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Identity Crisis #1
writer: Brad Meltzer
artists: Rags Morales and Michael Bair

It figures that Doctor Fate would consider life to be a mystery. And strange as it may be to think that Ralph Dibny, The Elongated Man, has had conversations with Fate on that topic, it's just one more cool little detail in what promises to be the story of the year: Identity Crisis.

Novelist Brad Meltzer has brought all his skills to bear on this crossover aimed at shaking the DC Universe to its core. But unlike previous events, Identity Crisis does its shaking on a very personal level. Somebody dies in this first issue, but it doesn't happen while saving the world, a city, or even someone else.

Actually, that's not entirely true. You get the sense that the victim did save someone else once, right before our eyes from the beginning of the Silver Age. We just never noticed it. Cruelly, brilliantly, Meltzer points it out just before ringing in the curtain. As our realization grows, each page just gets more dread-filled, because it's easy to see where it's going and man, we do not want it to go there.

But it does. Somebody dies, and you didn't know you cared.

It's not a cheap death, nor is it likely to be the only death in the course of these seven issues. For long-time fans, it will hurt, just as Meltzer intended. Though the book is accessible to those who haven't been reading comics for twenty or thirty years, Meltzer has steeped it in DC history, turning a somewhat obscure Elongated Man story into the grounds for an annual tradition, and a launching pad to show us how all the heroes really do stick together.

(Ralph "outs" Green Arrow in a manner that adds a perfect layer to Oliver Queen's personality.)

Despite their fantastic powers, almost every character has a moment to become real. Wonder Woman fares the worst on that front, because she seems the most remote even as she's presented as compassionate. Then again, she is a goddess. Maybe the rest of hero-dom feels a bit apart from her. But Meltzer gives Superman a true moment with his parents, tinging it with just a little bit of sorrow and yes, a slight shadow of mortality.

Which is one of the themes running through this book. Superheroes tend to come back from the dead with alarming ease. Those around them do not. As an iteration of the Justice League faces mortality, they also have to deal with their morality. Somewhere, somewhen, these guys did something questionable, and are now paying the price.

In his previous foray into comics writing, Green Arrow: Archer's Quest, Meltzer masterfully inserted a piece of subtext that should change the way you read Oliver Queen. Clearly, he's doing it again, with a much greater reach.

The art team of Morales and Bair continues to be great, following their run on Hawkman. Morales lays out emotion well, and his take on The Elongated Man actually adds a new dimension to the character, underscored of course by Meltzer's writing. The vague woodcut look disturbed someone else in the Fanboy Planet office, but not enough to distract him (his name rhymes with Shmoodson) from the pulse-pounding story.

It's not hyperbole. Not only is each page of Identity Crisis one you will devour, it's also a book that you will love to hate waiting for the next issue. In a storm of monthly titles, it's rare that one can stand out like that. (This month, it's even a storm of monthly titles with covers by Michael Turner.)

But then, Brad Meltzer ain't no slouch as a writer.


Derek McCaw

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