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Thursday, August 19, 2004

 
Chris Allen on Identity Crisis -- Chris Allen asked me to post this to the blog...

Courtesy of John Jakala's blog, I see Scott Tipton has unsurprisingly weighed in on Identity Crisis in his normally uncontroversial but entertaining Comics 101 column. I say "unsurprisingly" because I know Scott and how nostalgic he is -- he works for a toy company. Here's what he says:

"The biggest problem I have with the story is that, dramatically, it's still something of a cheat. The reason the murder of Sue Dibny is so shocking is because of the emotional investment that longtime readers like myself have in the character, thanks to the fine work of others, and to first cash in on that for shock value by brutally murdering her, and then to taint the older appearances by inserting this horribly degrading assault years into her backstory, making it hard to re-read those appearances without recontextualizing them through the prism of this brutalization, seems to me at best a cheap and lazy manner in which to generate an emotional response in the reader, and at worst an outright slap in the face to all of those writers and artists who came before you. Without cashing in on the readers' investment in Sue Dibny, it's hard to say that the story would have any impact at all. As the late great Mark Gruenwald said, 'Every character is somebody's favorite.' You shouldn't kill them off lightly, or worse, ruin their old appearances in retrospect."

There's a lot that's wrong with this, much as I like Scott. The very fact that a few (DeMatteis/Giffen and...?) have made Sue Dibny likeable instead of the dishrag cipher most superhero gal pals are is the VERY REASON TO use her in such a dramatic, tragic way. I'm sure some fans complained when Frank Miller made ditzy arm candy Karen Page into a junkie whore in DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN, and those who recognized the quality of the story quite rightly ignored these people. Drama doesn't have to apologize to you. There's little shocking or interesting or dramatic about the rape and murder of a character you've never even cared about. I mean, who would be acceptable as a replacement for Sue? Fire? Ice Maiden? Amanda Waller? They're someone's favorites, too, I'm sure, and when should that ever enter into a creative decision? Every superhero writer working today builds upon what others have done with the same characters. I don't see any indication that Sue was killed off "lightly"; certainly the whole sequence leading up to the murder was about reminding readers why Ralph and Sue had such a great relationship. The real "cheat" here is in calling Rader's creative decision one that was made "lightly", when any writer knows you have to "kill your darlings" and not let your own affection for a character get in the way of telling a gripping story. As far as ruining old appearances for a reader, that just seems like a hangup Scott and other readers need to work out. I don't honestly care that much that Chris Claremont and other X-writers seem to be erasing everything Grant Morrison did with the X-Men, because I still have these great hardcovers to read and can ignore the stuff I don't like. That someone would now go read some 70s DETECTIVE COMICS Elongated Man story and now think, "but...but Sue shouldn't be smiling here--She was ruh-ruh-raped!" is just bizarre and sad to contemplate.

"Still, even though I disagree with the decision, I have to admit that the story is gripping and well-told, and at least DC isn't reveling in the murder and torture of its characters the way Marvel is nowadays, with the gleeful stripmining of the proud, four-decade-spanning Avengers heritage (complete with a ghoulish 'check-'em-off-as-they-die' chart at the Marvel Web site - no thanks, Marvel, I don't need to pay that close attention as you disembowel my childhood), all so they can replace the team with a slapped-together mishmash of top-selling Marvel characters that have little to do with the Avengers concept. Feh."

Yeah, like DC didn't ever do anything so ghoulish as, oh, I dunno, have readers vote on an 800-number whether Jason Todd should live or die. Good for them for taking the high road. I agree the death chart is really tasteless, though. "Slapped-together mishmash" seems unfair before we even see the results, however. It's interesting that Scott does agree that IDENTITY CRISIS is "gripping and well-told" when he doesn't like some of the events in it, which is a credit to Scott as a reader and commentator. After all, to paraphrase Alan Moore, part of being a writer is not giving readers what they WANT, but what they NEED. I'm not saying specifically that there was a "need" for Sue's rape and murder, but there was a need for a big story with actual consequences and real emotional impact, which IC delivers. -- Chris Allen


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