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The Identity Crisis trade paperback collects the 7 issue serial of the same name that was originally published by DC comics in 2004 - 2005.
Written by Brad Meltzer it tells a story of the lengths that super-heroes will go to to protect their families when the super-villains get personal.
The story primarily features DCs 'big' characters - Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the Justice League of America, with cameos from some of the lesser known.
So what's it about?
A family member of one of the JLA is murdered, I won't say who as I don't want to spoil anything, and as the team investigate a dark secret is revealed.
Ever wondered why the super villains don't regularly target the heroes through their families? You find out here.
As the heroes work their way through their list of subjects we discover that the heroes have crossed the line in the past. The wife of a hero was once subject to a sexual assault by a super-villain and the JLA committed an act that was unheroic. Again, I won't say what but it may change the way you view these heroes.
As the hunt for the murderer progresses a hero dies, another hero loses his father, a third hero retires, seemingly forever and the DC universe is left a darker place. The heroes are now tainted and this would lead into further stories down the line.
When the murderer is finally revealed it's shocking, it's tragic and it's not what you'd expect. I certainly didn't see it coming & I've been reading comics on & off for 30 years.
So, we have a storyline with far reaching consequences, DCs major players involved in a murder mystery, the characterisations are spot-on, there's triumph, there's tragedy, intrigue and betrayal and a decent twist in the tail. So why do I have nagging doubts about this book?
I'm all for super-hero comics to deal with adult themes, threes numerous comics aimed at mature audiences that I've enjoyed over the years and I know that comics aren't just for kids.
But this is a book set in the main DC universe, it's not an alternative reality story, it's not a stand alone mini-series, it ties into their ongoing continuity.
It's a book that stars Superman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern etc etc. And it changes their stories going forward.
Threads from this series lead directly into the big storylines of the following few years at DC. If kids read '52' or 'Countdown' or the JLA titles they're going to want to track this book down to see what happened.
And there's the problem. This is a book that deals with the rape of a heroes wife and with the heroes taking morally dubious steps to ensure this can't happen again. As a parent would I want to discuss this plot with a pre-teen child?
I picked my copy of this book up from my library and the library staff had taped a label on the cover - 'graphic novels sometimes contain material that some may find offensive 15+' but on the book cover itself there's nothing to suggest that this might not be suitable for youngsters. If your child picked it off the shelf in the book shop and asked if they could have it you'd have no idea. It's just a comic book after all....
The story is very good, well plotted, well paced and holds the attention. There's the odd jarring moment -for example a hero who's been around since the late 1970's appears for just a handful of panels and is then killed off without any real pathos- but on the whole it's a very good example of a mature readers storyline.
The art by Rags Morale and Michael Bair is also excellent, they have numerous characters to depict and apart from the odd panel of Green Lantern, they nail it.
Apart from the fact that I'm not sure that DC were right to include sexual assault as a plot device in such a high profile, far reaching story this is a good graphic novel. For the heroes to cross the line they do there had to be a significant act against them but I'm not sure it should have been rape as the story focuses not on the fact that this is a heinous act but more on what the (predominantly male) heroes do to prevent it happening again. There's an interesting treatise on violence against women in comics which you can track down on the net called 'women in refrigerators' if you're interested.
Overall this is a book I would recommend to comic reading adults but you may want to avoid leaving it where your kids could pick it up and I really think that as the cover clearly shows mainstream DC characters such as Superman that it should also carry a mature readers label.
Currently available from independent sellers on Amazon from £10.63