******* SPOILER WARNING: We're gonna blab every possible secret IDENTITY CRISIS has to offer in this roundtable. Be a man. Suck it up. ********
MODERATOR: Hey folks, I am the Moderator, the omniscient and lonely voice of reason haunting the halls of @$$Hole HQ. This week, instead of a regular column, the @$$holes slacked off and just shot the shit (in the usual excessive manner) about the recent finale of the much ballyhooed DC miniseries, IDENTITY CRISIS. Luckily, I was there to moderate it all because it’s what I do best and, well…because I’m lonely and have nothing better to do. This is what we like to call…
THE @$$HOLE ROUNDTABLE REVIEW!
@$$HOLE ROLL CALL
And a word or two from Buzz Maverik
And a word or two from Buzz Maverik
So why don’t we start the ball rolling, holes? It's been seven months and seven issues since the cover to IDENTITY CRISIS #1 promised us "Deadly secrets! Private hells! The Comics event of the year begins here!" Let's hear some immediate, visceral reactions!
BUZZ: IDENTITY CRISIS…
BUG: After reading the entire series, I am walking away from IDENTITY CRISIS satisfied. It wasn’t a comic that will change my life or the way I read comics forever. It didn't press my underwear, walk my dog, or clip my toenails. It wasn't the cure for halitosis. But I think it was a successful little mystery nestled deeply in the DCU, celebrating the vast universe of characters and shedding a refreshing light on some characters that have slipped into the background in recent years.
VROOM: I'm going to start with the positive on this one. If Meltzer knows anything it's how to craft a mystery. I was rereading the previous six issues last week, and by the end of the third, knowing that the killer was connected to the Atom, I knew who the killer was. Look at the position of the hands gagging Jean. Clues were everywhere, and I give a helluva lot of credit to Meltzer and Morales for their work on the technical level. It's masterful, masterful work. It's just a shame that the events of the final two issues were so thoroughly wrong, so blindingly stupid as to make this the worst superhero storyline of the year. And in a year that saw AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED, Azzarello's “Superpriest,” and Claremont's “Uncanny X-Cops,” that's saying something.
DAVE: Start positive? Wuss! Okay, I admit it: Meltzer had me interested with that first issue and managed some clever scenes throughout the series, but I knew as of the second issue that he was also capable of what literary-types refer to as real dumb-shit writing. From his only-a-geek-would-care need to "explain" Dr. Light's switch from threat to goofball decades ago, to the almost pathological downgrading of our heroes into chumps with feet of clay, to the finale with its 101 leftover red herrings and "she's cuh-razy!" motivation... A waste of paper. Worse than a waste, actually. If the story were throwaway, it'd be merely a waste, but Meltzer's stupid decisions will be weighing on the DC Universe for years to come. Dude coulda just stunk up the toilet, but no, he had to go and spray his crap all over the bathroom.
VROOM: Hey, I simply wanted to point out that there was some legitimate talent behind this book. That's actually what makes this storyline all the more painful. In fact, I probably hated this issue more than you did. Until this issue, I have never detested the physical act of reading. Halfway through this book, I wished I was illiterate.
LIZZY: It may surprise you to know that I followed each issue of this series just like the rest of you. LizzyBoyfriend and I actually sat down together to read each one as it was released, to comment on them and discuss what we thought of each issue, something we've never done before. He's a longtime DC fan, I have virtually no experience with DC outside of Vertigo. And you know what? It was fun. We were throwing out little details we picked up on, like Batman showing up in one memory of Dr. Light's mind wipe and not appearing in another. We were in real suspense when Mr. Drake met his untimely demise, even though we saw it coming a mile away - that's how well scripted it was. And we laughed our heads off when they found tiny footprints in Sue Dibney's brain. In her brain! Only in comics!
LIZZY: I have to think that the fact that both LizzyBoyfriend and I could enjoy this series from drastically different vantage points makes this series a success. LizzyBoyfriend is speculating to no end about Boomerang Jr. and what will happen when Batman finds out about the mind-wipe. I find myself actually interested in reading more about characters like Green Arrow and The Flash for the first time, well, ever.
DAVE: I'll say this: I do think Meltzer betrayed the ideals these characters have represented for decades with this story...did some schlocky stuff...generally annoyed the crap out of me...BUT...I'm not overly selfish. I'm invested enough in the DC characters to bitch, but if enough new readers are energized by this move toward realism or "Marvelizing" or whatever IDENTITY CRISIS is...I'm willing to let 'em see if they enjoy this new DC Universe while I step aside.
SUPES: I didn't detest the issue as much as Vroom, or dislike the series taken as a whole (especially the earlier issues). But it did feel like there was a chunk of the big finale missing in the final issue and that it was all denouement. Also, the "who benefits, the families of the superheroes" didn't really sit well with me as logical train of thought to follow discovering Jean to be the killer.
BUG: The "who benefits" part made sense to me. This really was a personal story, one filled with really powerful scenes. I could rattle off a handful just from this final issue. I felt, though, that this final issue seemed rushed. Maybe if they would have made it a double sized ending, there would've been room for elaboration on themes like this and others.
SUPES: There's also not a lot of resolution to some of the things Meltzer strung us along with throughout the series (which were really overall more interesting to me than the actual whodunit). Batman's mind-wipe is never really addressed in a way I found satisfying. This was a huge betrayal that we're supposed to accept because Ollie says the JLA just finds a way to go on and Wally is keeping his trap shut. What about the Calculator who is an accessory to Drake's murder? Or the suspect parentage of Boomerang's kid? Of course these are things that could all be springboards for future stories, but I would've liked a little more resolution.
BUG: Yeah, I felt that a lot of it was skipped over in the last issue. The Batman mind-wipe part is huge and I'm sure it'll weigh heavy in the future. But I have to give Meltzer credit; he introduced a mystery here, tossed in some very intriguing subplots, and added some details that made the DCU more interesting. Stuff like Boomerang's kid and the role of the Calculator in the DCU are interesting concepts. This series introduced those things here. I think it is supposed to tease you to check out how these concepts and details affect the rest of the DCU in the future. As a marketing campaign, I see this as good. It is more inclusive. More cohesive for fans. More like comics were in the past when you felt you were in a little club by understanding how this universe is interconnected. Of course, this marketing campaign is only successful if you buy into the cool concepts and want to read more.
BUZZ: IDENTITY CRI--SIS?
MODERATOR: All right. Everyone's been wondering just who's behind this whole thing. Now that the murderer has been revealed, what do you think of their motives?
SUPES: I have the same problem with the ending to ID CRISIS as I did with Bendis' AVENGERS DISSASSEMBLED and his "Scarlet Witch did it 'cause she's just crazy...but wait for it....RIGHT NOW!" ending. I'm not a DC historian, but hanging out on message boards, I discovered that Jean was mentally unstable in the past. This was way before my time, and probably for most people that read ID Crisis.
BUG: There is a panel in issue # 7 that reads, "If she's lying, there's no hint of it on her face. But I know my wife. And I know why she became an ex-." Well guess what? I don't. I agree this is the more sophisticated version of Bendis' across-the-board explanation to everything that "She's just bat-shit crazy!” where the character's actions are immediately explained away simply because she's bonkers. Meltzer dropped the ball here because he never let anyone know about why Ray and Jean broke up in the first place. This was the major plot hole that bothered me.
SUPES: Jean's motivation is understandable, I guess, but Meltzer never really shows that she might be crazy until the last minute. There were clues dropped in the earlier issues, but it really came out like a game of Clue and not a real mystery.
BUG: But that is the only part that I disliked. As far as the actual motive is concerned, I think it works. Who benefits? The family of the super heroes. Jean wanted her husband back and she got him, for a brief while. This series highlighted the humanity of these heroes. Sure it showed flaws; chinks in the armor. But it also shows how strong they are and one of the reasons for their strength lie in the most vulnerable of places, their families. Part of what makes an identity is the people around you and that's what this series is all about.
VROOM: I don't believe a damned word of it. This is the third or fourth comic I've read this year where the villain turned out to be one of the good guys who's gone insane. Each one has been worse than the last, and this one is almost Aaron Spelling in its wretchedness. Jean Loring is insane. Why? Because the plot demands it. When did she go insane, and what was the cause? It wasn't her divorce: she's the one who left the Atom. Also, at the end she's clearly not just nuts, but batshit insane. She goes from denial to repentant to gloating to indifferent over her premeditated murder of one of her friends in a span of less than five minutes. When you're that fucked up, can you really hide it from someone like your ex-husband for a period of weeks? I don't buy it.
BUG: You do have a point, Vroom. Despite the fact that it wasn't mentioned in this series, Jean has gone loo-loo-koo-koo in the past. Jean was deluded. She was caught up in the high of being with her husband again. Ray Palmer wanted the relationship to work again too (he indicated this at the beginning of the series). Ray was riding high too from being back in the relationship. That type of thing blinds people. It wasn't until Jean's slip about the note (which I agree was very convenient, contrived, and clichÃ©d), that Ray's bubble of blind love burst and he finally saw the writing on the wall. I'm sure it would have been plain as day to someone outside the relationship, but when you're caught up in someone; you tend to look past their obvious flaws, often until it smacks you in the face.
SUPES: That's why, going in knowing it was Jean, I kept hoping her motivation would be a little more complex than “I want Ray back”. One train of thought that I had believed was that Jean also knew about the mind-wipe and saw the lengths they went to to protect Sue. Jean would be both jealous and angry at the League for shattering her image of their heroism by doing something so questionable. Given that Jean was shown as a lawyer, I thought that might add to her motivation (although it probably is what gave her the connection to the Calculator, perhaps), making her believe she was exacting justice on them for something she was excluded from after the divorce.
BUG: Well, love makes you do funny things.
Another thing that bothered me is that Jean accidentally kills Sue and has the time to go get a flamethrower to cover it up, all before Ralph can make it home to discover the body. First, I doubt there would be enough time for her to do this. Second, is it that easy to pick up a flamethrower in the DCU? Where do you get one of those? Did Sears have a special going on? Its plot holes like these that make this a less-than superior story.
VROOM: I believe Jean mentioned that she brought the flamethrower with her initially. She's crazy, don't ya know? But THIS is the only plot hole you noticed? If the JLA can't track down the Calculator, how could Jean? Batman has been overly protective of Robin's true identity for years now, why is it that every superhero knows who his dad is? I could go on and on.
SUPES: I don't know. I took the flamethrower bit to be another slip by Jean revealing she had every intention of killing Sue and then covering it up to get what she wanted. Kind of like her first slip about the note to Drake. Jean was attempting to manipulate Ray - she was "acting" throughout the whole series to draw him to her. The entire conversation with Ray is watching the layers of her sanity being peeled away. First she's declaring her innocence, then it's just an accident but they're together again and finally smug condescension when she realizes that Ray isn't buying it. Maybe she got the weapons from the Calculator, another link that was never really explained?
DAVE: Pretty sure you're right about the flamethrower, though the scene where Jean mentions it was unintentionally hilarious. "I swear, I didn't MEAN to kill her!! But when I accidentally did, yeah, I got nervous and flamethrowered the body to cover my tracks. Whoopsy!"
VROOM: Another plot hole: In the first issue, everyone and their mother in the DCU goes all Gil Grissom over Sue and Ralph's apartment, but nobody checks her phone records? They can't have, or else someone would have noticed that Sue was on the phone with Jean Loring at the very moment she was attacked. Nobody followed up on this?
SUPES: Jean could've bounced the call all around the globe, since she was, y'know, microscopic, and since she'd been practicing.
BUG: C'mon, in this day and age of private calls and blocked numbers, do we really have to label this as a plot hole? This series is flawed, but now you're nit picking.
VROOM: It's nitpicking to wonder why nobody got in touch with the phone company? Something that, in most real investigations of this type, is standard procedure? Now you're just whitewashing the massive flaws.
BUG: Well, if you're dying for an explanation, Jean WAS a friend of Sue's. If her name did show up on the list of incoming calls, it probably wouldn't have been red-flagged or scrutinized.
VROOM: Not even when the call came in five seconds before Sue signaled Ralph that she was in trouble? Sorry, I still don't buy it. Why wouldn’t Batman follow up on this?
DAVE: Well, this Batman's not quite the regular DC Universe Batman is he? First off, he's apparently a big, forgiving teddy bear. Steal his memories? Ah, that's a-ok! That last decade or so of characterizing him as a control freak so tightly wound his ass could crank out at least one coal-to-diamond a week? Apparently just for show when THE NOVELIST steps in to show DC how it's done!
BUG: The thing is though, plot holes aside, I am willing to still give this series a favorable review because of the many great moments that were scattered throughout the series. Meltzer can construct a wicked scene. He builds tension like I haven't read in a comic book before. The events leading up to Sue's death, Sue's funeral, Jack Drake's death scene. I will remember all of these moments and when and where I read them. There are only a few comics out there that I can say that about.
DAVE: Despite the bitter taste IC left in my mouth, I can be Devil's Advocate enough to understand where Bug is coming from. It's a natural instinct to be forgiving of flaws in works that otherwise grip us, and while I think many of Meltzer's scenes are shaky when scrutinized, the structure behind them is extremely confident; makes you want to believe. Honestly, I wish the guy had outright sucked so it'd be easier to dismiss the crap he wrought upon the DC Universe. But I gotta admit: he made it compelling. Among other things, he knows how to put together an emotional moment, had a host of neat ideas for superpowers (thinking of the CSI stuff in issue one), and turned out a number of scenes that made super villains and their hangouts appealingly sleazy.
SLEAZY: You rang? I had the same problem. There were a lot of very well-written, tense scenes. The connecting tissue that tied them together wasn't as strong as it needed to be, though. There were a lot of moments that could have had more impact if they were better connected to those before and after them, and the final issue sort of fell apart, leaving too many issues unaddressed.
BUG: I think these were unaddressed intentionally. This series sort of introduced us to The New DCU. It definitely is going to be used as a cornerstone series which will branch out and have effects on a lot of titles. This is a very tricky marketing ploy. If you liked the series, you're bound to like the ripples it makes on the rest of the DCU or at least be curious about it. But if you don't like it, there's a pretty sure bet you won't like the rest of the books. I liked it.
SLEAZY: The thing is, if you want to lead into the other ongoing stories you need to give me an actual lead-in. Just not bringing up Boomie Jr. doesn't make me say "I wonder what's next?". It makes me say "I wonder why Meltzer didn't actually finish the story when he finished the story." Same is true of the whole thing with only seeing The Calculator in one panel, almost in passing. It would've been good to give us the *slightest* idea of how Jean Loring found him when nobody else knew about him, y'know? If this was a movie, we might not notice it on first viewing, but we sure as hell would a couple hours later while we were talking about it over dinner. Second or third viewing at the latest. That's why I'm conflicted: there were some really strong elements, but some definite slip-ups as well.
SUPES: What about misogyny? An expecting woman dies, and a woman is source of all of the crimes. This story was driven by what the male characters feel in the end. The women are sort of sidebars unless they are victims, crazy, mind-wiping people, or giving up.
BUG: I don't know if it was misogynistic. That seems to be the go-to word whenever anything happens to women in comics. I'm not saying it's not present in comics, but it's become such an overused issue. The simple fact is that comics' roots come from a place where the heroine is tied to the train tracks and our hero swoops in to save the day. This story was about loved ones in peril. So of course, women had to be in danger. Could Wonder Woman, Zatanna, and Black Canary have had a bigger role? Yes. But I don't see this miniseries as more misogynistic than any other comic book.
DAVE: Hey, at least she was effective in her hysterical scheming - more than I can say for any of the heroes in this story. I mean...did they accomplish anything? In seven issues they buried the wife of a teammate, retroactively failed to prevent her rape, saw former teammate Firestorm waxed in the lamest of deaths, failed to save Robin's dad, retroactively where shown to be cool with mind-scrambling villains (and the occasional Batman), had their ass handed to them by a ridiculously overpowered Deathstroke (and I like Deathstroke, but he ain't that good), and in the end...the resolution of the mystery was just handed to them. Congrats, Brad Meltzer, you've successfully turned the Justice League of America - the greatest heroes of the DC Universe - into a pack of weepy, loser schmucks.
LIZZY: The misogyny issue: my yardstick in the case of the last issue is, if it's not "anti-male" for The Atom to be behind the murders to get his wife back, as it looked to be the case at the end of issue #6, it's not "anti-woman" for Jean Loring to be the villain. It's unfortunate in the way it mirrors the Scarlet Witch situation, but better executed. She had a motive and a history not conveniently invented at the last minute-- although they may have overplayed the crazy, it's still believable. Recent divorce, both spouses still with feelings for each other, and an unbalanced spouse with access to tools that makes it possible to get them back together. Call them police officers and you can picture the same situation playing out. This is a classic sort of motive in a straight murder mystery. What raises the red flag for me was the treatment of Sue Dibney, or lack thereof. She was pretty much "the body" for most of the series, except in the parts where she was the reason for Elongated Man to grieve. It was particularly galling to see both her brutal attack and the punishment of her attacker (and I'm not gonna shed any tears for Dr. Light after that, people) without seeing ANY OF SUE DIBNEY'S REACTION TO HER OWN RAPE. I suppose this was rationalized as a space issue, but the fact that there was no time to portray the woman as anything more than a victim is fairly indicative of both superhero comics and crime fiction. This is the detail that keeps the series from being a home run for me.
SLEAZY: I'm sorry, but there are a lot of details you guys are overlooking. Sue wasn't *just* raped and murdered. She was well fleshed out, much-loved, and had a whole issue devoted to her death, burial and remembrance. I would've liked more, but it was a miniseries--he didn't have a lot of time. Zatanna was not *just* vomiting. She was crucial to the story. She was the one who, with NO URGING WHATSOEVER by ANY MEN, froze Batman in his tracks. She then wiped his brain after a team vote. Not one of those wipes could've happened without Zatanna. That should've been better fleshed out and written but so should several other things I've mentioned, so I'm chalking it up to bad writing and not to hating women. You know, sort've like the way Meltzer never followed up on whatever happened to that Bad Guy who got shot in the first issue who could teleport. I mean, shit, at this point I don't even remember who he was, why he was included or how his story was resolved. Bad writing, not misogyny.
BUZZ: I-DENTITY CRISIS. Hmmm.
DAVE: None of us can truly know Meltzer's intentions, but at the very least I think he inadvertently wrote a story with misogynistic overtones. I saw a message board post from Y: THE LAST MAN's artist, Pia Guerra, which I thought summed it up pretty well. Another poster had noted that more men died in IDENTITY CRISIS than women and Guerra responded:
"Yeah the guys get beat up even more than the women in this series but compare how they were defeated. The men were hit, stabbed, shot in very aggressive, "male" ways whereas the women were just demeaned. What really got to me was seeing Zatanna curled up on the ground, vomitting after Deathstroke poked her in the abdomen to keep her from speaking. If this isn't disturbing enough Deathstroke has his foot planted on her back, holding her down while she throws up. It was an image that bordered on fetish and this, on top of Black Canary getting "bagged and gagged" (yet another rape related image), Sue being raped and later strangled and destroyed, her fetus killed and then being subjected to a gruesome, voyeuristic autopsy, it's all just very inappropriate for an all ages book. The female characters aren't participating in the story, they really are just there to further the male characters' journeys. When the only characters Melzter doesn't seem to give a shit about happen to all be female I don't see how you can't label that some form of misogyny."
SLEAZY: So...ummm..."stabbed" is misogynistic when you do it to a woman who lives through it, but not when you do it to a guy who dies (Firestorm)? Pia's argument here is utterly specious. What's actually said in these few sentences is that "aggressive", "male" forms of assault are okay when done to men but not to women--then it's demeaning. Double standards cut two ways. Were the women the only ones beaten and humiliated at the hands of the villains? Not in the story I read. Hell, Tim Drake has always been a rock-solid character, and he got turned into a simpering pussy, and nobody's calling it male-bashing. It fit the story, that's all. If it had been The Flash on the ground puking after getting poked in the gut, would it be "demeaning" and "misogynistic"? No, it'd be just fine. Shit, how many times have the characters in BIRDS OF PREY been tied up, beaten, and subjugated only to come back stronger than they'd been before? Why is it horrible and sexist and misogynistic when it happens to Canary in IC but not when it happens in her own book?
BUG: Sleazy’s on a rant here.
SLEAZY: I just think people sometimes look too hard at things when they find something connected to what they consider an "issue," and everybody's got their own "issue." Sometimes you have to step back and ask if you're seeing something that isn't there and really weigh whether the argument has merit. I don't think it does here. It's a story that crosses gender boundaries: lover devastated by the loss of a lover, lover doing something utterly irrational to keep a lover--these things happen. It's the human experience, and bringing gender into it is pigeonholing it in a way that's convenient for the person championing the "cause."
BUG: Sleazy, stop to breathe.
DAVE: Sleazy, we're not talking about a lone isolated incident - we're talking about an entire seven-issue miniseries where nearly every depiction of women cast them in a poor or subservient light. NEARLY EVERY! And as ineffective as Meltzer depicted the League in general, the story's male characters - both good and evil - had any number of empowering moments: Deathstroke the badass...Wally the morally outraged...Dr. Midnite the detective...Calculator the chessmaster...hell, even Boomerang the father! Compare to...Sue the raped and murdered...Jean the lovesick murderer...Canary the muted...Zatanna the vomiting.
I'll tell ya, if Tim's pussification had been accompanied by the pussification of every other male character in the book, hell yes I'd call it male-bashing! But it wasn't. What's more, showing love towards one's father, and then grieving when he dies...unless you're some macho, tough-love asshole, these aren't truly scenes that weaken the character. They don't empower, but at worst they humanize. With the female characters we're talking about humiliating means of defeat, left field lovesick insanity, and lurid depiction of rape and an autopsy.
SLEAZY: Lots of flaws all around. Lots of holes. Lots of problems and unresolved issues. Misogyny? I just dunno. I think though, in all fairness, there *is* something you can accuse Meltzer of that meets the problem halfway. He just doesn't write female characters well. At all. He doesn't seem to know what to do with them or what to have them say, and as a result they don't do or say much of anything. It's a very common problem for male writers. I don't think Meltzer, or this story, is actively misogynistic. I *do* think, however, that his female characters are poorly written, poorly fleshed out, and aren't given nearly enough of value to do or say.
LIZZY: It's disappointing that female heroes didn't make much of a showing- I have no way of knowing if this was a deliberate omission or if mainstream DC simply lacks well-developed female characters. But this is the same complaint I've always had, so no surprise there.
SUPES: And why did Meltzer have Ray put Jean in Arkham?!!! I'm sorry, but no.
BUG: Yeah, that all happened a bit quick for me. Only in the comic book world is the hero able to catch a villain, have the qualifications to give him/her an on the spot mental health assessment, and then have the authority to check them in to a mental hospital all by themselves.
But real world details aside, it does make sense for Jean to go to Arkham. This is where the Psycho Pirate is and the only reason he's locked up there is because he's one of the few people in the DCU who remembers that there was a CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. Not only is it a mental health facility, Arkham has become a place where the heroes bury their secrets. Someone who knows the secret identities of most of the heroes of the DCU and their loved ones would be right at home there.
DAVE: Hey, has there ever been a story when someone was shown to have been released from Arkham "cured" or generally feeling better? Be kinda nice if that was the case, because as it is, I see Jean being committed there and it's almost comically dark: "We only want the best for her. So we're locking her up with Joker, Two-Face, and the Scarecrow…"
SUPES: And the tabloid headline in the last issue reads that Jean is being tortured by Gotham inmates. The thing is, it's really clear Jean isn't a criminal mastermind or mass-murdering enough to be in Arkham. She also has no technical knowledge and only was able to murder Sue because she had access to Ray's patents and Drake because she had Calculator's phone number. So, why is she locked up in Arkham? Oh, she knows the superheroes secrets. Why don't they just mind-wipe her and spare her the most hellish-loony bin in the DCU? That would be more humane than, say, mind-wiping Batman because he wouldn't go along with the vote.
SLEAZY: I can understand the Arkham thing. It's where the criminally insane go in the DCU, and none of these heroes ever would just kill her off. Of course, I think we're looking at a "Cuckoo's Nest" thing here. She's already nuts and killed some folks, sure--but putting her in Arkham would probably make her come out a *lot* worse than she went in, which opens up new stories if anybody wants to tell them. Not that I think it's a great idea--just that it's there.
BUG: I think it's pretty obvious why they don't mind-wipe Jean like they did the others. They learned their lesson. They know they fucked up and don't want to open that barrel of monkeys again. It’s what still makes these guys heroes. They did a bad thing. If they continued to do this, they'd eventually be labeled as the bad guys that Vroom is proclaiming. But they're not. They're still heroes. Flawed heroes, but heroes nonetheless because they learned from their mistakes.
VROOM: When did they learn from their mistakes? The final issue has Green Arrow all but saying he'd do the same thing all over again. They didn't learn shit. The proof of that is Wally's eventual complicity in Batman's mental violation.
SLEAZY: Yes and no, Vroom. Wally's not really complicit. In this kind of situation, you're left asking yourself whether you'll really help the situation by saying something or if you'll make it much, much worse. I mean, he'll have everybody who was in on it hating him, and he'll have Bats and those who weren’t in on it hating him, and they'll all hate each other. There will be literally *no* positive outcome. As things stand, though, if Bats ever gets wise to it, what's gonna happen is he'll blame Wally for not coming forward, despite the fact it's a lose/lose/lose situation. The longer Wally waits the worse it'll get, but he was screwed the minute he figured it out. Wally's hands are tied. There isn't gonna be a good time to come forward, but you can certainly understand why he'd be struggling with the decision.
BUZZ: IDEN-TITY CRISIS…ummm.
MODERATOR: This series seems to mark a shift for DC comics from the iconic cartoonish uber-fights to a more "realistic" world with more "mature" themes. I put these in quotes because in a world where people can fly and shoot power beams, "realistic" and "mature" doesn't really seem to fit. DC is venturing into Marvel territory by upping the stakes of the violence and shattering the dreamy, more innocent days of the Silver Age (an age that DC and its fans seem to cling to). IDENTITY CRISIS #7 has a great quote by Arthur Miller halfway through:
"An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted."
What do you guys think of this conscious shift in tone for the DCU?
VROOM: And here we come to what I REALLY loathed about the finale. I was looking forward to two things in this final issue: how Sue's death tied into the Dr. Light incident, and what was going to happen to the League members involved. Neither of those things happened, and in the latter case that sickens me. You think Jean Loring was the villain in this book? No, I'll tell you who the real villains are. Hal Jordan and Barry Allen. Hawkman and the Atom. Zatanna, Black Canary and Green Arrow. They're the bad guys. The superheroes of DC comics have always been iconic. They have always stood for high ideals. Superman is an emblem of truth and justice. Batman is a symbol of how loss and grief can be translated into strength and determination. You know what lesson I learned from those seven heroes in this story? That the rights of an individual are less important than the will of the state. That it may be wrong to rape a woman's body, but it's perfectly all right to rape someone's mind.
And don't tell me I'm exaggerating. These "heroes" raped Batman. They violated him. I look at Green Arrow, the most liberal character in comics, and I see a rapist and a thug. And what were the repercussions for their actions? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. That sickens me. When I was done reading the final issue, I had to think long and hard about whether I can continue to support DC after this. I've finally come to the conclusion that I may not be done with DC, but I'm done with these seven characters. Any book they appear in is a book that I will not buy, read, or support in any way. This is a hard decision, considering the involvement of several of these characters in BIRDS OF PREY, GREEN LANTERN REBORN, SEVEN SOLDIERS and, should Hawkman rejoin, JSA. Three of those are the best superhero books DC publishes, and the fourth looks to be the most ambitious project the company's ever released. But I simply can't support these books. I can't support these characters. They might not have any respectable morals, but I do, and I want to sleep at night without any guilt.
BUG: Easy there, pardner. I don't think this series warrants an official boycott of the comics of the seven involved. We are talking about one writer's story here. I'd understand if you wouldn't want to pick up any further endeavors by Meltzer, but you're beginning to sound like you think these guys are real people and not fictional characters who are allowed to be written by various people with varied visions.
BUZZ: Hmm. IDENTITY CRISIS?
BUG: And who's to say that the heroes involved are going to get away scott free? I understand that you were expecting to see some kind of resolution to the JLA thing, but Meltzer never really promised that. Meltzer promised a mystery and in my opinion he delivered. He also promised ramifications that will affect the DCU and he delivered on that too. Just because everything was not wrapped up in a pretty bow in the end doesn't mean it won't be addressed at a later date.
SLEAZY: I think the single biggest problem with this series is that it needed a double-sized issue to wrap it up. I was okay until the end of issue 6. Issue 7 was far too rushed and failed to suitably resolve many open and emotional issues. More time was needed to deal with Jean, Atom, Ralph, and the other members of the JLA. More time also needed to be spent on the Calculator/Boomerang/Boomie Jr. thing. I know it was laying the groundwork for future stories, but it didn't leave those threads open in a satisfying way. It left them open in a "no time to fit them into 22 pages" way, which was disappointing. This story's effects will ripple out into the DCU for the next few years. Beyond that, though, what Johns, Winick and Rucka have planned has been described as "stories that matter". It's really their way of doing stories that have the ability to move forward and alter the status quo instead of telling the same stories over and over and over without any sort of forward movement. That's the biggest change I think we can expect to see.
DAVE: My own sentiments mirror Vroom’s and I'm similarly dropping any series that have direct ties to IDENTITY CRISIS, including a favorite for the last few years - FLASH. SEVEN SOLDIERS I'll still read, though. Morrison's made a few snarky comments about IDENTITY CRISIS and I don't expect him to reference it in any way during his mega-series.
Here's the thing, though: when I look at Green Arrow, I don't see "a rapist and a thug" as Vroom does - I see a character who one particular writer fucked up. Maybe
that seems a minor distinction, but it does mean I'm not done with the character forever. See, if there's one thing I've learned in reading superhero comics lo the many years, it's that the characters are ultimately bigger than the creators.
Yes, I'm pissed at Meltzer for abusing the power DC gave him. He's cast the pall I feared he would on the League, and his treatment of Superman is especially despicable ("He hears what he wants to hear," we're told, a blithely disgusting justification for the greatest fictional paragon of truth and justice to look the other way while villains and teammates are mind-wiped). And, yes, I'm pissed at DC's higher-ups for giving Meltzer the go-ahead and using his story as the keynote for the next few years of DC Comics. Assholes, all.
But Superman and friends will outlast them. The heroes are legends and they can weather this story, just as surely Spider-Man weathered the Clone Saga, Iron Man weathered being de-aged into a teenager, and Hal Jordan weathered being turned into a murderer (see the recent GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH).
DAVE: Feeling uncomfortable. Let’s move on.
BUG: I’ve heard people complaining that the heroes of the DCU are costumes more than characters and as soon as a writer comes in and adds a bit of depth and humanity to them, those same people are up in arms. I think this series breathed new life into the entire DCU. It showed how to write stories that matter while embracing the fantastical aspects of the universe these heroes reside in.
LIZZY: Frankly, the backlash I've heard from the hardcore superhero fans sounds more than a little hysterical to me. I'm sure there are complaints to be made, and I do have some myself. But the extreme emotional response I'm hearing is not that of people making critical evaluations, but the heel-dragging of possessive fans who don't want their heroes to be human. Or, who don't want distrust, sabotage, and subterfuge introduced into the JLA. Is that a fair assessment?
BUG: Preach on, Sister Lizzy. I agree that the outrage some readers have for this series come from two places. A strong attachment to the characters that have evolved because of this series and Meltzer's power to manipulate the reader.
DAVE: Perhaps. But isn't there something to be said for maintaining a tradition so strong it's lasted for decades upon decades? Isn’t there the possibility that maybe it's uncool to show Superman and the other stalwarts of the once all-ages Justice League compromising their ideals just because it's dramatic?
SLEAZY: I've got no problem with dirtying up characters for dramatic affect, and its okay to put characters through the wringer. I liked Jack Drake, so I think it sucks that he's dead. It was done well, though, and there was a long-standing and legitimate back story for it. It's something they've been building up to for years in the Bat-books, so it didn't seem rushed or pointless. On the other hand, this stuff with the Dibneys, Loring and The Atom came from nowhere, went nowhere and left a bad taste in my mouth.
LIZZY: What Meltzer did here was tell a story that I haven't actually seen in superhero comics before: a straight-out murder mystery tying together a whole universe of super heroes. And while Meltzer may not have played to the rules of superhero-dom, he followed every rule of a murder mystery. The clues were all there. The culprit was present from the beginning, and had the means and motive all along. There were red herrings, and developments that were stirred up by the crime that didn't lead directly to the murderer but had major implications for the other players. This is all fair play, and was done very well. Applying this template to the superhero genre can humanize the players if executed well, and I believe it was.
MODERATOR: Okay ramblers, this has gone on long enough. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. Any final thoughts on this series?
VROOM: I'm just glad that, in the end, this was a DC comic. Two ZERO HOUR style "events" and a John Byrne relaunch from now none of this will have ever happened.
BUG: I think the final pages of IC were EXTREMELY effective. Ralph is doing just what Ollie suggested and it seemed to be a healthy way for him to cope with the process of moving on. I didn't see it as creepy or insane. I saw it as a realistic way for a man who deeply loved his wife to cope with her death. Anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one has talked to a gravestone. And if you haven't, you've seen it a million times on TV and movies. This isn't that different. Now, don't get me wrong. A year from now, if Ralph talks with Sue as if she were in the room with him, I'd be a bit worried and freaked out by the guy.
SLEAZY: The thing is, lots of people talk to their dead loved ones. Not all of them hear answers and have conversations with them. The guy is clearly a mess. He fell apart, just like the Atom did. He's now going to be portrayed as a head case who everybody pities and tries to support, but he'll never be The Elongated Man again. Not who he used to be, and not who he should be. There are enough dark, broken, angry, sad, unstable characters out there. Just a couple of rays of light shouldn't have been too much to ask for.
BUG: People are up in arms because the deaths weren't big enough. Earth-shattering does not have to mean something that happens to the big three in the DCU. The earth-shattering part of this series was the story itself. And in the end, this series distinguished Atom and Elongated Man who were previously only known as "that shrinking science guy in the JLA" and "the other Plastic Man" as actual characters who think and feel. Both of these characters have been stagnant for so long, it's good for something like this to happen to shake things up.
DAVE: Like I said earlier, my ultimate reaction to the series is to just step away from the DCU for a time. I thought Meltzer was really onto something in that first issue when he began to add some depth to Ralph and Sue – reminded me of some of James Robinson’s fine work to grow the characters in STARMAN - but he lost me when his follow-through was so steeped in ugliness. To me, Meltzer’s strictly a tourist at DC and hasn’t earned the right to destroy until he’s done a little something to create.
And as an aside…I can’t forgive the bastard for offing Captain Boomerang. Scoff if you will, but anyone who’s as big a fan of John Ostrander’s SUICIDE SQUAD run as Meltzer seems to be should’ve damn well known better. And anyone who hasn’t read that run doesn’t know what a great villain Boomer used to be…
SLEAZY: The series brought these characters to the forefront and let everybody know who they were--except it didn't. It let us know who they are now defined as due to this series: two broken-down messes of human beings who can't keep it together when they lose their wives. Two supporting characters were also ruined in the process, since there's no reason for this to have happened (even from a storytelling perspective) to Sue. Hell, even the story w/Jean could've been okay, but only if it was built up gradually over a longer period of time to give it some real meaning and impact. Some of the instincts were good but handled poorly, while others were poor but handled well. In the end I find myself really conflicted over the whole series.
SUPES: I enjoyed it as a well-crafted story with some excellent moments along the way. It's kind of hard to not be somewhat forgiving on those merits alone. However, I do care quite a bit about a lot of these characters and have misgivings about the way they were handled. As far as ramifications for the DCU, I think the events in this comic are setting the tone for this supposed "New Crisis" that's due to come about next year. It all depends on how the stories play out. If they get too dark or take the characters in a direction I find distasteful, I'll simply vote with my dollars as I've done with Marvel.
SUPES: I can't believe no one brought up Rags Morales' art!
BUG: You're right. Rags needs to be mentioned. This guy is quickly becoming one of my favorite artists in the biz. His work looks more like etchings than drawings. There's a classical style at work here. The raw emotions conveyed on the characters faces, the layout of the panels, the detail. He draws creepy. He draws tragic. He draws anything and it's always good. I see Rags as the next George Perez. Their styles aren't similar, but both draw iconic figures cleanly and classically.
SLEAZY: Rags is great, but I've known that for a long time. His work with Johns on HAWKMAN was impressive, and he really drew his ass off on this. If this doesn't finally start snagging him some high-profile work there's something really, really wrong.
DAVE: Got nothin’ but love for Rags. He was wasted here, but he’s absolutely in the top 5% of his class.
BUZZ: Ah-yes! INDENTITY CRISIS!
MODERATOR: Do you have something to add, Buzz?
BUZZ: Nope. Didn’t read it.