Friday, November 21, 2014

SS #025 - Crisis in the Shortbox

Shortbox Showcase #25 -- Identity Crisis, written by Brad Meltzer, with art by Rags Morales and Michael Bair.

Professor Alan and Emily tackle one of DC's more controversial titles, Identity Crisis, the seven-issue series from 2004 and 2005.

Spoilers: It's one of our favorite comics stories ever.

We talk about the story itself, the context in which the story was released, some of the major controversies surrounding the story, what we find so moving about the story, and the divisive response to the story within the world of comic book fandom.

Click on the player below to listen to the episode

Right-click to download episode directly 

Link: Linkara's "15 Things That Are Wrong With Identity Crisis"
Link: Paeter Frandsen's "Top 25 Pre-52 Stories"

Promo: Superman & Batman

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  1. Another fantastic episode and covering one of my all time favorite stories! I absolutely love Identity Crisis. This book literally blew me away and was really led to me diving back into the DCU full throttle. I didn't have a comic shop in my hometown, the closest comic shop was 30 miles south of my hometown, and with living another 10 miles north of town, that meant 40 miles to my nearest comic shop. So when Diamond took over comic distribution and comics disappeared from grocery stores, getting my comic fix was reduced to multipacks from Wal Mart and whatever I could find at garage sails, that is until I turned 16 and got a drivers license. Ah teenage freedom. A company called Dreamwave was putting out some incredible Transformers comics, and so that is really what got me back into comics and hunting down a comic shop. The transformers comic was my gateway drug, and it wasn't long before I was headlong into comic obsession again and trying a whole bunch of books. And there sat all 7 issues of Identity Crisis on the shelf. Hey I loved Crisis on Infinite Earths, and here was another DC Crisis book, sure I'll give it a shot, so I picked it up, took it home and after finishing my Transformers issues, and the recent issues of Action Comics, Spider-Man, Captain America, and Detective Comics, I decided to pick up issue #1 of Identity Crisis as my last read before going to bed. Little did I know that I'd really be up reading the entire series for another 2 years. That first issue just hooked me so much that I couldn't stop reading until I finished. What a fascinating read! Character development, plot twists, mystery, suspense, drama, and super heroes to boot! This comic had it all, and was the most compelling story I had ever read, comic or otherwise. My mom was a big fan of Meltzer's novels, so I gave it to her and she was blown by it as well.

    You both did a great job diagnosing why I think others dislike the story. The story itself is incredible, it's everything that comic readers want, a well paced, content heavy story that wraps you up in the character dynamics of these seemingly perfect heroes. It is what so many comics nowadays try to do and fail at. The message and violence are powerful and tasteful. I agree with your analysis, I think sonny of the story's detractors are simply so upset by the implications of the story, or the violence that their emotional reaction results in their anger being directed to the story instead of the players on the chessboard. What happens to Sue is despicable, it should bother you, but some it just bothers them to the point that they don't want to finish the story. I see where they are coming from, but as you both, I see that as a credit to Meltzer's storytelling method and see it as a sign of a truly good story. Love this one, great coverage and a fantastic episode! I can't wait to hear what you cover next.

    -Kyle Benning

    1. That's encouraging, Kyle. We tried to both express our LOVE for this story, while not criticizing people who don't. I have actually been on the other side of that, being criticized FOR liking this story, the implication being that you're not a good person if you like this. Really. I wonder if it's because I read a lot of mystery and thriller novels, and so a story with a "body count" is not unusual for me. As you point out, you're SUPPOSED to be moved by what's happened to Sue -- that negative emotional response is a good thing.

      Hilarious that you and Emily had the same experience, of not being able to put it down the first time you encountered the book.

      Anyway, we know we probably stepped on a toe or two, but I appreciate you writing in as both a fan of that episode, but also as a fan of Identity Crisis.

      Thanks again, both for listening and for feedbacking.

  2. I was not a DCU fan, but a friend suggested this was a really good murder mystery, and that everyone was at risk. So I picked up the first four issues, and was throughly engrossed. I didn't guess the ending, but loved the conditioning of Dr. Light, the ethical issues of mind-whiping, and the twist at the end of 6 really kept me guessing. I just wasn't quite sold on Ray Parker "giving up" at the end... but that's still OK, given the masterful plotting. I wrote and told Brad Meltzer how much I enjoyed it, and he STILL sends me occassional mass emailings about what he's working on, his latest projects and his History Channel "Charlies Angels" show as well...

    1. Kirk, I think this story may work best for folks not totally immersed in the DCU. Thanks for the feedback, and for the Brad Meltzer anecdote.

  3. I need to dig Identity out for a fresh read, but I was really blown away by it at the time. I had just started getting heavily into comics and was dipping my toes into DC when this series ran, and as I knew my dad was a fan of Meltzer's novels and I enjoyed his followup story to Kevin Smith's relaunch of Green Arrow, I figured I'd give it a go. So this was also my first time ever reading a lot of these DC characters, many of whom I'd never even heard of, on top of which was them being thrown into a complex, challenging story about ethics, choices, and consequences. After this, I dove pretty heavily into DC for the next couple years before rising up for air.

    I may have mentioned it in a past comment, but I wonder how much of the backlash is due to a general distaste with tragedy I've seen in fandoms recently, where fannons and fanfic and fanart (and I don't say this to disparage them or knock their genuine strengths) has led to people almost bubbling themselves away from anything that hurts or negatively portrays the characters they love. Me, I like it when a hero is forced to deal with their choices, or face consequences, or fall, or find themselves at ethical odds with one another. We can debate execution, but I like the idea of Superman having to kill Zod, or Cyclops flipping sides, or Green Lantern going so bad all of his friends have to put him down and he's left struggling with what he's done as he continues in the afterlife as a spirit of vengeance. I like it when heroes not only become human, but f**k up in spectacularly human ways and have to deal with the fallout of their choices.

    I agree with you both in terms of the strengths and weaknesses of the book. When it comes to stuff like Firestorm or Drake/Boomerang, it should be remembered that this was a prequel event to Infinite Crisis and did cross over with and nudge forward a bunch of books, so like any event, Meltzer had some editorial mandates he needed to work in, so I'm not going to blame him for all the choices made, even if they don't always feel right. I did catch a few issues (can't remember the book) where the new Boomerang tried to set out as a hero and make up for his father's legacy, and did like him, but didn't see how far it developed. As for Firestorm, what happened here actually made me read the new Firestorm book that followed, which quickly became one of my favorites. Sadly, I also got huge into Breach, a new character from around then who I felt went out even worse during Infinite Crisis, going into a meltdown that literally bamfs him out of existence, replaced by original Firestorm.

    I do agree with Emily that one of the problems of choosing Doctor Light is that it does retroactively color those past appearances, and a lesser character wouldn't have suffered the same fate. In terms of you talking about the punch of that line, Professor, where they end an issue by citing Doctor Light, there could be just as much strength in hitting everyone with a "Who?" reaction as, in those 30 days they await the next issue, fandom alights as everyone digs up what few times this obscure character would have appeared. Not quite the same effect reading it in trade, but there it's quickly followed by a schooling of who the character is. Also, the Doctor Light appearances following Identity, mostly in Teen Titans, were really not that well handled.

    But yeah, for my money, an important story, a very smart and challenging story, a very well executed story, but also a very hard story, so I can definitely understand why it's had the controversial legacy it has. And yeah, Ralph at the funeral hit me every time.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Noel. One common thread I've noted is that people who were less invested in the DCU at the time tend to be more critical of the series, while people who were not in comics at that exact moment really dig the series. I think that does speak to the long-term appeal of the series -- I am guessing it will be an "evergreen."

      But that is also an interesting take on fandom, the idea that people have become so invested in their favorite characters that they take it as a personal affront when anything bad happens to the character. I've got to think about that.

      As always, thanks for listening, and thanks for the feedback.

  4. i'm a big Suicide Squad fan so when i saw the TPB for this story at the library i checked it out mostly for the Captain Boomerang story line. but needless to say it contained other aspects in the story line that certainly got my attention to put it lightly. you guys had a great discussion here about it i don't think you two missed a single point within all the plot lines that makes me one to re-read the TPB.

  5. No matter how charitable I am to this story, the Jack Drake murder just doesn't fly. I don't buy in any context Jean Loring knowing Batman's secret identity, much less Robin's. Even if she worked it out on her own and worked backwards from that, I still don't know how she winds up on Robin's Dad instead of say another public hero's family like Animal Man's wife or Steve Trevor/Etta Candy or somebody.