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Comic-Con 2004: Identity Crisis Panel
The controversy isn't over yet...

This Michael Turner piece was also a billboard image for Comic-Con.
Every year, the comics industry tries to achieve a story event that rocks fandom. They may love it or hate it, but if it has fans talking, then it's done its job. Usually, such a story plays out over several different series, suckering the obsessive fan into boosting the sales of all kinds of books. At least, that's the plan.

This summer, DC Comics has turned their back on that trick. Instead, they let novelist (and upcoming television producer) Brad Meltzer loose on a tightly focused mini-series with repercussions that will pop up in books over the next few years. Editor Mike Carlin calls those "follow-ups," not "crossovers." All the story you need to know is in the seven issues of Identity Crisis.

After only two issues, it has indeed rocked readers with a series of twists and turns that may very well achieve Meltzer's goal of "…bringing a sense of danger back to the DC Universe." Already we've had a controversial death and somehow worse, a rape.

(SPOILER ALERT: Sue Dibny, non-powered but public wife of The Elongated Man, is brutally murdered in the first issue, carrying her husband's unborn child. It is revealed in the second issue that years before, super-villain Dr. Light found her alone in the Justice League Satellite and raped her before the League came and basically lobotomized him as punishment.END SPOILER)

At Comic-Con, the creators and powers that be gathered to discuss the controversy and answer questions about the project that spawned the fandom-only slang term "to dibny," or basically "get screwed over." (Congratulations, Augie, it seems to have entered the lexicon.)

Turner, Meltzer and Carlin brace themselves.
Carlin, Meltzer, cover artist Michael Turner, penciler Rags Morales and inker Michael Bair sat down at the long panel table to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged fans. Since most of these guys also sit on the Wizard Hot list, too, any barbs were blunted. Mostly, fans are just stunned by this work, and it shows.

The first question out of the gate, was, of course, "WHY SUE DIBNY?" Pausing for a moment, Meltzer acknowledged that she was "on the list" of characters that he could kill, but stressed that it wasn't for the shock value. After 9/11, he said seriously, we never looked at fire fighters the same way again. We realized that every day, they put on that equipment and risk their lives. Heroism has consequences, and it was time to remind comic book readers of that fact. Putting on the spandex can't be for fun and games; there's danger to it.

Besides, he said, you knew it wasn't going to be Lois Lane "…in the first issue."

Though the writing on the series has been stellar, both Meltzer and Carlin stressed the contributions of an incredible art team. All involved praised the combination of Morales and Bair, with Meltzer likening them to jazz musicians, riffing off of each other's work. Both artists took it with humility; Bair quietly offered that Morales' pencils challenge him to raise the bar on his own inking.

As you can see, Meltzer is serious about his work.
As for Morales, he has been working extremely hard to produce the best of his career. Each character, Meltzer commented, has been carefully cast by the penciler. Fans might agree with the writer's assessment that a single shot of Ralph Dibny losing control of his face was an incredibly moving panel - and one that Meltzer thought was going to be too difficult a challenge to draw. Though they did not elaborate on Morales' "casting," the artist did slip that Captain Boomerang, a villain way past his prime, is visually based on porn star Ron Jeremy.

Despite the sleaze and the danger, Meltzer wants Identity Crisis to stand as a book that "…reclaims the Silver Age." A careful reading of the first two issues proves it, with references to a classic Elongated Man story (no, really! There were such things) and the thing Meltzer's fanboyishness may be most proud of: really pinpointing the moment when Dr. Light went from homicidal genius (in Silver Age terms, anyway) to ineffectual loon.

The writer also defended the controversial rape issue. With all the death and destruction DCU villains cause on a regular basis, to Meltzer it is almost more offensive that comics haven't dealt with the violation of women. Not for entertainment value, but because both Meltzer and his wife have been active in helping stop violence against women. (He may be wrong about it never having been dealt with in the DCU; in Mike Grell's The Longbow Hunters, Black Canary was beaten, tortured and raped, but that was twenty years ago, a long time to turn a blind eye to the crime's existence.)

Signing books for fans who may or may not watch Jack and Bobby on The WB.
More importantly, Meltzer would not have us characterize Identity Crisis as an adventure. Rather, it's a tragedy, and not just because of the incredibly effective funeral scene in the first issue. (Most of the credit for that should go to colorist Alex Sinclair, according to the panel members present.)

What do we have to look forward to in this fine tragedy? Everybody stayed as mum as they could, despite being peppered with questions. An audience member pointed out that a recent issue of Superman/Batman had Lex Luthor mention a coming crisis; all of the panel answered with a pregnant silence. And with Elongated Man playing such a strong role in this story, could Plastic Man be coming, too? Meltzer would not answer.

But then, we don't go to panels for answers, though we think we do. Really, comics fans love to be teased, almost as much as they love to be truly moved by a book. Identity Crisis wins on both counts.

Derek McCaw


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