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Identity Crisis

Identity Crisis back

Brad Meltzer & Rags Morales


Page 45 Review by Stephen

It's all about what binds people together: love, family, friendship, loyalty and loss.

It's only once every three years or so that a superhero graphic novel tops the Page 45 Mailshot. This one did, and I think that tells you all you need to know not only about this book's quality but also its accessibility - a contention which I know is going to sound all the more ridiculous for the size of the cast, which is enormous. But if you can find it within yourself to trust me, you will, I assure you, not only bear witness to (not "be told", but "bear witness to" - that's very important) all you need to know about the individuals involved, but you will actually begin to care from the first few pages onwards.

How does Brad do this? By quickly but gently building a superb, thematically coherent context through a series of snap-shots, showing various individuals and their loved ones talking to each other about their loved ones, be they alive and well or long-since buried.

For example, on a stakeout seventeen minutes before his life falls apart - before his wife is slaughtered in her own home leaving no clues behind - Ralph Dibny begins telling novice Lorraine about how he first met his wife, Sue, and why he loves her with a passion. Every year she tries to surprise him on his birthday - no easy task when your husband's a detective - and every year he guesses but acts surprised, because if she's going to go to all that trouble to make him happy, he's not going to ruin it by letting on he knows. This year?

"Antique magnifying glass circa 1860 -- sterling silver, parasol handle -- very nice. We passed one in an antiques shop in Belgium. I stopped to look; Sue followed my eye. She tried to stay in front, but I could see her reflection. She was working hard to memorise the name of the shop."
"See, that's why I won't date detectives. A friend of mine once dated The Question. Nightmare. Anticipated everything, including the break-up. Plus, all those Nietzsche quotes gave her a headache."

But they're also talking about the fact that unlike so many superheroes, Ralph doesn't wear a mask:

"Even if you can stretch yourself through a hail of bullets, Sue is..."
"Sue's a target. You can say it. Anyone who puts on a costume paints a bull's eye on his family's chests."
"And doesn't that terrify you?"
"Why do you think I had her live in the Justice League Embassy all those years?"

Now they live in an apartment, but it has state-of-the-art security - a combination of technologies from all the Justice League members' homeworlds - because, as Ralph's said, Sue's lived with them for years, and of course they care for her greatly. And that's where she is now, jauntily packing away his present in a box...

"My honey thinks he's so clever. And he is. Which is exactly why he'll guess the magnifying glass."


"But what I add to the box... Even Sherlock Holmes doesn't have a chance of guessing."

And what she does pack away in that box, circled with a ribbon and bow, renders in retrospect the next five minutes - and that final panel-within-a-panel of the first chapter's bludgeoning end - all the more horrible.

Now, what I've tried to convey here is that this isn't about superheroes - it's far more universal than that - but it is about secrets as much as it's about love. It's about protecting your loved ones, and what lengths you might be prepared to go to in order to do that. Because it's not the first time Sue's been attacked. Up in the Justice League Watchtower, we learn, she was once raped by one of their enemies, and the members of the League who were there at the time had to think fast but hard about what they were prepared to do, there and then, about all those people who knew their identities. And they did something harsh. Very harsh. And that's something else they've had to keep secret for a very long time... from some of their own.

I've actually been a lot more restrained here than I was going to be. It doesn't make sense to give all the other bits away just to prove how clever Meltzer's been. But with the aid of artist Morales, whose clarity is almost up there with Gibbons, he's crafted a rare superhero book will something to say to you about your lives, as well as delivering a mystery that works from every angle and is in keeping with the thematic core. For when, during my review of the first issue, I wrote, "It's all about what binds people together: love, family, friendship, loyalty and loss," I had absolutely no idea how spot-on that statement actually was, right up until the dénouement. I mean, it seemed an accurate enough assessment of what was on offer, but it's also the key to the mystery: who killed Sue Dibny?

As Batman insists: "It's the first rule of solving a crime. If you want to know who did it, you need to find out who benefits." Also, I would suggest... in what way?
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