Sunday, November 30, 2008

Retro Review #4 - Identity Crisis

Story by Brad Meltzer
Art by Rags Morales
Covers by Michael Turner & Peter Steigerwald

Whenever I see this book on my trade shelf, Godfather Part 3 comes to mind. No not the whole disappointing film, mind you, but one scene in particular. Michael Corleone, having worked all of his life to legitimize his family business, speaks the following line : “Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.” This is the story that pulled me back in.

I was not following comic books for a long time. Yes, I would pick up a random trade paperback here and there to kill some time, but it never amounted to anything more. So I decided to renew my interest in the art form and my friend Shawn drew up a quick syllabus for “Catching Up With DC Comics 101”. First lesson : Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis.

One of my first thoughts after reading through a bit of this book was that comics had changed…a lot. Apparently, I thought, comics are attracting big name novel talent to write these stories and it definitely shows in the quality of this story. Identity Crisis at its core is a classic “whodunit” murder mystery. But this particular story is populated not by your standard jealous lover and shady police detectives, but by some of my favorite characters from the DC Universe.

Without giving too much away, the plot focuses not only on the heroes but their loved ones and the danger they live in just by being associated with them. The story begins with the brutal murder of one of these loved ones and the heroes have to balance personal loyalty and their heroic standards with revenge.

There is a ton of emotion flowing through this book. The funeral scene in the beginning is absolutely heart-wrenching, and the twists and turns will have you right alongside the harsh emotions that the main characters experience. Rags Morales has also drawn one of the best fight scenes, in my opinion, in modern comics. As a group of heroes arrive to confront one of the suspects in the murder, they discover that said suspect has hired a personal bodyguard : Deathstroke the Terminator. What follows is a 13 page fight sequence where Deathstroke single-handedly takes down 7 of the more experienced DC heroes, all without breaking a sweat.

The book’s end is a great surprise and, in my opinion, well worth the time. I have re-read this book I don’t know how many times in the past couple of years and I find new things almost every time. If you are just getting started in the DCU, this book is a fantastic jumping on point because it’s not rooted too deeply in continuity, and when they do reference older info they do a great job of explaining it. On the art side of things, Rags Morales does a phenomenal job of conveying emotion and the dark mood of the characters involved. This story is the beginning of a much darker time in the DCU and has repercussions still to this day.

One more point worth mentioning is the cover work by the late Michael Turner. I know that not everyone is a fan of his work, but you have to admit that the covers for the single issues are moving. My favorite being the cover to the final issue, where the hero’s costumes are hanging empty as if they’ve actually had enough and given up, with Green Lantern’s power ring lying on the ground. I was re-reading this book last August, a week or so before Turner’s passing, and the cover to #1 always stands out to me. We see a casket in the center, surrounded by mourning DC heroes, a tear running down Superman’s cheek. Michael Turner’s signature appears eerily close to the casket in a sort of unfortunate foreshadowing.

Recently my wife expressed interest in reading some DC Comics (years of subtle brainwashing at work) and this is definitely where I will start her journey. The tone of the book, for me, the dark and brooding acceptance of making tough choices for little reward and to serve the greater good can be summed up by a quote from Batman in the book : “ I chose this life. I know what I’m doing. And on any given day, I could stop doing it. Today, however isn’t that day and tomorrow won’t be either.”

1 comment:

Pendragon's Post said...

Identity Crisis is an amazing story.
Meltzer shows us why he's such an incredible writer once again.
The only thing that bothered me is the Turner covers. I just feel like Rags did all the work & should have gotten the credit.
But that's just me.