Following Part One—cover by Michael Turner, rights with current holder.
I think the mindwipe plotline is what turned me off to Identity Crisis the first time I read it. Partly because it doesn’t quite fit. We have a straightforward murder mystery (who killed Sue?) and of revenge and justice, and then we have the mindwipe plot, which is not, in fact essential: if the Leaguers didn’t tamper with Dr. Light’s mind, he could still have gone after Sue, following his vow to keep punishing the JLA by hitting their loved ones.
This may have been something DC cooked up with Meltzer (it had ramifications in a lot of books) or it may have been his idea. When he wrote the JLA book a while later, he mentioned that he looked forward to taking Silver Age naivete and raising ethical questions about the heroes’ actions. And that rarely works for me. Sure, the Silver Age was naive. Heroes are good, villains are bad, you can trust the system and trust the good guys. The victories are clear, without having to employ morally questionable methods to get them.
But however impractical that may be in real life, I like the ideal. It may be unattainable in real life, but that’s the nature of ideals. And the flip side—cutting questionable deals, doing dirty work in the shadows, tampering with your friends’ minds as well as your enemies—can be just as naive. Sure it sounds very tough to talk about how we have to lower ourselves to the other side’s level, it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it, blah-blah, but that can easily turn into a short-cut: we’ll do the dirty work in the shadows without really questioning whether it’s ethical, or necessary, or if there’s another alternative. Or if working in the shadows even works (the book Legacy of Ashes shows how little use the CIA’s been over the decades). As someone put it online recently, Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men, snarling that “You need me on that wall!” is a delusional thug—but to some writers, he’s a role model.
It’s one thing if Meltzer wanted to argue the morality of erasing memories when someone learns your secret identity. It’s another to suggest they’ll reprogram Dr. Light and even Batman and try to justify it. That I don’t buy. I also think Meltzer cops out a little by asserting that Batman and Superman know what went down at some level but choose not to know … why the hell would they do that? Particularly Batman?
Rereading though, another problem leapt out at me: the mystery simply doesn’t work. Meltzer’s set it up in classic fashion: Everything points in one direction, then it turns out the solution is completely different (e.g., “We thought it was one of the people he sued—but the killer is the one person he didn’t sue!”). Instead of Dr. Light, it’s Jean.
Trouble is, this only works if a)the first direction looks logical and b)the revelation of the real killer makes perfect sense. This series fails on both counts.
Meltzer emphasizes, repeatedly, how awesome Batman is. Yet somehow the world’s greatest detective misses that Sue hasn’t been flash-fried by a laser, she’s been burned by some sort of flame-thrower. No way do I believe the two effects are the same. No way do I believe Bats would miss that—or Ralph Dibney, but he’s obviously preoccupied by Sue’s death. So the whole plotline of hunting Dr. Light makes no sense at all.
And neither does the unmasking. There’s nothing, absolutely nothing, to indicate that Jean has gone insane (she has had mental problems before, but she was cured and Meltzer doesn’t suggest otherwise). Insanity in a set-up like this is a cheat as it saves Jean having to have a rational motive or doing anything logical like asking Ray out.
Beyond that, there’s the women-in-refrigerators angle, which I’ll get to tomorrow.