Got incredibly lucky at the thrift store the other day and found a huge cache of comic books and manga. Found the first three volumes of Fruits Basket, volumes 3 and 4 of Soul Eater NOT! and volume one of Karin/Chibi Vampire. I also found DC’s Identity Crisis.
Identity Crisis was a mini-series from 2004-05, years before the New 52/Rebirth shenanigans. It was met with mixed reaction. Some fans thought it was an excellent mini-series, while others found it exploitative and infuriating. I’m familiar with some of the more notorious repercussions of the series, but I was curious to read it myself.
It’s Ralph Dibney, The Elongated Man’s (a super hero similar to Marvel’s Mr. Fantastic) birthday and every year his wife Sue celebrates by creating a mystery for the meta human detective to solve. Sue and Ralph Dibney are legends in the super hero community for being a loving, devoted married couple, so well liked that powerless Sue is considered an honorary member of the Justice League. Sue and Ralph are also unique for they are one of a few heroes to not have secret identities. And this is fact is central to the story.
When Ralph returns from a day of fighting crime, instead of being greeted with a party and the clever mystery he already knew the answer to but loves to indulge his wife anyway, he discovers her murdered. Her death sends shockwaves through the Justice League and subsequent super hero organizations, not only because Sue beloved by everyone, but because in spite of the best security in the universe, a hero’s family member was targeted. With it, a massive manhunt is on to find the culprit, especially as more and more hero family members and friends become victims, with even villains wanting to discover the murderer to calm the chaos Sue’s death unleashes.
TW: rape, sexual assault
But as Sue’s murder is investigated, it brings to light an incident that happened years go and almost splintered the Justice League with its ramifications, and this is where people who decry the series take issue with it. One of the suspects in Sue’s death is Doctor Light, a villain who raped Sue on the Justice League’s satellite. The rape itself is fairly tastefully shown, though it could have easily be cut down to the final part showing a crying Sue with ripped tights and still would have gotten the point across, but the bigger issue is less the depiction of the rape, and more the reaction, which is where most people are angriest. Rather than treating it as an awful thing that happened to Sue, it was treated as an awful thing that happened to Ralph, and after reading it myself, I can see why people would be upset. Sue, though traumatized, isn’t the one to say or do anything after it happened, and no one really asks if she’s okay, but rather asking how Ralph is dealing with it. He talks about that he hopes she fought back (as though that actually makes a difference. Sexually assaulted people often freeze up out of fear, denial or hope that it will end sooner or won’t be killed for being cooperative) and the art almost entirely focuses on Ralph’s grief over the incident. Which I gotta say, is very gross.
My bigger issue though, is the handling of Sue’s corpse. There are many scenes that depict Sue’s autopsy and forensic investigation, and despite being shown as a dead woman, the artist Rags Morales still bothers to draw the curves of her body and the blanket covering her is cut down to her cleavage. She’s a fucking corpse dude. This is not the time to worry about if she’s sexy or not. Otherwise the art is fairly good, though it does lean towards the 90s hatching-everything-to-death style.
These issues aside, I have to say Identity Crisis does touch on some fairly human issues by way of the relations between the super heroes and the ordinary, important people in their life. The people they’ve lost, and the people they are desperate to keep around. Even though Batman is not a huge key player in this story, one of his scenes towards the end is one of the most powerful in the book, and shows the character in his purest, most essential form. Not the monster of the night who beats up criminals, but the man who became that way because no one saved his parents.
Identity Crisis is a good book. It has some powerful moments and a shocking conclusion, but the way Sue’s death and rape are handled could and should have been much better, especially when compared to today’s standards. It’s a good read, but be prepared for that fact when going in.