Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review: Identity Crisis

Earlier this year, I was in a comic book shop in Beckley and was perusing the titles when a graphic novel cover popped out at me. All of these superheroes' costumes were hanging up, empty. It looked so sad and hollow. And then I noticed the name at the top: Brad Meltzer. My favorite wrestler, CM Punk, is a huge comic fan (and actually writes comics for Marvel now) and has tweeted about Meltzer several times.

From the cover alone I knew this was going to be good, and add in the fact that a person I have heard nothing but good things about wrote it. While checking out, the stereotypical portly and unkempt comic shop proprietor said "This is the only comic that has ever made me cry." So, it also had that added bonus. Although, I laughed about it for most of the day, imagining that guy crying over superheroes.

And then I started reading it. And I cried once. And came close a couple other times. "Identity Crisis" has some very emotionally jarring scenes. Brad Meltzer isn't your traditional comic book writer. He is a novelist, so he knows how to craft a story from beginning-to-end and make it interesting. And that's what he does here. This is not a traditional superhero comic book. This is a murder mystery featuring men and women who happen to be superheroes.

Told mostly through the eyes of Green Arrow, this story examines the fallout after the death of Sue Dibny, the wife of the Elongated Man. He can make his body stretch like rubber. The story starts out as a traditional superhero plot - somebody was killed and they need to go search for clues.

Except... There are a few of the heroes who think they know what happened. And it all involves a long-held, deep, dark secret that they had vowed to never bring up again.

What they - Green Arrow, Hawkman, Black Canary, the Atom, and Zatanna - did wasn't necessarily wrong. They really believed they were working in the best interest of Sue Dibny and Elongated Man.

The issue here is an ethical one. Should they have done what they did? The Flash finds out and is shocked. That's when things spin out of control as more dark secrets start coming out. Were they wrong? Green Arrow defends their actions, saying that they were for the good of the world. Flash asks if Batman and Superman know. Arrow counters saying that they would never stand for something like that, and were kept in the dark. But, it is strongly hinted that both know and are simply playing dumb. And Green Arrow knows that, telling Flash at one point that people believe and hear what they want.

While these secrets are coming out, there is still a murder mystery that needs to be solved. And more murders are happening. It appears as though somebody is targeting the members of the superheroes' families. Lois Lane - wife of Superman - is sent a threatening letter. The wife of The Atom is almost murdered, but saved in time. And Robin's father is another target.

Who is behind these attacks? The reveal is surprising. Early on, Batman is trying to solve the murders and rules people out based on the fact that it won't benefit them. He asks who has the most to gain. It all adds up in the end, in the most shocking of manners. 

After finishing "Identity Crisis," I began searching to see what other people thought about it. The general consensus among comic book fans is that they did not like it. It has strong reviews in the sense that it was a nicely written piece of work. But most did not like it for the main reason that I loved it: these superheroes were revealed to really be flawed people with problems.

Basically, they are the opposite of Superman, a point Green Arrow brings up a few times, even commenting at one point "Sometimes I really hate that guy."

The issue of ethics is something that comes up. Did they do what was right? As you read and discover what happened, you realize that yes, they had the best of intentions and they did what they thought was right. But, should they have done that? Did they use underhanded methods to do what they thought was right? Yes, they did. Otherwise, they wouldn't have sworn themselves to secrecy.

"Identity Crisis" is a fun thriller that really keeps you guessing until the reveal at the end. As a murder mystery, it's top notch. Add in the ethical dilemma of the unearthed secrets and how it tears everybody apart and you get an even better story.

If you like comic books, read it. If you like good stories, read it. 

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