Why Destroy a Universe? Part Two

The hole-y terror of Identity Crisis, in further focus

February 12, 2005

By Avi Green

In the previous column, I discussed quite a lot, maybe even more than is neccasary, in regards to Identity Crisis. And now for a few more things that I find wrong with the mini's approach to the characters. In fact, there’s so much wrong going on in here, that if I did it on paper, I’d probably require enough to cut down more than ten thousand forests!

1] Misuse of Deathstroke the Terminator. When Marv Wolfman and George Perez first created him, what made Slade Wilson work so well was that he was more than just simply a recurring villain - he also had some humanity, redeeming qualities, and limits to how he'd deal with the heroes (For more, click here). And it's whenever these things were kept in mind by any writer who featured him that he worked out well. But here, the way he was featured was just little more than an excuse to have him knock down all the heroes like bowling pins, and to serve as a plot device, plain and simple. And the way he attacked them (Zatanna, Black Canary, Flash, among others) was surprisingly sadistic and one-dimensional. I almost cried when I saw how he attacked Black Canary, who, IIRC, faced off with him two years before, and even if she couldn't beat him, she could still hold her own against him much longer than she did here. In fact, just like Spider-Man, one of the most notable things about Dinah Lance is that she leaves her special weapon as a last resort, and goes into battle with just her fists and feet. To think that she would use the Canary Cry as the only resort here is going a very long way.

Hawkman too is degraded here, when Slade cuts off his wings and knocks him out of the sky, making him fall quite a steep drop to the ground. I've said it before, I'll say it again: this miniseries does as much of a grave disservice to Hawkman as it does to the other characters involved.

And when and wherever did ‘Stroke gain Superman style eyesight with which to spot the Atom, and then fire at him with a laser? Good as his aim can be, he’s still miles behind the Man of Steel in terms of eyesight. Speaking of which, why, if the heroes needed to stop ‘Stroke, didn’t they bring in Superman to deal with him? Or even Atom Smasher/Al Rothstein? Beats me.

2] Kyle Rayner, dumped upon again. Too often in past years, Kyle's been given the short end of the stick by a lot of the writers, and has been all but ineffective against his foes. And when he started (or rather, didn't, since he held back until later in issue #3) going into action against Slade, NOT with the power ring, but rather, with his fists...it was simply laughable. It happens again in issue 5, this time with Deadshot, who's even less souped up than Deathstroke, his marksmanship notwithstanding, and when you see the put-down of Kyle being repeated there, you know something's wrong. In fact, even Shadow Thief's being able to fell Firestorm V.1 was just too easy, and he was little more than a plot device waiting to be killed off as well.

3] The killing of Jake Drake, and also Capt. Boomerang. Even if Tim Drake doesn't develop the same kind of brooding attutude as his own mentor did in the mid-1990s, the problem is that what's being done in IC, to bump off his father, does damage to Tim's own book, by getting rid of both Jack and Stephanie as regular cast members. And somehow, I don't think that Tim, or even Cassie Cain, fits into Bludhaven well, what with its corrupt police precinct, and fewer people to trust to help them out there than in Gotham City. (Personally, I think it was even more of a mistake to kill off Tim's mother a decade ago, but now, to make Tim a complete orphan, makes him not much more different than either Bruce Wayne or Dick Grayson. And if anything, it ruins much of the supporting cast he had in his own book.)

As for Digger, I couldn't see why he had to go to such lengths to prove himself still effective, and then, to make matters worse, Meltzer implies that he's worthless when the Calculator tells Digger that the gangs he works with won't hire him because he's either too old or something like that. And since when did crooks of his standing ever want to prove themselves to the rest of the DCU's supervillain society anyway? As if it's too old-fashioned for them to rob banks these days. That's something that, strangely enough, I'm not sure if I've seen anything of lately. How could it be that stories involving bank and jewelry store heists don't rate as interesting nowadays?

There is also the question of why Digger is willing to go even as far as killing anyone, as he does here, before taking it himself. Like his fellow Rogues in their time and even now, he did not ever physically assault innocent women and children. He was an honorable villain, something that, in fact, Dr. Light is too. That he should be willing to take up an assassination job here was simply out of character too.

4] Batman doesn't actually solve it. It appears that this was also done for little more than to make it a story in which Batman, and, come to think of it, Superman and Wonder Woman too, don't even solve the mystery, and are oddly kept to the sidelines. And WW, she's made to look more like a tool when Ollie has her interrogate Slipknot (and he doesn't know anything!), and in fact, even Ollie ends up looking bad, because to be using WW as an investigative tool makes him look almost like an exploiter.

Instead, it is Jean herself who gives away everything, in the tired trip-up gimmick from some lesser mysteries of yore, when she blurts out that line about Jack Drake, and of course, how did she even know him, of all people? She never knew the Drake family in all the time they’ve been around, and split up with Ray plenty of time before they debuted.

And what mystery is there when the culprits themselves let it slip?

Worst of all however, is the part where she invites Ray to hit her (thankfully, we were spared the scene of a man hitting a woman). This line, to even just hearing about its happening, reeked of some of the most repugnant stereotypes of women being creatures who literally want to be brutalized. That's also - believe it or not - an excuse used by defenders of violence who claim that the victims "asked for it". And that too, is another terrible example of the "blame the victim" syndrome. And then, to top it all off at the end, Ray has her committed to Arkham Asylum, presumably because there's no other looney bin around the country that can help her out. I will not tell here what a [tabloid?] newspaper headline says about Jean later on, the less spoken about it, the better. However, I will say that the ending, with Chronos appearing under implausible circumstances and telling Shadow Thief and a few other criminals "told you we'd win," was one of the most insulting caps to such a book. Mainly because it's undoubtably meant to refer to the Arab/Muslim terrorists who attacked the US, the WTC, and even Israel, whether it be the al-Qaeda, the PLO, or any other terrorist organization that's sought to destroy democractic countries in the world, and claim that they're "innocent". (And the scenes with the supervillains being chased around by the superheroes was no doubt meant to put the former in the role of the terror suspects being arrested by the police following 9-11, and the latter in the role of the authorities.)

Some way to insult the intellect.

5] Padding effects. One more problem with the book is that it may be yet another victim of padding out for the sake of trades. It does seem ridiculous that it's taken so long for them to get to the bottom of the case, in 7 issues, when just 4-5 would probably do. And in fact, a lot of the heroes all come off looking dumb.

6] Why would Jean want to use Ray’s equipment after what happened in the mid-1980s? In fact, it's even more difficult to buy into the notion that Jean would actually want to use Ray's equipment when here, in the second Sword of the Atom special from 1985, she'd been shrunk by accident by one of Ray's devices in his laboratory, and then, when she and Paul were going to Brazil to turn to him for help on fixing this, she was abducted by rotten apple members of the little race of humanoids Ray had found in South America. She was rescued, but thanks to this, she was so annoyed that she detested his technological equipment quite a lot in the years to follow. (Again, check this article for more.)

But either way, thanks to this, she did not hold onto any of his patents, as IC claims, all for the sake of justifying the story.

The scariest thing here is that, in writing Jean as using Ray’s equipment to invade Sue’s apartment, Mr. Meltzer has – whether intentionally or unintentionally – indirectly insulted another favorite lady of mine who actually does happen to use shrinking equipment: Janet VanDyne, the Wonderous Wasp of the Avengers, and former wife of Hank Pym, the first Ant-Man, who also practiced in becoming the first Giant-Man and then took up the guise of Yellowjacket.

As readers familiar with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes know that Jan was assaulted by Hank in 1981, in a story engineered by Jim Shooter, all for the sake of making comics more “realistic”. It was an early example of the kind of going overboard that comic books of recent have been suffering from thanks to publishers who are so desperate to cash in on “grim and gritty”, when here, back in the late 1980’s, the overuse of this approach was what ultimately damaged a lot of good comics within a short amount of time, at both DC and Marvel.

So when the early 1990’s came around, DC for one started turning to nostalgia as an approach, and to say the least, it worked. Sadly, it appears that once again, the PC advocates have succeeded in muscling in again and are trying to force – and to foist – this atrocious direction upon the readers yet again.

The idea of spitting upon Jan VanDyne is, quite simply, disgusting, after what happened before and it only ended up damaging some of the best characters, with Hank Pym being kicked out of the Avengers in embarrassment. Most later writers succeeded in doing better upon this storyline, with Steve Englehart doing his best in working on Hank in West Coast Avengers, where he took part for a time afterwards, and Kurt Busiek certainly handled the story with sensitivity and perception. Unfortunately, other writers like hack writer Chuck Austen, now thankfully on his way out of comics, it would seem, were allowed to ruin all those good things that better writers like Englehart and Busiek tried to fix. The less said about what Austen did, the better.

7] No villains to prove a challenge for the heroes in the future. As things stand now, when it comes to the villains in the miniseries, chances are that even they'll have very little impact on the DCU in any other series. They were otherwise just in the book as "props", or for recognition based on image and presence only. And there's no telling if most of the other writers at DC will actually be in any hurry to use them in their books in the forseeable future, and those who do, well, let's just say that with the way this ended, with virtually none of them having proved themselves a genuine threat to the superhero community, chances are that few will be genuinely interested in checking out any other book featuring them. Will the Calculator turn up anytime soon Superman and Wonder Woman? Somehow, I have a feeling that there's not much chance he will, though he could probably prove a challenge for them too, and even if he does, the under-whelming conclusion of the book will sour any impact he could have even in the other books.

It’s a wonder as to if Brad Meltzer will be continuing with comics in any serious form in the forseeable future: I may have seen an interview with Meltzer a few months ago that suggests that he may not be doing any more comics writing for some time to come, if at all. But either way, after the disappointing wrapup here, it's unlikely that many people will be encouraged to buy any book written by him so easily.

In fact, the most bothersome thing about IC was that it reeks of "bait-and-switch" tricks: back in 1989, when the first Batman movie came out, a lot of moviegoers turned to the comics at the time, but many of them ended up feeling like victims of bait-and-switch. And there were at least three ongoing series at the time, including Legends of the Dark Knight, which first began as a Baxter-paper title, and comics were all reaching at least a dollar in price then. I don't blame the moviegoers if they felt that way back then.

If I were new to comics today, I'd probably feel the same way after how IC turned out, especially with the price of four dollars for each issue, and chances are most likely that some people do. People don't just want to have to wait until some other comic to get an explanation to something left unexplained in the miniseries, which could take months till they do it. That's dishonest of the publishers, to say the least, and is cheating the customers quite a bit. In fact, after this debacle, and even War Games and Avengers Disassembled, it's quite possible that readers will be more careful about being taken in by anything that comes within even miles of being a company-wide crossover, as was the case here: while not all the ongoing titles had a connection to IC, there were still quite a few that did, just that they weren't described that way - rather, they were called "tie-ins". Personally, I don't think I'm going to be buying Countdown when it comes out, the one-dollar price notwithstanding (done that way ‘cause they realize what a fix IC got them into, I’m betting), and there may still be another x-over coming afterwards, which I won't be buying either. X-overs are getting worse and worse, as this past year has shown, and given how money-consuming it can be, that's one more reason why it's just not worth it to buy them.

Onto another interesting query…

8] Did the wives/girlfriends of the superheroes know the secret identities of other heroes other than their male spouses? While a lot of team players in the DCU do know each other's secret IDs, I'm not sure that their wives and girlfriends do, or that their boyfriends and husbands actually tell them who they are either. In fact, Sue Dibny didn't know that Barry Allen was the Flash for a long time, even though she and her stretchable spouse were good friends with the Allens in Barry's daytime guise. In fact, there was a footnote in The Flash during 1977 that pointed out that, while Ralph knew Barry was the Flash, Sue did not, and I don't think she found out until either the early 80's, or until after Barry's death.

So I have a hard time buying into the notion that Jean would know that Bruce Wayne is Batman, when here, even Lois Lane Kent and Linda Park West don't know every superhero's ID. Examples: while the Super-family does know each other as an inside thing, Lois for one does not know that Tim Drake is Robin, or that Bart Allen is Kid Flash, or any of the other Gotham vigilantes for that matter. But nor does it matter to her, since she understands the importance of their secret ID security. Not even to Linda or a lot of the other girlfriends and wives. And something tells me that Ray would not have told Jean the secret ID of Batman even if she would keep it secret either. I figure that Meltzer just contrived all that in order to cause a breach between Batman and many other superheroes, and divide them all up. That seems to have been one of the many frustrating ideas that were in store for the miniseries.

In fact, recalling Sue's speaking to Alfred over the phone at the beginning, and asking if Ollie was at the door afterwards, I must question that part too. Now in fairness, I suppose that the Dibnys certainly did know Bruce Wayne in his daytime guise, and they did sometimes team up with him as Batman in the Silver Age too, but Oliver Queen? I don't think Sue for one was ever that well acquainted with Green Arrow to know him well enough in his daytime guise. Either way, there was something very odd about her knowing Ollie that well, and that part too seemed to have a hole in it, big or small.

But put it together with Jack Drake's demise, and it almost seems as if Meltzer was suggesting/implying that the two of them went down for committing the "sin" of knowing the heroes' real identities! What kind of message is that supposed to be? Not a good one, that's for sure.

9] Would they really be that frank? While people in real life can be open about their jobs and trades, not in all cases is this so: take an FBI or a government employee for example: would they be willing to just go along and share what could be confidential landmines with their relatives and friends? Not likely. An undercover agent trying to infiltrate a mafia clan certainly wouldn’t. And the same rules apply even more to the world of superheroes, which is why I find it very hard to believe that any of them would actually refer to and address each other at the funeral by their first names, if anything. And that’s why, to say the least, it just simply didn't blend plausibly with how things were done in the past. To refer/address each other by their first names, rather than their codenames, seemed like a very haphazard way of guarding their secret identities, and even cheapens their being superhumans in a subtle sense.

10] Dr. Light is still a coward, enough to get a bodyguard? I also couldn't understand why Dr. Light, if he really was "back to normal" would rather hire Deathstroke to do the dirty work for him rather than battle the superheroes himself, and here, as shown in the 2nd issue, he did, as awkward as it was. Let's see, he wasn't afraid to battle them solo years ago, and even in the 2nd issue of this miniseries, but he was over here? It totally confuses the notion that he came out from under the effects of a mind-wiping.

And not only that, the whole scene contradicted Slade's moral code of ethics, which he decided upon back in the mid-80's, following the Judas Contract story arc in The New/Tales of the Teen Titans and what was revealed about him and Terra. If he knew that Light really pulled that crime of rape against Sue Dibny, I doubt he would've helped him out. No way, Jose, he wouldn’t do that, no matter how much money Light supposedly could’ve offered him.

I've seen stories with holes in them before, but IC was startlingly porous! The only way to describe it is as a bad fanfiction story, with various elements and details of the absurd just appearing out of nowhere, that don’t make any sense because it just doesn’t matter, and tons of red-herrings that have nothing whatsoever to do with the story.

And since this’ll be a series of articles, I guess you could say that this is – to be continued.

Copyright 2005 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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