Originally Posted by Ender
Oh yeah, I read "Identity Crisis", I thought it was TERRIBLE, although for totally different reasons than are the subject of this thread. Meltzer, in the TPB notes, mentioned his endearing love of superheroes and the Silver Age and how he wanted to write a story that bolstered those conventions against what he perceived to be unfair attacks on them. Which is ironic, since a lot of critics think that "Identity Crisis" did more to crap all over those characters and the legacy of the Silver Age than anything else in the last twenty years of comics.
IC was a really ugly little story, and in my opinion it wasn't really worth the damage it did to the product overall, and that, I think, is the problem with it. "Identity Crisis" subtracts something from the DC formula, something really quite intrinsic, but it promises to give back something more valuable, presumably a more mature, complex, nuanced style of story-telling. Except that it didn't really deliver, as far as I'm concerned anyway. The series is a bad bargain. Maybe "IC" was more mature than your standard DC crossover, but not in any way that makes for a good read.
Now, I acknowledge that the series did dare to be unconventional, but you'll notice that it does that not by altering the formula but just by how altering we perceive it, by casting the shadow of doubt over the characters and their modus operandi. And really, does the hero genre really need another "Dark and edgy" turn? Was there a lack of that going around? Was anyone really asking for more?
"Identity Crisis" doesn't feel like a superhero story to me. There's little heroism to speak of, and the tone and structure of the plot seem totally at odds with the cast. This felt like a Jeph Loeb Batman story with the entire Justice League just crowbarred into it, and it's about as awkward of a fit as can be imagined. The reveal of the villain struck me as pretty ridiculous, and the resolution was annoying ambiguous (though I can see how that's hard to avoid in this case). The best thing about "Identity Crisis", I would say, is that it opened doors for some much better stories later in "52".
Several people here have cited that the formula in hero comics is just the natural form of the medium and that it's the execution that really matters. And I agree. However, I still think there's a point to be made, namely that, as stories like "Identity Crisis" show, modern comics aren't necessarily suited for that formula.
It's a story structure that's now eighty years old and was created back when comics were meant to be one-dimensional filler that pandered to grade schoolers. Modern hero comics want to try to tell more complex, intelligent stories, but they're still married to the rules of a latter age, and that disconnect spells trouble for the genre. Just saying "That's the nature of the beast" I don't think is a way to really address the problem, because the nature of the beast is the problem. When you try to pair the complex moral ramifications of an adult-oriented story with the easily repeatable formulae of a children's story, the results aren't really palatable.
Very, very interesting post. A reply:
For what's its worth, I dropped IC after the first issue. I felt like the "big reveal" was a waste. However, to DC's credit, they've done a lot in the years that have passed to bring up Sue Digby. Then, I hopped back on IC with issue #4 (an issue which has, for me, the greatest comic book cover of all time) A bit after, I read the other two issues that I missed. I will agree with you on several things about IC, but there are several points of disagreement:
-I actually wouldn't call IC "Dark and edgey", anyone who read comics in the era from the mid eighties, to the late nineties, can point you in the direction of stuff that is very "dark and edgey". Comics tried that, and it didn't really work out very well. That was the era when everyone was trying to be the dark knight returns and watchmen. I actually wasn't holding up Metzer's work as a paragon of great comics, I enjoyed IC myself, and I think Metzer is a pretty good writer. What I was really trying to drive at is that what happened in IC #6 is something that delivered on the promise to "change the universe forever" in a very real way. Whether or not you agree with the decision to break up a classic friendship, or not (a LOT of people didn't like it for that very reason) it was a change. Now, while change for the sake of change is never a good reason for change (that too happens all too often, when sales sink) I felt like this change, in many ways, made sense. It drove the story forward.
Here's what I will agree with you on, If Metzer loves the Silver Age, and wants to refute some of the unfair attacks on it, he does have a funny way of showing it. The Silver Age, IMHO, is unpallatable in comics, these days. I love it, with a burning passion, as a fan, but I'm not going to say that its going to sell any books in this day and age. Nobody wants to see a return to the Joker-mobile, to cite but one example. So, if that's what you want, you're going to have to go back to that era to get stuff from it. What you see a lot of today are writers and artists who were children during the silver age, as well as vet writers and artists who worked during it. These people understand that you can't just flip a switch and go back there. What they've been trying to do (and Geoff Johns is the best at this, IMHO) is give you a new interpretation on a silver age concept. Its not something that fans who grew up reading Silver Age comics generally care for (or at least, not those on the internet), but that's true of every generation. The big difference today, is that these are silver age concepts that are being re-invented (and, for people like you, crapped on) so there's more of a hurt factor. I understand, when I was a kid, I loved the TV show "The Dukes of Hazzard", and when I saw the movie, I felt they crapped on my childhood.
In my opinion, the critics of the silver age also have a point, no one whose past the age of 10 would ever read those comics, and that's the audience they were designed for. I personally love the bat snow-mobile and the phantom zone arrow, but that's just me. I do think there's a huge difference between what I cited above, and what happened to the "Dukes of Hazzard" and what happened with IC. There's is plenty of what happened with the Dukes going around in comics (**cough** War Games **cough, **cough** scare-beast **cough**) so I don't feel the need to cite that. There will always be people in this world who are bad at their jobs, and who shouldn't be writing comics. I personally wouldn't put Metzer in that class, but I would put guys like Judd Winnick and AJ Lieberman, and Chuck Austen, I won't touch anything by Liebermann. My Comic Book Store guy has a vested hatred of Tom DeFalco, and won't hear of anything positive about him.
You know what I would compare modern hero comics to? I get the wants to be more intelligent but still wedded to the children's stories angle. There's no doubt that Silver Age Comics were meant for children, after the collapse of the industry in the late fifties, after the congressional witch hunt, and the rise of the comics code authority. The Dark and edgy comics of the fifties, and the early fifties in particular, which saw an explosion of styles, was out.
However, to me, comics reminds me most of what was going on in ancient greece. Each year, during the city dionysuius, (named after the God of wine, man, those ancients knew how to party) playwrites would present plays that are very much like a modern comic book. The mythology of ancient Greece is something that we still recite to this day, and the plays were generally stories taken out of the mythological folklore, and the intent was to give a new twist on it. Everyone in the audience knew how the story went, and knew where things would end up, the cool part came from how well executed that play was. These stories, to the ancients, were things that they'd been exposed to all their lives, from the time they were young, to the end of life.
There is this growing of the stock mythology that these play spoke to, and I think comics speaks to the same need. Its been around forever, and I doubt its going anywhere. Its one of the reasons why I have problems with the idea of the rights to Superman reverting to the estate of Seigel and Schuster. They created the character, back in the day, and they deserve credit for that (and money), but the character from Action Comics #1 is unrecognizable today. So many people over the decades have contributed to the Superman mythology, so many people have told stories and built it up, changed it, tweeked it, give it a direction, or a spin. Where are those people's rights?