What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
— Ecclesiastes 1:9
Be warned, ye unwary — past this point I’ll be talking about the whole of Identity Crisis, so watch out for SPOILERS.
Well, once again my pet theory goes out the window. You’ll remember I had voted for the killer being a renegade with connections to the Suicide Squad. Certainly we readers were pushed in that direction from the beginning. And yet, Meltzer (through Jean) tells us that the point wasn’t so much the killer’s identity, but the consequences of the murders themselves.
If it had been a Shadowy Governmental Conspiracy, the series basically would have ended in a black-and-white, good vs. evil manner. Either the Justice League would have rendered the conspiracy ineffective, or the conspiracy would still have the goods on the heroes’ secret identities. Having a villain at the heart of the plot — or even having one of the heroes go bad, as some theorists suggested — means that the villain can be punished, and in a way that reduces even the most ambitious stories to just another standard superhero fight.
I appreciate Identity Crisis‘ ambition. It aspired to draw back a curtain (or look under a rock, I suppose) and show the inner dynamics of superhero society. A funeral will bring people together and, in many cases, force them to re-examine their relationships. Making the killer someone who was a “victim” of those relationships arguably adds an extra level of poignancy to the deaths. However, beyond these emotional manipulations, I can’t say that IC did much of consequence.
(Just an aside: I don’t believe we readers were supposed to take the “tortured in Arkham” headline seriously, since it appeared in a tabloid. I postulate further that the Arkham Asylum administrators aren’t so callous as to put a JLAer’s wife in the same wing as those super-criminals her husband fought.)
Superhero comics tend to take for granted that their heroes and villains occupy a unique caste in what would otherwise be a normal society. Identity Crisis might have done more to focus on how the non-super people viewed that caste. While it did shed some light on how this insular community works together, it still looked out from the inside, and in so doing encouraged the kind of detective work which can either excite or frustrate longtime fans. For the most part I think Meltzer played fair with the readers — when it would have been very easy to use an available deus ex machina — but he ran the risk of misusing whatever bits of trivia formed the basis of the story. Yes, Jean Loring has had a couple of mental breakdowns, but she apparently overcame them, and we’re not sure if this latest episode is a relapse or something new. And Jean’s mental issues themselves offer something of a cop-out — “Oh, it couldn’t happen to my spouse — s/he’s not crazy!”
IC puts its heroes through an emotional wringer, but never really leaves them questioning the consequences of their crusades. As much hand-wringing as Wally West does throughout the series, his is the proverbial voice shouting in the wilderness, not particularly heard or heeded by his colleagues.
(I wonder how this would have been received if the Carol Ferris/Hal Jordan relationship were still viable. Carol was an actual supervillain with multiple personalities, but she got married (and apparently rehabilitated) after Hal’s death. The JLA feels sorry for Ray Palmer because his ex-wife is in the nuthouse; would it feel as sorry for Hal Jordan if it thought he was cutting her more slack?)
Still, in the end the “illusion of change” trumps everything. “The League endures,” as it must — because otherwise, why keep reading each month? If you start from the proposition that there wasn’t anything wrong with the Justice League, you won’t end with anything being fixed. As much as Meltzer wanted us to see old stories in a new light, he obviously had enough love for these characters that he didn’t want them to be too tarnished. Unfortunately, he can’t have it both ways, and so the end result suffers.
For the most part I enjoyed each issue of Identity Crisis. Some melodramatic narration aside, I thought Brad Meltzer did a good job of building suspense. Clearly, it benefited from the four weeks between issues, but I don’t think it will lose much momentum in the collection. Rags Morales’ and Michael Bair’s artwork was expressive and dynamic, walking the middle ground between cartoonish and realistic. Unfortunately, the test of a good mystery is the solution, and while Meltzer, Morales, and Bair laid out intriguing pieces, they apparently amounted to comparatively little.