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Mild Mannered Reviews - Specials

Identity Crisis #2

Identity Crisis #2 [of 7]

Scheduled to arrive in stores: July 14, 2004

Cover date: September 2004

Writer: Brad Meltzer
Penciller: Rags Morales
Inker: Mike Bair

"House of Lies"

Reviewed by: Barry Freiman

Ray Palmer, also known as the Atom, digs up a crossbow given to him by Carter Hall/Hawkman and gives it to his ex-wife, Jean Loring, for protection Palmer informs Loring that the crossbow is for her, that it is loaded, and that he came to Ivy Town to ensure that Loring is safe. Palmer shrinks and returns to his former Justice League colleagues (Hawkman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Zatanna, and the Elongated Man) who are meeting in a back room at the chapel where Sue Dibny's funeral was held.

Hawkman notices that the group is being spied on by Wally West, the Flash. And Green Arrow bluffs West's colleague, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, into revealing himself as well. GL and Flash realize that this group of heroes is hiding something. The pair demand to know why the Satellite heroes are so sure Dr. Light murdered Sue Dibny. When Green Arrow tries to sidestep the issue, Wally threatens to bring Superman and Batman. It's quickly agreed that the Satellite heroes will tell Wally and Kyle the truth.

And so, once upon a time...

In flashback, it's revealed that Dr. Light broke into the Justice League Satellite when the JLA was out fighting Hector Hammond. The only person in the Satellite at the time was Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man. Sue was there merely because she was bored and wanted to look at the stars. Dr. Light surprised Sue and proceeded to sexually assault her.

When the heroes returned to the JLA Satellite and found Dr. Light, they beat him senseless; Ralph/Elongated Man struck him unconscious using Hawkman's mace. The League immediately teleported Ralph and Sue to the hospital, which left the following heroes alone to deliberate what to do with Dr. Light: Hawkman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Zatanna, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, the Atom, and Flash Barry Allen.

Back in the present, in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Wally is surprised that the Dr. Light he'd fought so many times when he was Kid Flash in the Teen Titans was capable of such a heinous act. Wally remembered Dr. Light as a "moron." That's when the heroes share what happened next...

The flashback continues...

When Dr. Light resumed consciousness, he yelled that he'd find Sue again and threatened to also sexually assault the significant others of the other JLA'ers. When he used his optical powers to recreate the sexual assault for the JLA to see, the sickened JLA'ers decide to take matters into their own hands.

Green Arrow recommends that Zatanna make Dr. Light forget the incident, but Hawkman suggests that it's not enough to make him forget. Hawkman instead suggests Zatanna use her magic to "clean [Dr. Light] up a bit." Ever the democracy, the JLA members in attendance vote on how to proceed. Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Green Lantern vote against manipulating Dr. Light's brain. Hawkman, Atom, and Zatanna vote in favor of cleaning up the villain's brain. The Flash, Barry Allen, casts the deciding vote in favor of changing Light's mind.

Meanwhile, in the present, the former Satellite of the Injustice Gang is a meeting place for the DCU's super-villains. Though Oracle is attempting to listen in on the conversations up there, the bad guys are able to use a device built by Sonar to substitute the recorded speeches of Adlai Stevenson for their conversations. Suddenly, Dr. Light appears to teleport in out of nowhere, begging for help. He says he was sent by the Calculator and has money.

Back in Massachusetts, Wally is having a difficult time believing that his uncle and mentor, Barry Allen, cast the deciding vote in favor of playing with Dr. Light's mind. Green Arrow explains that it was less than six months after the murder of Barry Allen's wife, Iris, at the hands of the Reverse Flash.

Zatanna explains that lobotomizing Dr. Light was never the goal, but that she'd never tried anything like that before. In flashback, Dr. Light is subsequently seen as a moron incapable of presenting a threat even to the Silver Age Teen Titans. Back in the present, the heroes are arguing. Wally and Kyle can't believe what they've just been told. Ralph apparently did not know what his colleagues did to Dr. Light. And Hawkman is all-business, noting that Dr. Light has returned to his home and that there will be time later for arguments after they've taken Dr. Light into custody.

As the heroes swoop into Dr. Light's brownstone, Green Arrow lets it slip that this may not have been the only time the heroes messed with someone's head. Ralph stretches into the brownstone first and is flung backwards by a gunshot.

Dr. Light emerges with Deathstroke, a metahuman mercenary that Light has apparently hired for protection.

Finally, at JSA Headquarters, Dr. Mid-Nite is performing an autopsy on Sue Dibny. Mid-Nite's autopsy reveals that Sue Dibny's lungs aren't black and sooty so she must have been dead by the time the flames hit her. He contacts Oracle and tells her that Sue wasn't killed by Dr. Light and that he needs to find Ralph right away. Oracle tells Mid-Nite that Ralph and "half the old League" are outside Boston fighting Dr. Light and Deathstroke and that they've all had their signal devices turned off for the past 10 minutes.

4Story - 4: This is a tough review for me. Even if the story wasn't so incredibly perverse, this would be a difficult review for me to write because writer Brad Meltzer is a personal friend. I have to walk a fine line between being overly objective to avoid even the appearance of subjectively favoring my friend's work, but I also don't want to offend my friend on only his sophomore outing for DC Comics.

I met Brad long before he began writing comic books when he and I both lived in the Washington, D.C. area. I've socialized with him and his wife, whom I adore. And, probably most importantly, we shopped for years at the same comic book store in Bethesda, Maryland, "Big Planet Comics" which Brad and I both hold a special place in our heart for even now that we both live elsewhere.

But, then again, I thought I knew Brad. I had no idea he hated Sue Dibny so much.

After a horrific murder in the first issue, one would think Sue's story to be over. But he continues to put her through the ringer, first in an extended flashback sequence that may be one of the most disturbing sets of images ever rendered in a DC comic book. Then, on top of that, we get ringside seats for charcoal burnt Sue's autopsy at the scalpel of Justice Society member Dr. Mid-Nite.

What's fascinating to me is how effectively Brad is telling a story that is simply getting comic book geeks talking. No matter where you come down on the issue of whether or not a story this disturbing should be told with these heroes in this format, the reality is this story is being told and it presents some very disturbing realities for those of us who previously viewed the Justice League like perfect parents incapable of doing anything really wrong.

Don't get me wrong: both the rape and the heroes' subsequent treatment of Dr. Light disturb me greatly. But the writing is tight and consistent enough with previous continuity (except for one glaring inconsistency - the fact that the Dibnys presumably had a working relationship with the female Dr. Light for years since she made her debut during the last major Crisis of note, 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths). Dr. Light was at one point a credible major threat to the entire JLA. Sometime during the mid to late 1970s, Dr. Light devolved into a one-note joke character. If memory serves, this began with his defeat at the hands of the newly reformed Teen Titans in 1977.

The timing of this shift in Light's character isn't without its own rationale. DC Comics was beginning its infamous implosion and losing a significant piece of the comic book market to Marvel. Part of the reason for this shift had to do with the self-doubting, imperfect heroes in an imperfect world that permeated the Marvel Universe, which appealed to the growing teenage audience. This period may now be referred to as the Bronze Age, but back then it seemed to many in the industry that DC had lost touch with its readers by continuing to tell the same kinds of stories that sustained the company during the Silver Age in what seemed like a much different world. Perhaps no DC villain better characterized those feelings than Dr. Light in his shark-finned white helmet and wielding his "light gun". How could someone so goofy present a credible threat to the world's greatest super heroes?

And so, DC dove head first into a new era that took note of the technological advances of the real world and the changing demographics of the comic book industry. They introduced new characters like Firestorm who at the time, seemed to jump right off the front page of the newspapers which were focused on the continuing nuclear threat and technological advances that were reflected in other mass media especially after George Lucas released Star Wars.

Of course, DC's initial forays into creating a more realistic, modern Multiverse failed and plunged the company headlong into the "DC Implosion". Rather than copy Marvel, DC had to incorporate some of the Marvel way of doing business into the DC way. The eventual result was the birth of the direct market amongst books like Camelot 3000, the New Teen Titans, and the Legion of Super Heroes. I applaud Brad for breathing new life into what was, in hindsight, the somewhat stalled rebirth of the DCU. Many believe 2004 to be the genesis of a new Silver Age. There's certainly sufficient evidence that DC is embracing a lot of the history they once appeared ashamed of - Krypto, cousin Supergirl, the return of the World's Finest team in Superman/Batman. What better time to put a modern spin on the character(s) of the villain most changed by the end of the Silver Age?

Rather than a cosmic odyssey or a war of gods, we have a crossover that looks inward to story, character, and DC's rich past. I understand why the all-important DCU word "Crisis" is reserved for this event. And, even though the story is raising so many questions (not the least of which to the casual reader may have been "Who the heck is Sue Dibny?"), I find it the most perfect use of the company wide crossover since 1987's Legends.

5Art - 5: I love Rags Morales's name. In the classic film, "Sleeper", the robot dog's name was Rags and every time I see Mr. Morales's name in print, in my head I hear "woof, woof, woof, my name is Rags". I also can't help thinking that, in Yiddish, the word for "rags" (as in tattered garments) is "Shmata" which is just a funny word. Therefore, for having a name that makes me think of so much nonsense, Rags easily earns a good review independent of the quality of his work. Nonetheless, Rags has some serious talent and the man's art scores high.

The art is realistic but gritty. Of particular note is how Morales blends modern touches with the actual look of the Satellite era JLA. Though the flashback isn't taking place as long ago as 1977, hairstyles and fashions are pure disco era. Black Canary looks older in the flashback sequence than she does in the modern sequences in large part due to that wildly sexy costume and Farrah Fawcett hairdo. And Morales very effectively counteracts how silly Zatanna's JLA costume was (even compared to her original duds of fishnets and a top hat) with how menacingly he draws the red snake hairpiece.

5Cover Art - 5: The cover is a simple representation of the "heroes" responsible for manipulating Dr. Light's mind standing together in the dark as Zatanna's magic creates a small area of light sufficient to illuminate the heroes as they are deliberating Dr. Light's fate. This isn't a great action cover, but then again, this isn't intended to highlight a great action issue.

The heroes who voted against clouding Dr. Light's mind are very clearly looking out at the readers and I'm struck by the fact that their eyes are clearly looking straight ahead as if they have nothing to hide. To the contrary, the Flash's eyes appear closed; Hawkman's mask completely covers his eyes; the Atom is drawn too small to make out his eyes; and Zatanna's eyelashes bleed into her black eyes with the effect of giving her a blank stare.

Whether the heroes are ashamed of their actions or not, one can't help the feeling that artist Michael Turner is expressing his own feelings on the actions of the JLA'ers in their appearance on the cover. I'd like to think it does reflect Turner's hesitance, my own ambivalence toward my childhood heroes, and perhaps the heroes' own remorse.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

January 2004

February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004

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