The Worst and the Best of 2004

January 12, 2005

By Avi Green

It’s that time of year to look back and review what came during the rest of it. And to look over the bad things first before getting to the good stuff later on. So here goes.

And the losers are...

Identity Crisis. I will never, I repeat, NEVER be able to understand how it is that nobody can see misogyny when it’s there, or any other form of prejudice for that matter. But aside from that, what really offends me about this collosally overrated miniseries, DC’s “event of the year”, is that it destroys much of what made the DCU such a wonderful thing to read about years ago, and dumps on the past without offering anything of similar quality to show for it. Rather, what it does and what the fatal flaw is about this atrocity, is that it practically makes almost every superhero here seem either as amoral as the villains they fought against, or just plain stupid and even ignorant.

The miniseries is supposedly a murder mystery story, but the thing is – just how many more murders do we really need to see in comic books anyway? And deaths of both major and minor characters, to say the least, is starting to become more than a bit overused, not to mention more than a bit insulting to boot. And the victim, it pained me to see, was none other than the beloved Sue Dearborn-Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man, Ralph Dibny, and a character in whom I saw some good aunt-like qualities, and who could make a good mentorial figure for various other characters in the DCU. (Not to mention that I have an aunt who looked almost like her years ago.) But it gets worse. After being revealed as having been pregnant at the time when she died, in issue 2 of this miniseries, Sue was retroactively raped by – get this – a costumed supervillain, that being Dr. Light.

Now I suppose this might be the age of “hyper-realism”, whatever that means, as someone once argued to me, but even so, I have to ask – doesn’t the whole idea of what is more or less a cartoon character in a funny-looking costume going around doing something like that sound more than a bit absurd? Not to mention almost silly?

No wonder I couldn’t take that whole premise seriously. Forget that it was way out-of-character for Dr. Light to begin with, and that he was much more honorable than that in the Silver/Bronze Age, what I don’t see is how it even makes for a convincing premise, whose sole reason for existence was to serve as a source of anger for the male characters.

To make matters worse, the “revelation” of Sue’s victimization was almost entirely ignored soon afterwards, and even then, she was carted off the panels right afterwards, and aside from a very brief scene of her crying and being angry and miserable about what Arthur Light did to her, we never even get to know how she personally feels beyond that. We never get her own personal viewpoint or discussion of how she felt to be a victim at the hands of Light, who’s unlikely to ever regain the kind of prominent status he had years before again after this atrocity.

This pretty much sums up how just about all the women are depicted in this bigoted little book, as either ineffective in combat (Black Canary) or in magical skills (Zatanna), or, they’re depicted as nosy and scheming, as in the tragic case of Jean Loring, the ex-wife of the Atom, being revealed as the murderer. Yep, you read that right, a WOMAN is revealed as being the culprit behind both the death of the first woman, and even the death of Robin’s father, Jack Drake, and sending the other superheroes on a wild goose chase.

That also very much sums up the main problem with the miniseries: it’s forced beyond belief in its implications, phony in its resolutions, and worst of all, it all seems so perfectly, and deliberately, planned in how things will look and be shown. Wonder Woman, rightfully described by Karen Berger as a sensitive, caring woman when she was a leading editor at DC, is here made out to look like she doesn’t care about what’s been going on at all, and serves as little more than a tool for Green Arrow when it comes to investigating the possible suspects, who aren’t even guilty in any of this, which in turn makes Ollie out to look like a pimp.

Now it’s true that even the male characters here come off very badly, and I felt sorry for Flash when he was stabbed by Deathstroke in the third issue, but that doesn’t mean that the misogyny isn’t there: the women have virtually no voice of their own whatsoever, and to make matters worse, when Jean is revealed as the culprit, not only is she abruptly revealed as insane, she even invites Ray to hit her! I’d rather not get into details about her incarceration at Arkham (!), or what a newspaper headline announces afterwards.

Most irritating thing about this series is how it uses a couple of “moral equivalency” methods, that doubtlessly being the male characters being as much victim to acts of insult as the women are to being made to look inferior. But to make matters even worse, is that the miniseries reeks of the same errors as those that littered some of Marvel’s own books in the 2001-2003 era, such as Amazing Spider-Man’s 9-11 issue, and even Captain America in Marvel Knights: “blaming the victim”. (Be sure to check this old classic of mine for more on that subject.) This list of scapegoats includes not just the USA, but even Israel, and after reading this article in The Forward, in which the author speaks of his Jewish heritage, claiming that it finds its way into his works, and reading a TV review in the New Yorker, in which I discovered that the Jewish mother of one of the characters is described, not as Jewish, but rather, as “nothing” (I don’t even want to think about what the rabbi told him), I realized that it could be even worse than I thought. So in other words, Meltzer is attacking his own birthright? Tsk…this is something I’ll certainly have to write more about later on.

In a way, I almost feel sorry for some of the knee-jerk members of establishment who not only defended this book regardless of its distasteful execution (including Alex Hamby of Hero Realm, someone whom I used to respect but now find myself unable to), and then, when it became apparent that mystery was not the real theme here, actually went so far as to make up excuses by claming/arguing that it wasn’t a mystery to begin with, but rather, ummm…gee, I don’t know. A suspense tale, perhaps? Please, can’t they do better than that?

Identity Crisis is a glaring example of how crossovers, or even so-called “events” that come close to being that, are getting worse and worse, and the companies that own them are not even trying to offer any genuine pleasure to new readers that can make them genuinely impressed. This series, to say the least, is something that can further the impression that comics today are little more than a source of entertainment for perverts.

Recommended links:
Comics Worth Reading essay
Reading Along essay
World Famous Comics: Tony's Tips column
Fourth Rail review
Notes from the Peanut Gallery reviews
Paperback Reader review, by Erin M. Schadt
Comics Worth Reading weblog entry, 7-28-2004
Precocious Curmudgeon weblog column, July 28, 2004
Comics in Context #57: As Grim as it Gets
Comics in Context #58: Crisis of Conscience
Ninth Art article from July 19, 2004
Ninth Art review page from August 9, 2004
Spatula Forum review
Titans Tower weblog review
Cinescape review
Savage Critic review by Brian Hibbs
Polite Dissent review
Google groups discussion
Delenda Est Carthago weblog review
Websnark weblog review
Comics should be Good weblog entry
Sequential Tart discussion
BeaucoupKevin review
Howling Curmudgeons entry from December 16, 2004
Franklin Harris weblog review
The Johnny Baracadi Show, Dec 18, 2004
Precocious Curmudgeon weblog entry, 12-20-2004
Dave Fiore's Culture Blog, 12-21-2004
Ninth Art yearly wrapup for 2004
Ninth Art article from December 20, 2004
Dead Chicks and Mayhem weblog, December 20, 2004
Highway 62, December 31, 2004
Comics in Context #67: Mistaken Identity (page 7)
Dave Fiore's Culture Blog, Jan 3, 2005

Avengers Disassembled. Writer Brian Bendis may have made it no secret that he borrowed – or rather – recycled – the terrible John Byrne-scripted plot from West Coast Avengers in the early 1990’s, wherein the Scarlet Witch (and Quicksilver) went nuts and went over to the bad side Magneto was on at the time, as the catalyst source for this underwhelming mess, but that is still no excuse for what it’s turned out to be in the end: just another weak excuse for making change for the sake of change, and introducing a new volume called New Avengers, which features some not-so-new faces on it, such as Spider-Man, and probably even – gulp! – Woverine as well.

Now I can certainly more than accept Spider-Man as part of such a team, but Logan? Be reasonable, please. And when you see that the women of the Avengers came off very badly in the end, you know something’s wrong.

Obviously, from what’s turned out, it’s apparent that this is something that’s given the blessing to be fixed later on, Scarlet Witch and all. But even so, that’s no excuse for it’s being done in the first place.

Recommended links:
Ninth Art article from September 6, 2004
Comics in Context #63: The Syndrome Syndrome (page 3)
Panoramically Challenged, 11-24-2004
Panoramically Challenged, 11-25-2004
Precocious Curmudgeon, December 22, 2004

Amazing Spider-Man: Sins Past. I guess the character assassination against the Atom and his ex-wife, and even the Scarlet Witch, wasn't enough, was it? Now, it looks as if even Gwen Stacy's been getting her turn in front of the gun. This is yet another of Marvel/DC's incredible discriminations against female characters circa 2004, and only serves to further my impression that J. Michael Straczynski's got very little affection for the characters in Spidey's world, if at all.

Batman: War Games. I think I can sum this one up in one word: obnoxious. Just like IC above. That is what sums up even the bias featured in here against Stephanie "Spoiler" Brown. And to think, that this second of DC's needless crossovers that exist only to defame and cheapen their source material, also existed solely for the purpose of killing off yet another female character, not to mention even a black character as well, that being Jean-Paul Valley, the vigilante also known as Orpheus.

Flash #213. Now here’s a disgusting idea for “updating” a villain: have the Turtle, a crook who worked well enough as a one-shot kind of criminal in his time, be implicated as a possible child-molester while on the loose in his latest scheme to milk the town of all its money. Or is that his real intention? I don’t know for sure, and I really don’t care. What I do know is that I’m astounded and disappointed in Geoff Johns for resorting to a low denominator for the sake of trying to make an old villain who’s outdated interesting. In some cases, his updates certainly worked well enough, but here…wow, he really bombed out. And the following issues, which claim that Barry Allen and Zatanna worked together once to try and change the Top’s personality, because he was more morally bankrupt than the other Rogues, does not make much sense either. I just hope he was only lying when he said that he got the other Rogues’ to reform when they did though.

Now for the good stuff…

Superman/Batman #8-13: The Supergirl from Krypton. Wow. It may not be 100% perfect, but the return of Kara Zor-El to the DCU and Superman’s world proved to be quite a crowd-pleaser, and while some may not think Michael Turner’s artwork is great, I do. It was with this story arc that the book really picked up (though I can’t say I’m all that eager to try out the following arc), and from sales, I can see that this was how some people thought to retaliate against Identity Crisis’ disrespectful treatment of continuity and its characters. Practically every issue of Kara’s return was number one on the charts!

I figure it’s possible to say that, after this, Darkseid will make as good an archnemesis for Kara as he does for Kal-El. Yes, I wouldn’t be surprised if the two of them do have a showdown in the future. Wouldn’t that be something? As it would if Kara and even Bart “Impulse/Kid Flash” Allen were to become a teen couple, their otherly-world and different-timeline backgrounds making them a perfect match for each other.

Kara Zor-El’s return to the DCU, plus the news of a new solo series for her later this year, was by far one of the best things about this year, and I strongly recommend checking this out.

Wonder Woman #203-205. Greg Rucka’s storyline here turned out to be very interesting, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the upcoming battle with Medusa, revived by Circe for the sake of her sisters. Plus, even the upcoming crossover with the Flash, in which the new Zoom joins forces with Cheetah!

Birds of Prey. Gail Simone's run on DC's sleeper hit series that began with Chuck Dixon as the writer, was one of the best surprises of the year, with Ed Benes' artwork one of the best things going for it as well as Simone's writing, which is as funny as it's exciting and adventurous. Quite simply one of the best showcases for Black Canary, and Babs Gordon, and also the Huntress, who joined full time as a partner with Dinah and Babs under Simone's penning.

Hawkman. The Gray/Palmiotti team has certainly succeeded in turning out some good stuff on this title, giving the Winged Warriors some more good adventures to match the quality of those produced by Geoff Johns during the first two years of the fourth volume, including a battle against vampires who've invaded St. Roch. I’m very excited to see in time what more can be done with Lion-Mane and Trygg the Sorceror.

And with that, we now end this column! Have a good year, everybody.

Copyright 2005 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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