Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

November 21, 2006

Little Mandolins And Perhaps A Cape

The only thing that's revelatory to me about this Johanna Draper Carlson analysis of an ex-DC employee's description of how the high-selling 2004 Identity Crisis series came to be is that it makes it look like DC Editorial was more of a participant in its creation than I had thought.

For those of you lucky to miss it, Identity Crisis was a seven-issue superhero mini-series whereby the ugliness stakes were raised in the more traditional, old-fashioned DC Superhero Universe of Batman and Superman by taking a minor but reasonably well-liked non-powered character, the Nora Charles-like Sue Dibny, having her raped and later murdered. This allowed for 1) "emotionally-ravaged" Elongated Man (Ralph Dibny), which is about as appealing to me, at least, as "consumed-by-revenge Ralph Malph," 2) a murder mystery, albeit one solved by goofing around with an even less important character, 3) some bizarre plot moves (as I recall: brainwashing) enabled by the crime that not only artificially harshed things up for the ongoing DC soap opera but explained away lighter-in-tone comics of the 10-20 years past, 4) throwing a temporary wrench into the unquestioned rightness of the DC superhero model that would of course be removed from the gears in a later mini-series and 5) a lot of standing around talking and speechifying about heroism and limits, with Superman even pulling some Iron Eyes Cody rolling tears action on one of the covers, the greatest moment of comic book camp since Jimmy Olsen stopped wearing dresses.

The series was, of course, a big success. It led to the current cycle of event comics series at the top of the sales lists, which may or may not be a good thing in the long run.

In the end, the only thing learning about DC's editorial involvement in Identity Crisis tells us is that popular writer Brad Meltzer probably didn't create his comic out of whole cloth backed by complete creative freedom, which given the result's sweaty-palmed goofiness in my opinion benefits the reputation of popular writer Brad Meltzer. As for the rest of it: cynical, manipulative mainstream comic book companies with an eye on the bottom line and a willingness to play to some pathetic aspects of the overall readership -- this is hardly new, and has been a part of comics since the first time they chained Wonder Woman to a giant penis substitute and made a Batman bad guy's calling card a grotesque form of post-mortem rictus. If it feels new, it may be because there still are very few answers that explain making art of that type that aren't 10,000 times more cynical than the art itself.
posted 2:31 am PST | Permalink

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