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Identity Crisis #5-#7
Reviewed by Jayme Lynn Blaschke, © 2005

Format: Comics
By:   Brad Meltzer (writer) and Rags Morales (penciller) and Michael Blair (inker)
Genre:   Superhero
Review Date:   January 20, 2005

Identity Crisis #5

The fifth chapter of Identity Crisis (issues 2-4 reviewed here) is easily the most powerful yet. Chock-full of rich character moments, the story nevertheless manages to cram in some excellent slam-bang action as well as one of the most suspenseful confrontations in comics history. All while keeping the readers on the edges of their collective seats, puzzling over the impenetrable mystery of "Who's pulling the strings?"

The issue opens with the heroes going on the offensive, cutting a swath through the criminal underworld. Sue Dibney, wife of the Elongated Man is dead. Jean Loring, ex-wife of the Atom, has just survived an attempt on her life. Lois Lane, wife of Superman, has just received a threatening letter. The heroes are not about to let the killer claim another victim.

In the midst of all this, the Atom and his ex share a tender reconciliation, which shows why Meltzer is absolutely one of the best character writers working in comics today (however limited his contributions may be). Meltzer understands these characters at a basic level, which goes well beyond the superficial stereotypes I've often seen other writers fall back on. Ray Palmer, the Atom, is one of the most powerful and intelligent crimefighters in the DC universe, but his criminal mishandling over the years as "the guy with the lame shrinking powers" is one of my longstanding beefs. And Loring, who is usually portrayed as a one-dimensional placeholder — when she's portrayed at all — comes off with an impressive depth and nuance here.

Unfortunately, the issue's biggest failing is one imposed on Meltzer from the outside. Obsessed with pointlessly "re-imagining" characters, DC recently relaunched Firestorm as an ongoing series — only the title character was not the one familiar to long time DC readers. To make room for this new version, it was fairly obvious the old one's days were numbered, and indeed, halfway through this issue, the original Firestorm meets his demise in by-the-numbers fashion. The death-by-editorial-edict stands out all the more in contrast with the other clever character work here.

But it's the edge-of-your-seat finale that pushes this issue over the top. Two parallel stories — one featuring Tim Drake, AKA Robin, and his strained relationship with his father and the other with Captain Boomerang and his newly-met, illegitimate son — literally steal the show. Geoff Johns has earned widespread acclaim with his development of the Flash's rogues as interesting individuals, and Meltzer carries that a step farther as Boomerang, desperate for some measure of respect in his newfound son's eyes, gambles on a desperate, last-ditch chance to score big. And Robin, conflicted over his role as an underage hero, struggles with his conscience as he leaves his disapproving father at home while trying to track down the at-large killer with Batman. The realization that everyone's being manipulated comes too late, and the utter tragedy that slams down like a rain of steel is both unexpected and obvious in hindsight.

This single issue is one of the best of the year, bar none. I only hope Meltzer is up to maintaining this level of quality for two more issues.

RevolutionSF Rating: 9/10

Continued . . .
Jayme Lynn Blaschke is fiction editor for RevolutionSF.

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