Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Story About Some Stories

People don't seem to like Identity Crisis. Hmm.

My experience with the Justice League started with the Superfriends TV show back whenever that was. I started collecting the comics with #216, which was cover dated July 1983 so it would have been out a few months earlier, making me 8 and a half years old.

The plotline from those days that I most remember, issues #221-223 (cover dates Dec 83-Feb 84, so they were released as I was reaching my ninth birthday), featured animal men that ran to-the-death gladitorial death games for the amusement of rich folks. It was rather brutal, as the Flash was gored by a rhino-man, Elongated Man was flattened in a steam press, etc. The animals were vicious, killing their own henchmen in cold blood (in-panel, no less). I remember it being comparable to Savage Sword of Conan blood-wise (no clue how accurate that is with almost 30 years of hindsight).

The takedown in 223 is pretty brutal as well, as Aquaman telepathically lobotimizes the whale-man, and pretty much all the beast men are either killed or go on to become simply animals.

Some miscellaneous stories occur (including a fun appearance by The Paragon which has stuck with me, no wonder since looking it up now it was written by Kurt Busiek) and the satellite is trashed and here come Steel, Gypsy, Vixen, and Vibe starting in issue #233, cover date December 1984. It was obvious this was a "second string" league but I thought it was fun because it was obvious the League had a long history and while it was cool reading something that was obviously bigger than what I held in my hand month to month, I felt like this fresh start meant I was getting in on the bottom floor.

One part that stuck with me for years and years was them moving into the new headquarters, and Ralph and Sue Dibney were painting the place so it would be more homey. (and I remember the "Chartreuse?" joke about their sense of style... something I was able to appreciate when finally getting into Morrison's Doom Patrol in the past year, and that team moved into this same headquarters and there were a few panels of unremarked-upon chartreuse walls as background).

Eventually things went to hell with Despero showing up and turning Gotham City into Hell and blah blah. So I don't read Justice League again for almost 20 years. Late 2000s I pick up Identity Crisis based on recommendations. ("It's great!" "It ruined the JL!" hmm, have to try that out.)

That the story that hinges on stuff that happened around the time period when I started reading, that it's about what happened to Sue Dibney, Sue "lives with the League and helps paint their headquarters but isn't a superhero or anything!" Dibney, that drew me right into it. Didn't know who Firehawk was, never heard of this Kyle Raynor guy (the last time I'd checked up on Green Lantern, he was hanging out with these aliens and this orange alien GL that looked like a little girl had unconsciously willed her body to change to look like a mature human so Hal Jordan would feel comfortable being with her... heady stuff for an 11 year old to read, which is how old I would have been when these issues came out), wait, I'd read Crisis On Infinite Earths and I thought Dr Light was a girl?

(speaking of Crisis, I don't know the Titans from the hole in my ass, but Crisis gave each character ridiculously blatant expository dialogue to help out young chumps like me who didn't know who 75% of these people were... and Starfire's exposition was basically "impulsive and emotional," "worried about her home planet," and "open about sexual matters"... so when people started complaining about how she was handled in the DC reboot, hell, I thought that's how she's always been and how she's supposed to be)

So yeah, I think Identity Crisis was an awesome story. It really humanized everyone in a way the 80s comics never did (although the throwaway death of Firestorm was ridiculous, he was one of my faves when I started reading the League). That it also gave narrative weight to The Atom was awesome for me, because he was the one that (ironically!) loomed very large on the first superhero comic book I ever bought.

That it "ruins" the innocence of the league by being "mature content" and retconning a dark "secret history" into things and not just being escapist superheroism... well my short run with reading the League in the 80s as a child featured man-beasts engaging in bloody slaughter, the "secret origin" of the Black Canary, their headquarters getting absolutely trashed and the team effectively disbanding to be reformed by the third string and a bunch of n00bs, alien plant life sucking the youth out of the League AND IT WAS ALL SUPERMAN'S FAULT based on some "secret unknown history" from a long-ago plotline, and a demon reborn through fire turning Gotham City into a blazing hell-dimension.

Maybe those old issues would seem childish to me today. Dunno, I seem to be fine with Marvel reprints from the late 60s and 70s (the early 60s though, wwhheeww) and the early 70s Green Lantern/Green Arrow stuff (heavy-handed, but not childish).

But innocent escapist superheroism? That's never what stuck in my mind from my JLA past. Identity Crisis fit right in, and the damn book made me cry ("Bruce, please. Please help hm...." the look on Batman's face right then... yikes.), the only other comic besides Cerebus that's gotten that reaction from me.

(after finishing every phonebook I used to call--or wish I could call--my then-girlfriend, an Atlanta-to-Vaasa call, because of how depressed and lonely Cerebus made me feel... absolutely devastating, unparalleled storytelling with a heaping helping of legitimate insanity so that even when it was boring, it was never _boring_).

I'm sure whatever point I had when I started writing this has been killed, dismembered, and buried in a shallow grave by now, but for some reason I felt the need to tell the story.


  1. Identity Crisis is my favourite comic. An amazing read.

  2. The three hundred pages of not-funny Stooges with fucking Blackletter lettering were pretty terrible.

    I don't give much of a fuck if Dave Sim thinks women are evil spirits made of neutrinos who want to depolarize his precious bodily fluids, but he earned my enmity with the goddamn Stooges.

    Convince me I'm wrong.

    1. OK, yeah, the Stooges stretch was pretty awful. I'd blocked that out of my mind.

    2. Stooges were made worse because he was actually pretty good with Groucho Marx in early Cerebus, as there is only two types of people, those who like Marx Brothers and those who like Stooges, and clearly Sim was one of those who like Stooges way too much.

    3. The Stooges-as-MaMaLuJo stuff was tiresome (Spore? blah) but damn, when you get to the actual biographical material in the middle of Latter Days, the material about Curly's stroke and what a bastard Moe was, and Uncle Milty doing the triple-take...

      ...well, apparently I cried less reading Cerebus than Jim, but I bawled like a baby to read that stretch. Same thing with the climax of Minds, same with Jaka's Story, same with C's vision of She-shep as a child...unbelievable.

      Plus the panel-borders-only section of Latter Days, on the staircase, renders half of Understanding Comics flatly unnecessary. It's weird to think that the man had lost his grip on reality somewhere in the middle of the 26 years but took bigger and bigger technical and creative risks up until the end.

      One of my best friends used to tell me every few weeks that he would die like Cerebus, 'cold and alone, unmourned and unloved,' and we'd laugh because that was ridiculous (e.g. I loved the man so how could that be?) but over the years I came to realize that he actually believed it, that the comic had shattered something inside him and nothing I could say would fix it.

  3. I Cerebus-era Earth (Kinda medieval sometimes but with different politics and clothes, wait, gas lamps and musketeer hats) the same as LOTFP:WFRP Earth?

    1. Actually these days Earth is LotFP Earth. Look at me, I say "City adventures? The adventure is out there!" and release a city book, I say "don't use real Earth!" and now I'm using real Earth.

      What else did I say not to do? I'm probably doing it now. I'm like a Jake Roberts "Don't Do Drugs" PSA.

    2. I kind of like idea of adventurers meeting with Hemingway, perhaps playing a game of diamondback with him and afterwards continuing their journey with airship. Dispite how hard, arduous and raw the comic got (I felt that SIM was peeling his brain open and inviting us the readers to take a look.) it still had lot of whimsical things and turns and Gerhards gorgeous work has staying power.

  4. also i dislike 'identity crisis' only in that it's a book in progressive drag that resorts to the most offensive, lameass cliches when it's time to wrap things up. structurally that shit is airtight, and the good parts are just fantastic. but it's 90% of an all-time classic and 10% puerile horseshit.

    cerebus gets away with a worse classic/horseshit ratio because over a quarter-century you're gonna shoot blanks once in a while, and most of the lunacy is still really funny and/or jawdropping in some way. also he's crazy so we make allowances. meltzer's not crazy. no excuse.

  5. BTW now that we all are yammering about Cerebus, you folks propably already are aware of it but I thought it might be worth mentioning that there is digital edition of High Society being funded in Kickstarter. I have to say it looks pretty sweet.