reaction to Identity Crisis was not especially positive. It was intriguing to me to be introduced to this vast cast of characters, but I think there were definitely times I got lost in the mass of them. Many of which I had at least heard of before, but they were just names to me. However the book seemed like DC was making a too blatant play at attempting to dirty up the DC characters. When Mark Weiringo died a few years ago, I perused his blog a bit and found his post on Identity Crisis in which he complained pretty strongly about the intentional nastiness they threw into the DC Universe (and at this time it was still a universe). Weiringo was known for a more positive attitude within the industry than just about anyone else in comics, so this opinion from him was not surprising. But since it echoed some of my initial aversion to the tale, I kinda grabbed on to it a little.

However, as I have become at least a bit more familiar with DC, and have a little more of that pull to learn yet another universe (don't worry, this won't take the shape of what I've done within the Marvel titles) I began to want to reread Identity Crisis, especially considering the impact it had in all of the titles moving forward.

So, I read it. And it was much much better this time. Identity Crisis very much plays on your emotional connections to characters. And I think this is where reading it monthly, and otherwise not knowing the characters hindered me before. Picking it up every month I had to reconnect with these characters every time. And since I did not have any connection with these characters outside of this particular story, I think it created some amount of wall between me and the characters. Though, honestly, a number of parts of this should have still pulled a pretty good emotional response from me. I don't know if my character confusion just hung me up, or if I was just dead inside at the time, heh. Though admittedly, one could argue that this is a weakness to the story. It is told well, but somewhat manipulatively. Perhaps, a little more on the overdoneness of it all later.

Also, as with the usual good mystery plotting, there are numerous threads running through which I am sure were baffling me on a month to month basis. I was probably reading it and then mostly losing the lesser threads, which when I would come back to them I could probably not fully fit them back into place. The significance of the ending reveal I think was definitely lost on me because of this. Or the fullness of it was lost on me. Admittedly, it meant far more to someone who knew these characters' stories prior to Identity Crisis, but now having read it all at once, I actually feel Meltzer did a much better job catering to a new reader than I originally believed. But this stands up more so to someone reading it all at once, or at the very least really pouring over the issues rather than borrowing it, reading it really quickly, and then being done with it.

The characters and world of DC (or at least their main universe) always feel and look more dated than Marvel, which is mostly because of the starting age of their characters. And when Marvel hit its stride was in the reinvention of super heroes of the Silver Age, and they have hardly any Golden Age baggage. Now, don't read this as me just being bias towards Marvel. I think both companies are bound up in an old idiom that hinder their stories (and more particularly their audience). In order to bring people in, they usually have to get them to learn the language when they are young and more forgiving to the archaic language they use. These companies depend on people accepting their language when they are younger and then coming back to it when they are older. Super hero comics of the cape and tights variety have both the positives and minuses of their history. The modern comics that are tied to these histories have to balance tying themselves down to their history as well as splitting themselves off from it at the same time. Marvel and DC will always have this struggle. Codenames and costumes will always necessitate this struggle.

Speaking of such things as secret identities, it is really ironic to see Green Arrow have a little talk about the importance of secret identities, as he waves around his silly little mask who would conceal his identity from no one. But this is very much a part of Identity Crisis. Meltzer is trying to defend and also adapt some of the statutes of the super hero comic. Secret identities are a particular focus (which is again ironic for DC, because so many of their characters means of concealing their identities while is costume are ridiculous), but Meltzer also touches on some of those thoughts you get about why villains are so impractical, and overall he just tries to humanize and bring the super hero genre a bit closer to what we expect from reality. Some of these adaptations work, some of them are a bit silly (see my mask comment above), and one is a bit disturbing.

Now to speak of that disturbing. There is a particular scene that comes out in Identity Crisis which was a particular focus to Weiringo's complaints against the book. It is a hard thing to come at, because from one point of view, it is obviously something disturbing and repulsive. However from the other point of view it is real (which is far more unfortunate). It makes you despise the villain who does the act, which is important to understand the heroes reactions to the event. And likewise, if these villains are so foul and evil, this very act would be precisely the sort of thing they would do. Overall, it is reprehensible, but I feel it was handled with the care necessary. Enough is shown to make you feel the sickness of the sin, but it is also careful what it shows.

As I may have gotten across a couple paragraphs ago, I feel the walls that super hero comics have set up that keep them from reality (not that super powers exist, but the reality of how people would act with super powers) diminish the impact of the genre. Admittedly, the trappings of the language of super hero comics can be fun, like some of the Silver Age homages that have come out of late, but they are also holding up the genre moving forward in many ways (not the homages but some of the stale archetypes). So Identity Crisis' pursuit of making the genre real should be exactly what I want. And in some ways it is. And in some ways the problems just come into a clearer focus.

Moving on, I mentioned above that you could feel that the whole book is a bit overdone. Though I suppose most people expect that from such a comic, but one could definitely argue that Meltzer pulls to the easiest of emotional notes and repeatedly through out the book, in order to get that big "woah" from the reader. You can feel after a while like he just keeps hitting the same notes over and over, which can both be intrinsic to the story, or simply repetitive. Where do I sit on that fence? I am not sure. There was a particular character death that felt thrown in. Especially since you hardly see the community (big theme in the book) react to it. They just threw in the death to have the story make yet a greater effect on the universe. It seemed with everything else going on, it was just unnecessary. The rest of the deaths or threats or familial ties at least felt executed masterfully if a tad manipulatively. I mean, as much as I will go on about the super hero genre being faulty, I still read it for a reason. Manipulative writing is part of the fun of the genre, honestly. So I suppose I should just accept it if it helps me enjoy the comic.

I think there are things that should be said about the reveal at the end, but I have to avoid saying too much. This is a murder mystery after all. My initial read I was left ho hum about the final reveal. Though some of this was definitely caused by confusing some characters, and not remembering who some people were. Something which I don't think would happen to many if they read this all at once, even with no prior knowledge of DC characters. Reading through it this time and ... mostly knowing the final reveal (it took me a little while to remap everything) probably made everything fit better. Do I feel it was a satisfying murder mystery? Hmm. I guess. Honestly it was better than a murder mystery because it did far more than that and it was moved by the characters rather than just the plot. Mysteries can easily be too strongly plot driven, but Identity Crisis I felt balanced the two.

Rags Morales, the artist does great work here too. He is a strong part of the emotion that the book is able to tie the reader into. There were images that bothered me, I am not going to say he was perfect, but he definitely had a more grounded feel to his characters (which can look silly when grounded characters are wearing such outlandish costumes, but it worked here) which profited the story greatly. He was also able to pull of characters crying which was umm, necessary for this book. You bring in someone like Jim Lee or their cover artist Michael Turner, and that emotional ability is completely lost.

On a side note, seeing Michael Turner art on the covers in the book is hard. I feel bad when I see it because of his dying so young and leaving a family behind, but I still can't bring myself to like it. I mean it is shiny and attractive, but it is ... well see there I go beginning to downgrade it. And the man is dead. I want to say positive things about him. Well, I have two friends who I have heard state Turner is their favorite artist (whether or not that remains the case for either I do not know) and I've seen the man in person and he seemed a nice enough fellow. His coworkers were certainly nice. Though I don't know what the French lady's job was...

Anyways, back to task. I am very glad I reread Identity Crisis. And if you are interested in a DC Universe encompassing type story but one that isn't bound up in cosmic threats or infinite earths, I would recommend this one. It can be read alone, or it could jump you into other things if you feel like it. The story stands alone well. However, if you like cleanly polished shiny heroes along with villains who follow their traditional route, this may not work for you.

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