Why Destroy a Universe? Part Three

Concluding the focus on the travesty of Identity Crisis

February 22, 2005

By Avi Green

In this last part of the essays I’ve written up (Parts One and Two are on the links), I’ve thought to take a look at a few last details, including the question of why anyone would consider it a great thing whenever even a fictional character dies.

The Distortion – and demonization – of Jean Loring

One of the most offensive things about the ending of the miniseries isn’t just the fact that a woman is shown as having killed off the first woman, rendering the whole account of the mindwiping at the beginning of the book irrelevant, but also the fact that the writer changed the character arbitrarily. As mentioned before (and also on the Spatula Forum weblog), and, as was shown in past history, when it came up in the mid-1980’s, she was a very tough-as-nails character, and aside from the fact that she left her ex-husband, the Atom/Ray Palmer, and not the other way around, as this bigoted little miniseries implies, she was not exactly the kind of person who’d just feel lost, insecure and go bonkers without a man at her side, as shown here. (By the way, just where exactly is Paul Hoben, her second husband, these days?) Worst of all, as was also mentioned before, is that it makes no mention whatsoever of the two attacks she had via sci-fi devices that caused her to go nuts in 1969 and 1977. And the result of this is to make poor Jean look like she was a lying, irritating creep for many years. But in any case, that it should hit us in the face with such a cliché as insanity being the cause for her committing the deed was downright insulting. Especially when afterwards, she’s committed to Arkham Asylum, and later is reported as having been attacked by other inmates, the book’s analogy to throwing someone into the depths of Hell.

As for trying to destroy evidence with that aforementioned farce, the flamethower, didn’t Mr. Meltzer ever see CSI on television? As was shown there, it’s quite possible for forensics experts to find various fibers and other bits of evidence among the burnt remnants of the crime (and even the Titans Tower weblog points that out). So it makes no sense as to why the Atom can’t find anything within the carpet, or Animal Man, who’s also brought in to investigate, can’t trace any scent of anyone inside. Or even, for that matter, as to how did Jean hang herself without breaking her arms when tying herself together and blindfolding herself as well in her own apartment? It's as numbingly jumbled as it sounds.

Jean says in the book that she came in and out through the phone in the apartment, but contradicting that part is the fact that the attack on Sue came at the front door to the apartment, and that any culprit there was apparently came in through an opening in the hallway (with the alarm systems being inexplicably bypassed almost completely. By the way, just why does anyone here have to have an alarm system if they’re really in no danger, other than from the writer? Just curious.) Did she travel all those many miles from Ivy Town in Connecticut to get there? Even more absurd is that Batman, who’s usually got a very keen eye for detail, doesn’t even notice that the Dibnys phone is off the hook, and doesn’t think to check the phone logs with the local phone company. And check out this article on the Polite Dissent weblog to know just how implausible the head strike on Sue really is.

But aside from that, the really horrible thing besides the degradation of Sue, is the demonization of Jean, and I ask myself – how can even that part be fixed? Well, we should only be so lucky that it can be, but even so, the sad part is that this whole fiasco will hang over like a big black cloud for some time to come.

Dr. Light: the next Hank Pym?

Could it be possible that Dr. Light could end up in as bad -- or even worse -- a position than Yellowjacket/Hank Pym did when Jim Shooter engineered that embarrassing story in the Avengers in 1981 over at Marvel, when he smacked the Wasp/Janet Van Dyne at least twice on panel (issues #213 and #217), and ended up getting a bad reputation even in readership for that? Chances are that this could end up dogging Dr. Light for years to come, and one more reason why a once good villain's been ruined even more. In fact, I don't know if he'll ever turn up in the pages of the JLA ever again so easily.

Not the same as in their own books

As if it weren't bad enough that Dr. Light as a villain was seriously damaged, even some of the heroes themselves are out-of-character here: Flash/Wally West is bothered about what was done with Light, yet does not seem to show any concern about Linda Park West, his wife. After what happened two years ago, with poor little Linda being assaulted and her pregnancy terminnated by the new Reverse-Flash, one would think he'd be a bit more sensible than that.

Plus, why exactly is Superman shown as being with his adoptive mother, Martha Kent, but not with Lois Lane, his wife, when it comes to having a comforting moment with a relative? Is she not important too? And wasn't the impression given that the wives/girlfriends were the ones being threatened, as over-the-top as it was?

Batman and the attempted rift

When it was revealed that the JLA mindwiped Batman, who’s shown as being more concerned about what they’re doing with Dr. Light than what happened to Sue Dibny, so that he wouldn’t try to stop them, by using violent force, presumably, all I could say in response to that was, “eh.” I was not impressed. Mainly because, as I realized in the end, it was pretty apparent that the whole purpose of this miniseries, aside from making the JLA look even amoral, and guilty of more bad deeds for badness’ sake, was to cause a rift between almost all the superheroes in the DCU. Oh yeah, I can see it now. Turn Elongated Man against the Atom, and Robin against the latter, and Batman against practically everybody. Just what the fan base needs. Division, and nobody benefits from that, no matter what Batman’s question about “who benefits?” (Definitely not the customer’s wallet, that’s fore sure.)

Another problem here is how it blurs even Batman’s own past history, furthering the notion that first came up during Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One story from 1987, that he was always some mindless control freak, who went by very self-important viewpoints on what matters or not. And the JLA certainly seems to treat him as such, in flashback.

This reminds me that, even in some of Geoff Johns’ own books that feature Batman in cameo roles, it’s made to look as if the Masked Manhunter was little more than a jerk there too in flashbacks. Granted, I realize that Johns is obviously trying to be tongue-in-cheek, but after the damage that’s been done to Batman since the mid-1990s, when virtually every Bat-writer tried copying what was done in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, that’s why what’s done even in Johns’ work only serves to further the damage.

Creators who put down the audience

When Rags Morales, who drew the series, told the Associated Press, "If nobody really cared, that's an insult to us. . . If they hate it, that's great. If they love it, that's great. But if they are like, 'Ehhh. . .So what? No big deal,' those are the ones that would bother us." that’s when I myself realized that this was little more than a publicity stunt, with the company acting foolishly as to make it seem as if they’ve got a thin skin and are childish. And then the writer himself, Brad Meltzer, told the New York Times on Sept 15, 2004, "The No. 1 compliment I've gotten is, 'I don't read comics, but I'm reading this.'" Well, I figured that must’ve been a publicity stunt in its own way, because really, how many newcomers actually read it? I’m sure some did, but it’s obvious that not many did. The whole notion that the overall public that reads books is literally interested in something involving tawdry elements like death and rape, especially in a day and age when tragedy has struck the United States and Israel, is outrageous at best. And most importantly of all, those elements do not, if anything appeal to a mainstream, widespread audience, and certainly not a family-based one.

The tendency of writers and artists to say things that could be insulting to the fans or the audience as a whole is also starting to get disturbingly out of hand. Jon Cassaday once did something like that when discussing his work on Captain America with Shotgun Reviews, and Kyle Baker something almost similar when discussing the Truth: Red, White and Black miniseries with Newsarama. If something isn’t done to curb this kind of attitude, which you wouldn’t see so easily in movies and television, well then, is it any wonder that comics sales are failing so badly? Who in all due honesty with any sense wants to buy the products of people who don’t respect their customers?

What’s so great about deaths, in and of themselves?

When Peter Sanderson wrote about this on IGN back in October 2004, he said that:

"I recall back in the 1980s when on a visit to the DC offices, I saw the Crisis on Infinite Earths poster of Superman, weeping, his mouth open as if howling his anguish, holding the blood-covered body of Supergirl, killed in combat. I thought at the time, who would want to hang a poster like this on his wall? It's a picture of a man wailing over the bloody corpse of a young woman. Why celebrate a woman's murder by hanging a poster of it in your home? It's macabre.

"But we keep getting this image over and over in superhero comics, and it all started with the death of Gwen Stacy. Now, that was actually dramatically and thematically appropriate for the Spider-Man series. It fit Stan Lee's concept of Spider-Man. After all, Spider-Man's origin revolves around his failure to prevent the murder of Uncle Ben's death, and even his unintentional complicity in the murder. The Spider-Man series was intended to incorporate tragedy. The death of Gwen was in the tradition of Ben's murder, right down to the fact that Spider-Man may have inadvertently been responsible for her demise as well (since her neck snapped from the shock of impact when he caught her falling body).

"But look how often this image of the male superhero bewailing a beloved woman's death keeps recurring. Cyclops and Phoenix (twice now). Daredevil and Elektra. Superman and Supergirl (not lovers but cousins). Daredevil and Karen Page in Kevin Smith's Daredevil arc. And now Ralph and Sue Dibny."

I must certainly agree that the repeated trend is very disturbing, and it's certainly not a good influence for comics. But not only that, while I could be mistaken, what I don’t get by now is – why would any comics reader consider death of any character in comics a great thing?

In all due honesty, I can’t understand why anyone who’s reading even Zero Hour would want to do so for something like seeing all these great characters get sliced ‘n diced. But to say the least, if they are, it puzzles me to no end.

Maybe it was my conversation with a certain someone on another website once, that led me to think that. But in any case, that too is one of the leading reasons why comics are failing, because characters, even if they can be brought back, are being killed off for pointless reasons to begin with, and we accept it.

Comics in recent years have relied very surprisingly on death and destruction. Much as I enjoyed Kurt Busiek’s run on Marvel’s Avengers from 1998-2002, I must admit that even the Ultron Unlimited story, with Ultron annihilating an entire European country, however fictional it was, called Slorenia, with millions of unnamed civilians and soldiers alike all falling victim to this horrific cybernetic Frankenstein’s grasp of death, was in very questionable taste, and is very depressing to think about. And the aforementioned Zero Hour did something almost similar years earlier, with Hal Jordan being shown going berserk, and slaughtering tons of GL Corps members plus destroying his own hometown, Coast City. Likewise, even Batman’s War Games depicts tons on innocent Gothamites falling victim to the gang war stirred up by Black Mask, plus the brutal beating and eventual death of the teenaged vigilante Spoiler, and also the death of the black crimefighter Orpheus. It should be noted that, whether it be vigilantes like Spoiler and Orpheus or the common citizen of Gotham City, in neither case was there an iota of genuine sorrow shown in the scripting. And whether it be the deaths of superdoers or just the common citizens of earth, that either group should be just done away with in such hackneyed form is truly distasteful by now.

Identity Crisis, while there may only be three character deaths in it, still uses the exact same approach. It’s just another so-called “event” that builds its premise on the deaths of characters whose owners consider them expendable for the sake of sales, and indeed, when spoken about in some of the press, it was said that DC gave Meltzer a list of “killable characters.” So in other words, if they’re minor characters, that legitimizes killing them off? Oh yeah, go figure.

Such steps have also led me to avoid a lot of these overhyped company-wide crossover steps taken by the companies, which are meant to effect the universes as a whole. One of the reasons why it’s a bad idea is because of how rushed it ends up becoming if done all at once, as seems to be the purpose of many crossovers, from Secret Wars 1&2 to Millenium to Zero Hour to Maximum Security to Avengers Disassembled to even a small near-crossover called World Without Grownups, starring Young Justice, now the current Teen Titans grouping.

When DC published Sword of the Atom in 1983, and also The New Teen Titans’ Judas Contract storyline in 1984, what made those stories work was that they had nothing to do with crossovers and did not forcefully involve the entire DC Universe’s protagonists within their story developments. True, at that time, it was prior to when crossovers were really becoming a serious business, but in any case, they were wisely kept stand-alone stories that did not require an entire universe and its leading protagonists to be involved.

Today’s industry, with its incredibly “market-driven” approach, just can’t wait, and feels that specific approaches and directions must be placed upon its entire universe all at the same time. Which, artistically speaking, is bad storytelling, since these things have to be developed naturally and carefully, without hurrying all at once.

At the same time, one of the most insulting things that takes place in Identity Crisis is that quite a few times, it very insultingly comments on death being a revolving door in comics, but here's where the problem really comes around: it makes it look as if resurrection is a male option only. We get a scene with Green Arrow talking to Hal Jordan's in his Spectre guise, and even Oliver Queen commenting on how he too had been dead once, and worst of all, when someone says that Donna Troy will be back, it's a villain who's saying that part.

Maybe that's why personally, I have no problem myself with resurrections, but, I will have to say that it's irritating whenever, in cases like these, the writer goes along and makes commentaries and criticisms within the book/story itself on what they personally don't like. To do it within the story only ruins what's being told, and contradicts the fact that, since this is after all fantasy and science-fiction, that's exactly why it shouldn't have to be a problem or a surprise.

Hawkman once made an interesting observation on how a lot of characters have come back from the dead, the fact that it had what to do with whether or not Thanagarian Katar Hol, now deceased, would attack him or not. Either way, this pretty much shows how resurrection in comics is nothing new, and is no surprise either. But nor is it a crime to write such stories, and to those who think it's a tragedy of some sort, I'd really suggest to look past that.

That's why I'm glad that one of my favorite X-Ladies, Psylocke, has come back from the dead already, in the pages of Uncanny X-Men in 2005. Thank goodness. Now, all is well.

In conclusion

I think that if there's anything that we as fans will have to learn from the abomination of Identity Crisis, it's that we have to be very careful what we wish for. Just because there's a supposedly hot writer on the book, supposedly a best-selling author too, and because the series is being hyped like there was no tomorrow, or because there’s a death of a character, classic or not, taking place, does not make it any good. Period. If we just go along and buy into all that within an instant, without asking ourselves if this is what we really want or need, trust me, we'll only be playing a cruel joke on ourselves in the end.

Which is exactly why, we’re going to have to learn now, that it simply does not pay to let good comics be ruined by forced, rushed directions that only end up causing considerable amounts of damage to some very good books, interrupting the flow and making it just plain unenjoyable an experience to read.

Copyright 2005 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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