Whether or not my own crisis is of identity or existential, or more likely non-existent, caused me to seek solace, and inspiration, from a series of DC comics events starting with the aptly titled Identity Crisis.
I am of an age to be having some kind of nervous breakdown, mid-life crisis, existential crisis, crisis of identity/confidence. Some kind of anomie or Jean Paul Sartre inspired No Exit, or perhaps more relevant oh fuck Brexit. Nothing positive having yet popped out of Brexit everything’s negative though I knew Britain would Vote Leave I figured nothing would change but change has come thick and fast and maybe therein lies my crisis, I don’t like change.
Which leads quite well into the DC comic book event Identity Crisis written by Brad Meltzer with pencils by Rags Morales the series opens in Opal City, the DCU itself as for a long time suffered from it’s own identity crisis from the Golden Age heroes ushered into a world known as Earth 2 up to Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s marvellous Crisis On Infinite Earths. Crisis and change has been (almost) a constant throughout the time I’ve embraced such a wondrous fictional universe. Opal City of course doesn’t exist in the real world in the DCU it is the home of Starman and was made a new home by the Elongated Man who starts this story alongside an obscure, barely used, superhero Firehawk.
The story begins with Elongated Man talking to the people reading the story, ‘Dr Fate once told me life is a mystery. But it isn’t. Everyone knows how it ends. It’s just a question of time. In a novel, it’s different. There, you start worrying about the main characters safety almost immediately. Of course, it’s a false worry. Nothing bad really ever happens to the main character in a novel. But if the story opens with a minor character or two–‘
I agree with Dr Fate life is a mystery, sure we know how it ends but we don’t know what happens next or if there is a next, we don’t know exactly how it all begins, sure we know the process but none of us remember how we came to be, what the world was like before we ended up thrown into it, we’re not given a life handbook or hints and tips of how to live life properly. We don’t even get taught how to abide by the many rules of society and civilisation we generally figure these things out for ourselves or live an immoral life like a sociopath.
Firehawk and Elongated Man are waiting to intercept an arms deal, it’s one of those dodgy back alley arms deals favoured of these kinds of stories two regular Joes criminals, but NOT super criminals, might be selling a super weapon an Amazo, a super powerful android that mimics the powers of the Justice League of America.
Scene shifts away from Opal City to another fictional, but better known, place in this made up universe Smallville in Kansas home to Martha and Jonathan Kent adopted parents of the alien super man Kal-El, happily, joyously this alien raised as a human interacts with his adopted parents and my heart aches for the Kent’s. When I was a little kid Superman’s adopted parents were already dead but after Crisis On Infinite Earths Clark Kent’s parents played a big part in his new adventures, they lived and they were marvellous but New 52 put an end to all that history, all that love so to read Identity Crisis and see the Kent’s so full of life, even though it’s only a fictional two dimensional life it still touches my heart and I miss them, I really do.
While enjoying his time with the only parents he’s ever known Superman receives a distress call from the Justice League of America and it’s something so bad, so terrible it worries the Man of Steel and he requests of his Pa that he lock the doors.
From my point of view, and I’m pretending I’m reading this story for the very first time, it’s a surprising moment the Man of Tomorrow genuinely scared. What could scare Superman?
Scene shifts again to Gotham another well-known fictional city in the DCU. Nightwing, former Robin sidekick of Batman, visits the grave of his murdered parents he’s joined by his former lover the alien Starfire and while a great sadness descends over the pair Oracle, Barbara Gordon the former Batgirl, interrupts Nightwing’s moment of sorrow with some news bad enough to cause both Nightwing and Starfire to cry out in shock.
In Star City two Green Arrow’s, father and son, along with Wildcat have their fun interrupted by the bad news that’s slowly trickling through the superhero community.
Back with Elongated Man and Firehawk, and the timeline isn’t linear we’re jumping back and forth slightly for the purpose of cranking up our emotions and we are offered beautiful moments from Elongated Man, Ralph Dibny, as he recollects his first meeting with his wife Sue and expresses the reasons why he loves her so. Ralph and Sue Dibny were, when they made appearances, the beating heart of the DCU they were everything that was good and honest, they were wonderful fun characters that made me smile whenever I saw them interacting with each other and with other characters but what happens next is going to break my heart.
It always does.
Someone, some bastard, murders Sue Dibny and sets her body on fire when Elongated Man discovers her burnt corpse his anguish transcends the limits of the comic book page his wife, someone we long term DC fans have perhaps known for the best part of our lives has been brutally murdered. Life, or so it seems, will never be the same again. Especially when Sue had good news for her husband she was pregnant when she was murdered.
Obviously as soon as the series is read everything continues as normal and Sue Dibny’s death means nothing, I’ve got chores to do, meals to prepare, sleep to blissfully fall into and enjoy, but I figure it will be full of doom and gloom because someone has just killed Sue Dibny.
But before the series is read the story moves ever on presenting a reader with the effect Sue Dibny’s death as on Robin, Tim Drake, and his father and in Ivy Town The Atom and his now ex-wife Jean Loring.
Four hours after Sue Dibny’s death Green Arrow reveals that her death would have previously caused chaos but since the death of Superman, he got better, the superhero community had contingency plans for the death of one of their own and though The Batman, the world’s greatest, though his skills are mostly neglected, detective has examined the crime scene Green Arrow brings in his own team of experts to search for clues, Mister Miracle, The Atom, The Metal Men, The Ray and even Animal Man.
And then there’s this:
In my opinion THE most powerful image in superhero comic book history. I’m not going to write about this scene because I have, in the past, devoted a blog post to the scene and because it’s too powerful a scene it speaks for itself.
Identity Crisis isn’t just about the crisis involving the superheroes secret identities becoming revealed to their arch-enemies it’s also a crisis of conscience Hawkman, Zatanna, The Atom, Black Canary, Green Arrow and Elongated Man have a shared secret they’re part of a conspiracy, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and The Flash (Barry Allen) were also part of this conspiracy but they’re both dead, or at least they were during Identity Crisis.
But what is this conspiracy? Only time, and the turning of a comic book page, will tell.
This first issue of this startling story ends with an angry Ralph Dibny demanding of his fellow conspirators that they help him find the super criminal Doctor Light for some, unknown at this point, reason Ralph blames Doctor Light for Sue’s horrible fate.