The Neil 52 – Week 17

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Hello and welcome to this weeks edition of my year-long reading challenge in which I take a look at stories from comic books past and present. That’s 52 books in 52 weeks. The only criteria for the stories is that they were published between June 24th 1980 and the present day, thereby covering the 34 years I have been alive.

If anyone has any suggestions for stories that would like me to cover sound off in the comments.

The DC Universe seems to be forever in crisis. Events such as Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis have all dealt with events and themes that have reshaped the DC Universe as a whole.

Crisis on Infinite Earths saw the end of the Silver Age of comic books and Infinite Crisis attempted to tie up a few loose ends in the continuity. Wedged in between the two is a Crisis that could be said to have started DC down a darker path than it had ever been down before.

To do this they brought in a New York Times #1 best-selling author to spin a tale that deals with madness, murder and betrayal. In 2004, the DC Universe was indeed facing a crisis, an…

Identity Crisis
Words: Brad Meltzer
Pencils: Rags Morales
Inks: Michael Blair
Colours: Alex Sinclair
Issues Covered: Identity Crisis #1-7 (featuring covers by Michael Turner)

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Relationships are hard. For everyday humans like you and me, relationships can be the most intense and stressful life events we can enter into. For superheroes that stress must be so much harder to deal with due to the added danger of your enemies becoming aware of your identity and those that you care for.

Ralph and Sue Dibney have a picture perfect relationship. She didn’t choose Superman, she was not attracted to the charming wit of The Flash, it as The Elongated Man that caught her eye and she got what she wanted.

Their relationship touched the hearts of almost all of the DC Universe as Ralph was a regular member of the Justice League during the Satellite Years era of the group. A popular pair with everyone.

There is always the danger that comes with being a superhero and as our story begins with a Ralph recounting his courtship and love for Sue to a minor hero called Bolt, we are faced with the tragedy of Sue’s murder.

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Doctor Light is the prime suspect has Green Arrow tells a small group (of non-JLA founders) that Light had raped Sue Dibney a few years prior after infiltrating the JLA  satellite headquarters. It is also revealed that a few JLA members had opted to have Zatanna mind wipe Light and alter his personality.

Later discussions reveal that this was not the first time that this had happened before after the Secret Society of Super Villains had captured members of the JLA and learned the identities of League members. Zatanna had used the same technique in order to retain the secret identities of the JLA.

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Doctor Light regains his memory during a skirmish, enraged and now in full complete control of his powers, makes his escape.

A series of death threats and assassination attempts occur. Captain Boomerang is hires to kills Jack Drake, Tim Drakes father, in which he is successful but only at the cost of his own life. Ray Palmer, aka The Atom, finds his ex-wife Jean Loring being hung from a door in her apartment. Loring survives, this bring herself and Ray Palmer closer together with the possibility of reconciling their past relationship.

The first twist is when Wally West aka The Flash questions Green Arrow about the events of the day Light’s mind was wiped. It becomes clear that Batman was present that day and was completely against the mind wipe. The members of the JLA present that day decided to remove the event from Batman’s memory just as they had Light’s.

The two major twists in the tale come thick and fast when we find out that Sue Dibney died from a microscopic infraction in her brain, tiny footprints on a sample of brain tissue seen under an electron microscope are a clue to possible suspects. It becomes clear that the assassin had access to size altering technology much like The Atom’s. While in a romantic engagement with Loring, Palmer deduces that she is the assassin after she lets slip that she knew about the note sent to Tim Drake’s father.

She confesses to the crime. Saying that she had not meant to kill Sue Dibney just to knock her out. Her reasoning being that shock would bring the Ralph rushing to her aid and would make the other members of the JLA appreciate their families and loved one more. But most of all she wanted to bring Ray back to her.

All it ended up doing is causing mistrust amongst League members and Ray deciding she was insane and committing her to Arkham Asylum.

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Let me set this straight, this is a Justice League book, however instead of the core team of big guns on show, Meltzer choose to spotlight the secondary characters (such us Green Arrow, Zatanna, Hawkman, amongst others). In doing this the story stays away from the tropes of the superhero genre. Instead the book is a solid street level detective thriller.

Meltzer uses this story to explore the motives of a superhero. He asks probing questions such as why would someone choose to be a hero? Why would they put the people they care about at risk? Meltzer humanises the heroes and shows us that beneath the mask they share the same fears as everyone else. For only a second time comic book writer, Meltzer manages to juggle such a large cast of characters whilst giving them all their own voice and remaining consistent through to the end.

There are a few little niggles that I have with the logic of the story. Mainly due to the ending in which it appears that Ray Palmer forgoes all due process and has Jean Loring committed. To me this suggests that he is hiding the truth from the world by hiding her away instead of having her brought to trial and face a grand jury on a murder charge.

My other issue is the way that Sue Dibney’s rape is pretty much just a plot device in service of the mind wipe storyline. It would have been better if we could have been given a bit more depth into how the Dibneys got through such a horrible experience.

With regards to the art, I find Rags Morales to be dynamic whilst keeping each character human. He gives the feeling that they are comfortable in their own skin. There are intense moments that Morales manages to capture the fear and tension within the ensemble.

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This was one of the books that got me back into comic books. I understand why it is both praised by some and reviled by others. It was the kick off to a dark period of the DC Universe. For me it is an essential read if you are looking to catch up on the DCU during the Infinite Crisis period.

 

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