Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

For Valentine’s Day: “a love letter to the Silver Age”

Normally when I cross-post older stuff from my blog, I rework it quite a bit. I spent Saturday at the E/R with vertigo — happily it turns out it’s not caused by intercranial bleeding or the like — and that sucked up a shit-ton of time (the treatment went fast but it took hours before they processed me out). So I’m going to put up my four old posts about Identity Crisis with minimal editing, sorry.

The short answer to why I dislike Identity Crisis (Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales) is that “a love letter to the Silver Age” — Meltzer’s description — shouldn’t involve the rape, murder and fridging of a likable Silver Age character. Nor demonstrating that Silver Age idealism was a load of baloney.

As the first issue opens, we have Ralph Dibney telling his fellow hero Firehawk about how much he loves his wife Sue. We also see Ray Palmer thrilled that his ex-wife Jean — she divorced him after she had an affair — is warming up to him again. Then, as Sue’s preparing a party for Ralph, someone kills and burns her to death. Worse, she was pregnant — Ralph was going to be a dad, and now he never will!!! This is a twist I’ve seen elsewhere and it always pisses me off. Like losing the person you love isn’t tragic enough? It’s only really tragic if you lose your child as well?

The Justice League rallies round Ralph, offering support, investigating the case and trying to figure how the killer breached their families’ world-class security. Ralph, no slouch as a detective, fingers Dr. Light as the killer and recruits a team to hunt him down. Wally West — the Flash at the time of the story — can’t make sense of this. Green Arrow explains that several years earlier, Light stumbled across Sue and raped her to take out his frustration at the League repeatedly defeating him.

The League captured Light after the assault but the villain taunted Ralph that once out of jail, he’d do it again: Ralph doesn’t have a secret identity so Sue will always be vulnerable. And then he’ll go after the other Leaguers’ friends and family and do the same. Ralph convinces Zatanna to put a mental block on Light so he can’t do this again. She does, but this has the side-effect of reducing the once-formidable villain to a moron.  Green Arrow tells Wally the League has been erasing villain memories for years, whenever their identity got out. This is presented as a shocking reveal even though it’s Silver Age canon, at least when characters didn’t lose their memory by accident (as the Korean series Nine Time Travels once put it, amnesia is the world’s most common disease). Changing Light’s personality is, of course, a step beyond erasing memories. It’s a step too far for Batman, who refused to tolerate it. Zatanna erased his memory it ever happened.

When word spreads about the hunt for Sue’s murderer, a terrified Dr. Light hires Deathstroke to defend him. Slade Wilson takes down the JLA easily because there is no greater power in the 21st century than being a total badass. They counter attack, however, and Slade loses. Dr. Light’s captured — but Dr. Midnight’s autopsy reveals Sue was dead before her body burned. Dr. Light is innocent.

More attacks on the Leaguers’ loved ones take place. Someone tries to strangle Jean, which leads to Ray rushing to protect her, then falling back into bed with her. Captain Boomerang’s legacy-villain son kills Tim Drake’s father. Everyone draws closer to the people they care about. But wait! Dr. Midnight has discovered tiny footprints in Sue’s brain. Like the ones Ray Palmer would make if he’d used his atom-powers to shrink down, climb into her head and stomp around some. Could it be …

Psych! It’s not Ray, it’s Jean. Desperate to win Ray back, she figured that if she stole his tech and injured Sue (the death was an accident), she could make it look as if someone were targeting League loved ones and bring him back to her side. Of course, it’s established at the start of the series that he still loves her madly (she divorced him, remember?) so a dinner invitation would have had the same effect. But that’s irrelevant because it turns out Jean’s crazy! She’s cuckoo! Stark raving bonkers! And winds up committed to Arkham Asylum (she would later become the new Eclipso, but that’s another story).

So there’s the plot. Next up, more on the holes.

#SFWApro. Covers by Michael Turner


  1. Edo Bosnar

    I’m just chiming in to say how annoying and hackneyed I find the claim that a given story is “a love letter to” some era of comics and/or a character or characters from a given era. Usually when I got around to reading said ‘love letter’, I thought it was anything but.

  2. Jeff Nettleton

    Give me The New Frontier, any day, over this. Darwyn Cooke managed to both capture the idealism of the era, and the less than shining reality behind the facade, without negating what had come before, but make us consider it in a new way. Idealism meets harsh reality, but still holds onto the ideals. Approaching it like The Right Stuff was a mark of brilliance (though James Robinson had already used that metaphor, in Starman, in considering the core of the JSA) and similarly, that book and film showed that the Mercury 7 were humans, with human frailties, but they were still courageous men, out to go beyond perceived boundaries, with a certain set of ideals and values, but also a professionalism. Cooke makes you rethink some of the perceived corniness of those old Silver Age comics, especially the non-superhero adventure characters and see them in a new light, while also linking the optimism of the Silver Age heroes with the optimism of the Eisenhower and Kennedy years.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.