High Five! Comics

20 (Or So) Best Comics of the Decade: 1. Identity Crisis

Posted on: March 16, 2010

Remember in ninth grade, when you were totally into that girl in your Honors English class? She was the only reason you ever feigned interest in the Bouncing Souls and Perks of Being a Wallflower. And then, one day she calls you and is all, “Hey, meet me at the Chinatown Express. We totally need to talk.” Oh, god. Man, you needed to get down there. There she is. In the corner with her $1 side of beef broccoli (beef removed in a poor attempt at vegetarianism) and a fortune cookie. This is it. Oh man oh man oh man. “Hey, there, Girl-in-your-ninth-grade-Honors-English-class, what’s up?”

“I just haaaave to tell somebody! I just lost my virginity to the forward on the varsity soccer team!”

That’s Identity Crisis.

But, what was it exactly that made this book so heartbreaking?

In the 1990s the comic industry began delving deeper and deeper in to events. These events were more geared at getting the readers’ money than actual substance. Investors were buying up anything and everything they could get their hands on, and story arcs like Death of Superman or Spider-Man’s Clone Saga were written to shock rather than move readers, and the characters devolved to cheap shots and gimmicks. By and large comics were gussied up with trading cards, black Mylar bags, holographic covers, and many promises of “out with the old, in with the new”.

Right around 2000 (how appropriate for this countdown), things seemed to change. Marvel produced both Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man and Morrison’s New X-Men while DC released Kevin Smith’s run on Green Arrow. This seemed to mark a change in the status quo and comics began to actually focus on who characters were. In other words, the Big Two opted for quality over quantity. Published in 2004, Identity Crisis epitomized this push towards character development.

As a warning, there will be many major spoilers from here on out.

Before Identity Crisis, if I were to ask a comics novice who Sue Dibny, Jean Loring, Jack Drake, Digger Harkness, or Ronnie Raymond was, the response would probably have been a blank stare. Fortunately, DC had been experimenting with thriller novelist Brad Meltzer, who followed up Kevin Smith on Green Arrow. Pleased with the results, they gave him a seven issue mini-series called Identity Crisis. The premise? Apparently to make you cry.

The Silver Age had established how much Ralph (and the rest of the DCU) loved Sue Dibny. A lot of Batman stories involving Tim Drake talk about how he is the only Robin to have ever had a parent to go home to. Former Flash Rogue Digger Harkness (aka: Captain Boomerang) has decided it’s time to pass the torch to his estranged son, Owen Mercer. Jean Loring and Ray Palmer are trying their best to fix their ridiculously rocky relationship. Brad Meltzer does an amazing job setting you up to feel for all of these pairings before taking each and every one of them out in the most gut-wrenching ways possible. Not to be out-done, Rags Morales managed to capture every ounce of heartache in exquisite fashion. Morales’ depiction of Ronnie Raymond’s final moments alone were enough to send me to my cupboard for a hit of Jack Daniels.

Toss in a couple abominable revelations about Doctor Light, Sue Dibny, Batman, the Justice League, and the fact that Identity Crisis was one of the most referenced works in 52 (arguably the turning point in current DC continuity) and you will see why Identity Crisis made #1 on our list. Perhaps Joss Whedon put it best in his introduction for the trade: “Even if you know what happens, you have to live through it. That’s the feeling this book gives you — of living with these people through their pain and triumph and madness, and did I mention the pain? You will come through it with a new understanding of the world before you. You will see.”

There you have it, folks. Identity Crisis was High Five! Comics’ favorite comic of last decade. It wasn’t the most important comic, nor did it revolutionize the industry. We picked Identity Crisis because it made us cry. There were no gimmicks. There were no cheap shots. Just a cast of characters transformed from b-listers to people we genuinely cared about. The last decade saw an abundance of high-quality and entertaining work. Yet, at the end of the day it wasn’t the powers, or the costumes, or the action that we loved most. Identity Crisis was a story about fragile humans, ripped from their tough-guy lifestyle, and doing the best they can to cope with a harsh world.



4 Responses to "20 (Or So) Best Comics of the Decade: 1. Identity Crisis"

Wow, while I didn’t agree with the rest of the list, I could still see why you chose those, but Identity Crisis is one of the worst books I have read.

You are right that it has been a turning point for DC, and I do definitely agree that this is a relevant, important and influential piece of work. It seems that ever since this came out, DC has constantly been trying to up the ante with the goriness of their events, from Superboy Prime mutilating several Titans in Identity Crisis up until the recent death of Liam Harper in Cry for Justice. Identity Crisis marked a precedent, but I would argue that it was not a good one, that was nevertheless followed upon by other authors.

Hey Matt,

You know, when we finally compared all of our own individual top twenty lists and found that when we combined them Identity Crisis took the top slot, we knew we’d be seeing a lot of comments like this! That said, I think it’s a matter of taste – I like the direction DC books took post-ID Crisis, to be honest, it was only in the past five or six years or so that my loyalties switched from Marvel to DC, and Identity Crisis was one of the deciding factors. I’ve noticed that older DC fans have a huge bone to pick with ID Crisis, perhaps because it changed the dynamics of the DCU so much, but honestly, I think think the change was a good thing.

Just to be clear, I actually read Identity Crisis when I was jumping into the DCU at large, and I didn’t mind it so much when I first read it perhaps because I was rather unfamiliar with the universe. Looking back at it, like I said above, the precedents that it set have been horrendous.

And while it is somewhat unfair to judge a book by the legacy they leave (can we take away praise from Watchmen and DKR for the wave of grim n’ gritty they unleashed in their wake?), I think such a factor should be counted when compiling a list like this one.

But then again, what do I know? DC’s latest event ramped up the gore to unseen levels. It’s hard to imagine that 30 or so years ago, zombies and the undead were still taboo in comic books, and today we have a major event surrounding them that is selling like hot bread.

Hurm, that last paragraph of this second comment I left came out sounding rather nostalgic, which was not my intention at all. Don’t get me wrong, I usually hate when titles/lines/companies get stuck in a never-changing status quot, that caters to the old fans above else. I am in favor of CHANGE! but this is one of the few instances where I would argue that the change was bad.

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