High Five! Comics

Posts Tagged ‘Jean Loring

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.

-Rob

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atomhm coverIn his DC Nation column this week, Dan DiDio announced the temporary resurrection of eight discontinued DC titles for January, the Blackest Night skip month. I was psyched to read that Geoff Johns would be in charge of writing the Atom and Hawkman #46. Ray Palmer and Jean Loring’s destructive relationship was a huge deal in Identity Crisis – yikes – and it resulted in a ridiculous amount of death. Blackest Night #1 gave us Black Lantern Hawkman; I’m betting that the Atom and Hawkman #46 will deliver Black Lantern Jean (yes, she’s dead, dammit, see Green Lantern #43). Holy crap.

Then it dawned on me, what better time than now to recap the last issue of the original Silver Age run of the Atom and Hawkman? Prepare yourselves, for Ray, Jean, and Carter in October 1969’s “Queen Jean, Why Must We Die?”

The issue kicks off with Jean Loring lawyering it up in defense of an unnamed client (who totally wasn’t at Harry’s Hot-cha Hacienda on the 24th, by the way) when suddenly, all of the jurors and the judge get this creepy smiley face! Jean freaks the fuck out and runs outside where EVERYBODY has the same face. Fortunately, she gets through the hallucinations and gets up to her apartment to relax. Of course, being a Silver Age woman, she’s gotta look in the mirror first and, who’s staring back  but Creepy Smiley Face McGee? Spooky!

An hour later, Ray Palmer walks up to the apartment building, stroking his unified alpha field-detector (wink?) when a flying vase almost hits him square in the dome! It turns out that Jean was the one who threw it, trying to take out the building’s bellhop! She’s trying her damnedest to hit him with an ashtray when Ray blindsides her and stops her the Hank Pym way.

After telling the building superintendent that he’s got an ugly looking head, Ray escorts Jean back to her suite, where she fills him in on what’s going on. It turns out that a while back she tried defending a murderer named Lenny Kirtman, failed, and got his ass sent to the electric chair! But before Ray can finish trying to tell her that Lenny was a bastard, he noticed that his unified alpha field doohickey is glowing like crazy, meaning that the room is full of radiation! He kicks Jean out and shrinks his ass down into the totally sweet 1960s shag carpeting. But before he can land, something coats his arm in silver (I guess Silver Age characters LOVED coating other characters in precious metals).

atomhm villainThe Atom plays possum until his attacker comes out from behind the carpet fibers. Turns out the guy is a microscopic gnome in a suit of armor with an upside-down fruit bowl on his head! After realizing that he’d seen the armor before (and noticing another weird techno-gizmo), Ray “applies his fist vigorously to the side of the opponents face” (uh, he punches him in the mouth). Ray apparently had enough time to write an opus on how to punch, but I guess just didn’t have any time left over to plan out where his enemy would land. Whoop! The dwarf guy lands next to the other gadget-thing! The gnome grabs the alpha field thingabobber and shoots alpha-beams right at Ray! Ray grows as fast as he can to escape, but is it too late?

Yes. Just as he becomes full sized, he passes out and wakes up to find Jean gone! He freaks out and decides to call up Carter Hall at the museum and ride the phone lines to him. After Ray gets Carter up to speed, he realizes that one of the suits of armor in the museum is identical to the gnome’s.  It’s and ALINE suit, and it was discovered in Death Valley! Carter (now in his Hawkman get-up) and the Atom race to Death Valley and decide they need to shrink down to sub-atomic size to save Jean Loring from her microscopic prison! Wait, when was she captured? Whatever.

As soon as the pair arrive in Sub-Atomic Land, they’re attacked by a bunch of gnomes on robot birds. Carter is outmaneuvers them,  no problem, but then in comes the last robot bird, carrying Jean Loring! She’s dressed like a Disney princess and talking like a creepy pervert (“Naugh-teee! You’ve been sooooo bad, Hawkman! Queen Jean will punish!”). Anyways, Hawkman and the Atom get shot with lasers and they pass out.

When they wake up (sans Carter’s wings and the Atom’s dignity), one of the alien gnomes decides to tell them their story. Turns out that they really are aliens from the planet Jimberen! They landed on Earth to try to colonize with the cavemen, but their queen instead decided to marry a neanderthal. Soon after, the aliens shrunk to escape a plague that only affected the Jimberen, killing their normal-sized queen. It turns out that Jean is a direct decendant to the long-dead queen and, according to custom, she needed to be driven insane and put in charge. Because Jean Loring is really fit to lead when she’s in a mood, right? The gnome shoots our heroes with another laser, binding an anti-escape harness directly to their flesh’s molecular structure “through your clothes.” Basically, they’re doomed to stew in their own juices forever (gross).

atomhm wedding

Queen Jean yells for the pair to be put to work and they do so, enduring a whole day of pyramid building and soup eating. The Atom flips out after a while, so he and Carter decide to fake their own deaths by jumping off of a cliff. Jean and the head gnome just kind of go, “Well, that sucked,” and walk off, allowing Carter and Ray to make a break for the machine that controls their anti-escape harnesses. Ray reverses the polarity on the machine, freeing them. And then comes the most abrupt ending to anything ever.

Carter gets his wings back just by asking for them. The Atom grows to back to man-sized. He shoots Carter and Queen Jean with the embiggening laser and everybody is happy. Oh, except Jean Loring is still insane and thinks she’s a queen. Also, we don’t know what the fuck was up with that killer’s face subplot. But, I mean, plots don’t really HAVE to get resolved, right?

No, they do not.

No, they do not.


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