They say the only three certain things in life are birth, death, and change. When it comes to comic books those things are also certain as they come in the form of retcons, reboots, and resurrections.
For our purposes retcons are elements that are retroactively added into a character’s history after the fact, reboots are either big full change revivals of a character/title or are extensive changes to their canon, and resurrections are characters making the return from death or character limbo.
Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections.
When it comes to anything DC Comics related, the word “Crisis” is almost synonymous with retcon or reboot when one gets down to it. Every time there is a crisis, whether the word is in the event title or is used to describe said event, there is little doubt that some editing to continuity is about to go down.
Some of that editing is welcomed, helping streamline things and moving things into new realms. Other times the editing that is done is disliked or just bogs things down till it’s eventually forgotten or retconned itself. There are a few instances though where the retcon editing is fully hated and is just toxic in nature.
One of those times was known as Identity Crisis.
(+++ TW: The following discussed storyline is one that deals with heavy depictions of brutal assault, rape, and murder. +++)
What Was It?
Throughout fiction, the idea of heroes with flaws or issues is a prevalent one because it makes them similar to the rest of us. Marvel heavily ran on that idea when they began, to stand in opposition to how a lot of DC’s heroes were seen as “flawless Gods” in many regards. Over time both companies have become similar where characters have struggles and flaws and issues to deal with all the time.
Billed as a murder mystery, Identity Crisis (from Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales, Michael Bair, Alex Sinclair, and Ken Lopez) was built to run heavy on the idea that these heroes are flawed. Rather than being an event about a huge world ending/changing crisis, the crisis in this regard was more rooted in the personal levels of the heroes. The identity part has to mostly do with secret identities, and what happens when those become known.
Sue Dibny, a fan favorite type of character who was also married to Ralph Dibny/The Elongated Man another favorite, is the one that is murdered in the opening salvo of this story. Brutally murdered, then burned, and to add insult to injury she was going to reveal to Ralph that she was pregnant with their first child. This slap to the face revelation was just the beginning of what this event wrought upon the characters and the publisher as a whole.
As the heroes gathered following this tragedy, faced more with the idea that their loved ones could be in danger because of what they do, an investigation begins. A group of members from the satellite era Justice League (Green Arrow, Black Canary, Hawkman, Atom, and Zatanna) assume that the killer is Doctor Light and prepare to pursue him, much to the confusion of the other heroes. To the world at large Doctor Light has been a “joke” of a villain for a long time, regularly beat up by the Teen Titans and others. When confronted by Flash (Wally West) and Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) about this very fact, the old guard reveals their reasons and also reveal their own sins.
Killing Sue wasn’t enough for this story, no, the powers that be (reportedly coming from the top editors and VP Dan DiDio) decided that she should have been raped in the past. Per these reports, this was chosen because Sue was a “pure” character and “the girl next door” and the idea that it would “darken” the considered “corny” Raplph to have this happen to his wife.
The story flashes back to Doctor Light getting aboard the JLA satellite and brutally assaulting and raping Sue. While Ralph took her to the hospital, the rest of the League (including Barry Allen/Flash and Hal Jordan/Green Lantern) made a fateful decision to deal with Light and his disgusting behavior as he threatened to do it again.
At this moment they reveal that they routinely had Zatanna use her magical abilities to erase memories of villains, especially once villains learned secret identities or identities of loved ones. With Light though, they went a step further and completely changed his personality and turned him into the “joke” villain that everyone has thought him to be for years.
Their sins didn’t end there. Not only did they regularly use this sort of trick on other villains, but it is also revealed that Batman showed up after the vote was taken and tried to stop the others from doing this to Light, and in order to stop him they erased his memories as well.
The event continues on with Ray Palmer/Atom’s ex-wife Jean Loring seemingly being attacked, Captain Boomerang taking a hit job on Tim Drake/Robin’s father Jack (they kill each other), Firestorm is killed in a battle with some of the various villains the heroes are targeting in their investigation, and the bonds between heroes crumble more as the villains gain a stronger foothold in the world.
But there’s more. Turns out that the person behind everything was in fact the aforementioned Jean Loring. She didn’t like the ex part of ex-wife and figured that scaring heroes by targeting their loved ones would get Ray to pay attention to her again and rekindle their relationship (which it did until Ray realized she knew far too much about the attacks then she should). Instead of scaring Sue as she planned, she ended up killing her after using Ray’s old costume and leaping into Sue’s brain (the investigation found small footprints on Sue’s brain).
Confronted by Ray, she confesses to it all and basically dares him to put her away which he promptly does, turning her over to Arkham Asylum.
Was It Good?
If you couldn’t tell by the language used above, it’s 100% absolutely not good. It’s offensive on just about every single level that something can be.
Reportedly this was all born out of this idea that in order to catch up to Marvel in sales, DC needed to get darker and bleaker and more “adult.” Sadly this was just the beginning though, as this darkness continued and led to Batman creating Brother Eye, the death of Blue Beetle, all of Infinite Crisis, and much of the messes that followed it.
The glee that reportedly was coming from within at the ideas of pushing rape and extreme violence within these stories, is beyond repulsive. Not a single moment in this book is done with any sort of weight or purpose beyond just lurid shock effect. Everything about it just feels slimy and toxic, from beginning to end.
Kicking off an event by brutally murdering and raping a character, only to have that whole situation and murder mystery be a red herring for another female character’s actual issues and then wrapping it up in a bunch of heroes proving just how shitty they actually are is sure something. Not something good, that’s for certain.
Its treatment of women is clearly atrocious, because besides being attacked and turned into cliche villains most of the women are just background props or one-note figures. Honestly this comic is mostly a bunch of white cis heterosexual male characters doing awful shitty things and a bunch of them lecturing everyone else about why their shitty awful things were justified.
Next Week: The column hits the big 2-5 and we take a look at the most ultimate of reboots.