Defending Identity Crisis

In the past week, not only has my hero Grant Morrison said some pretty strong opinions over Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis, but Newsarama has listed the crossover as being their number 1 moment worth forgetting after the relaunch (which happens today).While Morrison’s comments at least make sense given that he is discussing his book Supergods and responding the interviewer’s question regarding the series, Newsarama naming the crossover as being the biggest moment worth forgetting seems odd to me, and the article doesn’t even justify its inclusion of the title in the top spot so much as it simply restates the overall plot. Newsarama states:

“Identity Crisis is quite possibly the most controversial DC story of all time, and maybe even the most controversial superhero comic book story of all time.” — A claim that they never actually back-up, but even if they did, one has to wonder why this particular controversy is worthy of eradication from canon.

Newsarama continues by stating, “The Brad Meltzer-written, Rags Morales-illustrated series caused so much consternation, that Rolling Stone even asked Grant Morrison (who wasn’t involved with the comic) about it — seven years after it came out.” Which seems to get at the heart of the matter — Grant said some mildly controversial statements (which are only mild when they are taken out of context like they were in the Bleeding Cool article) because he was asked about the title for his book on the history of super-heroes. Identity Crisis probably doesn’t warrant deletion in and of itself, but Newsarama seems to be nominating it because of the comments made by Morrison.

The rest of the article does nothing to suggest otherwise as it is just summary. “Not only did Identity Crisis reveal that Doctor Light, previously seen as a mostly harmless goofball, was in fact a brutal rapist who sexually assaulted beloved supporting character Sue Dibny at the Justice League’s headquarters, it also killed off Firestorm, Tim Drake’s dad and Sue herself.

Sue, who along with her husband Elongated Man are generally considered the embodiment of the whimsical side of the DC Universe, [note: another statement that can't really be followed up with any actual evidence to support the statement - who considers them to be the "embodiment of the whimsical side of the DCU? We don't know] was murdered by Jean Loring, the Atom’s ex-wife. Loring’s not-so-perfect murder included shrinking herself down, crawling around Sue’s brain in an attempt to give her a stroke (as you do), accidentally killing her, and then burning Sue’s corpse for good measure. But before you get too upset at Jean Loring about all of this, keep in mind that she only doing it as an attempt to reunite with her ex-husband.”

It would be one thing to say that Identity Crisis is a book that should be forgotten and then to have actual evidence to support that assertion, but the writing just doesn’t follow. It seems to presume that comics shouldn’t be controversial which is an ignorant statement not to mention a bit unfair given how important Identity Crisis was not just to DC, but to comics in general.

While most crossovers center around a powerful threat that will destroy the universe, the central plot of Identity Crisis revolves around the murder of Elongated Man’s wife, Sue Dibny. After Sue’s death, it was revealed that she had been raped by Z-grade villain Dr. Light in the past. Many fans were upset that Sue was murdered in such a brutal fashion and many more were upset by the very graphic depiction of her rape. Some flocked to Gail Simone’s “Women in Refrigerators” website to sound off about how unfair women were treated in comics.

Honestly, had Sue Dibny not died, I wouldn’t have even known that Elongated Man was married. It wasn’t until after her death that I read Starman and I saw the happy couple interacting with one another. It speaks volumes to Meltzer’s writing ability that a minor character like Sue could have a death that affected so many people. Her relationship with Ralph was a pure and beautiful love and it aches at the heart to see her die. The emotion that Meltzer draws from such a death is more poignant than any slugfest in other mega crossovers.

While it’s true that some scenes involving women are grotesque and inappropriate, Sue Dibny’s death is not the case. Sometimes, women are raped. This is a fact. The depiction of Sue’s rape wasn’t glorified in any way, and in fact, it was absolutely horrific to see on the page. It was done to create a real world connection and to show how sometimes, all people can do is forget and move on from the past. We’ve all had bad things we’ve had to work through and Sue Dibny’s example should be seen as powerful rather than shameful.

In addition to Sue’s death, Tim Drake’s (Robin’s) father, Jack Drake was killed at the hands of Captain Boomerang. The scene where Batman and Robin race towards the Drake home in order to save Jack Drake’s life is a heart wrenching scene that still holds a tense pace. No matter how fast they drive, they won’t make it in time and it’s agonizing for the reader as well as the characters. Again, Meltzer deftly crafts genuine emotion as Batman holds his partner close and comforts him.

Most event comics feature the deaths of major characters to varying degrees of success. For instance, Bucky Barnes has been Captain America for some time now and he was recently killed with little to no emotional impact within the pages of Fear Itself. But even though Sue and Jack are two very minor characters in the grand scheme of the DCU, Meltzer handled their deaths so well that people came out of the woodwork to claim they had been Sue Dibny fans for years and that he had ruined her. The truth was that he crafted a crossover so different and emotionally powerful that in that moment, people became Sue Dibny fans and then suddenly realized that they would never see her again.

Beyond the deaths of these characters, the overall story of distrust within the League and the betrayal of Batman worked in subtle and powerful ways. We’re used to seeing the heroes of the DCU working together to save the day, but in this crossover, the shiny, happy gloss that covers our heroes is removed and we’re shown a world that is much more “adult” and “real.” Meltzer shows that comics can be “adult” without being graphic or gratuitous. And the sense of reality that Meltzer places in the story is never artificial. It really seems as if these are friends that have betrayed one another.

Is it perfect? Not at all – sometimes the subtlety that Meltzer and Morales put into the book comes at the cost of understanding some of the plot, but just because it isn’t perfect doesn’t mean that it isn’t important. Identity Crisis is immensely important not just for its controversy, but for its emotional depth and the astounding feat of generating a massive crossover without the use of Darkseid, the Anti-Monitor, or any other world destroyer. For that alone, it should never be forgotten.

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Cody Walker graduated from Missouri State University with a Bachelors and a Masters of Science in Education. He is the author of the pop culture website and the co-creator of the crime comic . He currently teaches English in Springfield, Missouri.

See more, including free online content, on .

Also by Cody Walker:

New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics


The Anatomy of Zur-en-Arrh: Understanding Grant Morrison\'s Batman


Keeping the World Strange: A Planetary Guide

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  1. David Balan says:

    Actually, it’s funny, considering the comment Grant Morrison made about rape in Alan Moore books – I’ve read my fair share of those, and that page you just posted from Identity Crisis was both more tasteful and more emotionally involving than any one of them.

    I’d stayed away from Identity Crisis for a long time due to vague rumors about it being terrible – but now I don’t think I see any reason not to go pick up my own copy.

  2. I really enjoyed Identity Crisis.

    A lot of people are too uptight about sex, so it stands to “reason” that when it’s sexual violence instead of the “normal” kind of violence (whatever that means), people freak out.

    • Yeah. I’m waiting for someone to point out that objecting to rape has nothing to do with objecting to sex, as if you didn’t continue the sentence. But the point you made is correct, that people seem to read all kinds of really graphic and horrible violence, yet seem to react far more vociferously to rape. I think I understand why: culturally, it’s far more emotional an issue than, say, someone being skinned alive, which is used happily as a plot device but which is, I think inarguably, far worse.

      But the deeper point is that, while a lot of violence is presented as just entertaining, Sue’s rape was presented as horrible for all involved, including her loved ones. Maybe Sue should’ve gotten more time in flashback to be shown recovering. That’s legitimate. But it wasn’t her story — it was about the super-heroes and how this kind of horrible violence to their families made them do things they otherwise wouldn’t. And as Cody pointed out, it’s not like Sue had a legion of fans before Identity Crisis.

  3. Identity Crisis reminds me of the beginning of Anna Karenina by Tolstoy.

    “Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”

    For me, Identity Crisis was about imploding families. It wasn’t just revisionism, it was honest. The cringe inducing scene where Batman and Robin rush home that you point out is genuine, not based on spectacle, but angst and dread, feelings all of us are well acquainted with.


    I would definitely urge you to go pick it up, library or purchase. Well worth it.

    Great article Cody.

  4. Cody, what a great article. I really agree with it, and I said a few of these things myself (a bit more flamboyantly), while the series was being published. But it is just amazing to see the revisionist history not only attacking but really slandering this trailblazing and generally damn well-done series. Thank you for stepping up to defend it!

  5. Well said and quite timely. Identity Crisis was one of the richest mainstream stories of the last decade. I was actually surprised by Morrison’s comments because he was quite complimentary about the series in his book.

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