The Identity Crisis Annotations
Notes to Issue #1
by Michael Hutchison
Ralph "Elongated Man" Dibny and Lorraine "Firehawk" Reilly are conferring about the contents of a package that is being sold in a black market deal in Opal City. They are on stakeout, speculating as to what could be in the crate. Firehawk suggests that it could be "an Amazo."
Elongated Man: Between this site and the background given by writer Brad Meltzer in this issue, you don't need me to tell you much more about Ralph at the moment.
Firehawk: Firehawk first appeared in the pages of Firestorm as an opponent of Firestorm. She was the daughter of a politician, kidnapped, brainwashed and forced to undergo a transformation into Firehawk via a recreation of the same nuclear accident that created Firestorm. She is now a powerful superheroine in her own right, though one that DC has grievously underused for many years. Her last worthwhile appearance in a comic book was in Chase #4, almost half a decade ago.
Firehawk has never been teamed with Elongated Man before, but Opal City, the hometown of the Starman dynasty, tends to bring together characters who haven't had a chance to shine. Elongated Man received a small spotlight in the pages of Starman toward the end of that book, playing a pivotal role in saving the city. Writer James Robinson also reinforced the idea that Elongated Man is a top-notch detective, an equal of Batman and probably regarded as the best in the world publicly since Batman is an urban legend. Batman may be a better detective, but you can't easily reach him, whereas Elongated Man is a public figure.
Amazo: Amazo is an old Justice League villain, the android creation of Professor Ivo. Amazo has the ability to steal and/or duplicate the superpowers of an opponent...and as he has met most of the superheroes in the DC Universe, he is obscenely powerful. The reference to "an" Amazo is an intriguing development. Although there is really only one true Amazo android, Professor Ivo has built other androids with superpower-stealing abilities...most notably in Justice League Quarterly #5, although those androids (dubbed the "men in black" - no relation) were destroyed. There is also an incident in Justice League Quarterly #12 wherein a radically-redesigned, skull-faced Amazo took on the superteam known as the Conglomerate; although that was allegedly the real Amazo, and he did reappear in that form sometimes in issues of Hourman, it does indicate that the parts were floating around available for illegal purchase.
I have to note the marvelous detail in Rags Morales' art here. This is the first time that Elongated Man truly appears to be wearing a stretch nylon garment, as opposed to just looking like a painted up Ken doll. Indeed, all throughout the book Morales gives every indication that "realistic clothing" will be his niche, the way "jamming dozens of tiny people into a panel and making them all recognizable" is George Perez's niche.
Ralph muses about his friends' deaths, while Firehawk talks about Amazo.
Elongated Man is referring to the deaths of the Flash (Barry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and the two women who took turns in the role of Crimson Fox (Vivien and Constance D'Aramis).
The Flash: The Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen. Elongated Man's best friend, hands-down, who sacrificed his life to save the Earth during the Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985 (our time, natch). Ralph Dibny first appeared in the seventh issue of the Silver Age Flash comics...oddly enough, as a hot new superhero who was upstaging The Flash and making Flash feel inadequate! Remember that for later.
Green Lantern: The Silver Age Green Lantern, Hal Jordan. While certainly a good friend of Ralph's, I'm unaware of any real instances where they were buddying around. Still, they were Justice League compatriots for years. Many years later, in what is widely-regarded as horrible treatment by DC, Green Lantern had a change of personality and became a killer who slew many of his old friends and tore down everything he stood for. He would later try to redeem this by first sacrificing his life to save Earth and then reappearing years later as the soul now animating The Spectre. Neither of these were truly satisfying and DC is now planning to somehow restore Hal's life (and perhaps his reputation, if possible) in a new Green Lantern series later this year. After Hal's death, there was a funeral ceremony. If you squint, you can see Elongated Man in the very back row of the chapel, seated by Black Lightning, while the Legion of Super-heroes, who barely met the guy, are in the front of the chapel.
Crimson Fox: Okay, don't ask me to keep straight which one is which, but Crimson Fox was portrayed by two French twins, one who had an accent and one who didn't. One of them fell in battle during some incomprehensible fight with giant earthworms (it was the later, bad years of the Justice League Europe/International title). Her sister tried to launch a new European branch of the Justice League, but she and most of her compatriots were murdered at their first meeting by The Mist, who wanted to prove herself. Crimson Fox died from a slit throat. (See Starman #38)
I have to credit Meltzer with an insightful list of the dead. He lists people Ralph would know from the League, even though there have been other funerals of note, such as that of the beloved-by-fans Tora "Ice" Olafsdottir. In practical terms, real one-on-one conversation between Ralph and Tora was limited, as they belonged to teams an ocean apart much of the time. Other funerals (Green Arrow, Metamorpho, various JSA members) have been undone by resurrections.
I think the only oversights, and I understand the practical necessity that not everyone can be listed in a little caption, are Paco "Vibe" Ramone and Hank "Steel" Haywood of the much-castigated Justice League from the Detroit era. Ralph and Sue Dibny lived in the JLA headquarters with them and got to know them well, and they were the first two active Leaguers to die at the hands of an enemy. Vibe's death has to be a regret for Ralph, as the last time he saw Paco alive the two came to blows, and Paco refused to accept his apology. Mention of Paco and Hank may have been worth including, considering the nature of this mini-series: they died at the hands of Professor Ivo (see Amazo, above), who was striking at the younger and less-experienced members of the team. Their deaths are still felt by Martian Manhunter, who had come to regard the close-knit team as a family.
Speaking of Amazo, you have to wonder at the naivete of Firehawk's question as to whether she and Elongated Man would be able to handle an android with the powers of Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, etc.
Elongated Man then says that he has been doing the superhero game for almost 20 years, and Firehawk is "a puppy." This bears a little exploring, although any real discussion of DCU time is bound to be both fruitless and inadequate to the subject. (I and others have discussed DC's timeline in detail in Fanzing.com magazine.) The reason is that Ralph debuted as Elongated Man almost the very same month that the Justice League of America first appeared in Brave and the Bold #28. On most every timeline, Superman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern and the Atom appear shortly before Elongated Man, meaning that Meltzer's claim here implies that Superman and Batman have been doing this for 20 years. This is double the ten-year timeline established in Zero Hour, and though events have happened in the last 10 years since then, no one has posited that ten actual years have gone by. (Robin, Superboy and Impulse haven't aged much at all!)
Aside from the implications that Superman and Batman must be pushing 40, a twenty year DCU timeline actually makes far more sense. Take Dick Grayson, the former Robin now known as Nightwing, who appeared as a pre-teen after Batman had been active for over a year or two and is now 25 (more like 30). But if we accept a 20 year timeline...then Firehawk, a character who appeared in the early 1980s, has to have been active for almost half of that timeline and be about 30 herself. She's an experienced crimefighter, hardly a puppy...though Ralph has a good decade on her and could be just watching out for the younger hero.
Ralph Dibny celebrated his 30th birthday in Secret Origins #30, 1988, which was just about Ralph's only appearance between the end of Justice League of America and Justice League International #24, the issue that kicked off Justice League Europe. Thus, assuming he was in his early 20s when he became Elongated Man, the halfway mark of this 20-year timeline must be around the time Justice League Europe was formed.
Of course, if there is a 20 year timeline, then Garfield Logan (Beast Boy/Changeling), a character from the Silver Age, should be about 32 by now, instead of de-aging over in the pages of Teen Titans. Ah, the agonies of comic book time.
Panel 3 raises an issue that probably never occurred to Meltzer during scripting: How does a woman with a huge plume of blue flaming hair conduct covert surveillance at night?
Ralph and Lorraine discuss mysteries, supervillains, and whether Ralph's nose really wiggles if he senses a mystery.
NICE! I thought I was the only one in the world who grasped this aspect of Ralph's personality. Ralph doesn't like villains. A good many villains are out of Ralph's "weight class", if you will. Even in this situation, a teleporter with electricity powers is going to be difficult for Ralph to handle. Add to that the threat that they pose to Sue, given the number of times she has been zapped, injured or kidnapped, and it's clear why Elongated Man would rather stick to using his mind and body to solve puzzles and tackle hired gunsels.
Ralph Dibny's famed characteristic wiggling nose is obviously an aquired affectation, as I doubt it did that before he became a stretchable sleuth. Firehawk's question leads to the most-quoted line from this book.
Ma Kent is cutting out pictures of Superman's activities for her scrapbook.
I'm surprised Clark still allows her to do that, given that her previous scrapbook fell into the wrong hands. Clark, not knowing it was hers, asked Batman to find out what the book was about, which led to Batman figuring out that Superman is Clark Kent. Pretty dangerous hobby Ma has. But what can you do? Scrapbooking is now a verb, so I guess Martha Kent was just ahead of her time.
The picture shows Superman and the 1940s Green Lantern, Alan Scott, capturing the Psycho Pirate.
The rest of the page is a cute scene of Clark and his mother arguing about her purchasing the Daily Planet when he could get her on the comp(limentary) list.
Ma and Pa Kent are now looking mighty old. I guess that's because I haven't read Superman since the "Adventures of Lois and Clark" years when the characters were resembling the TV actors and ma was getting a modern hairstyle and doing aerobics. But then, they must be pushing 80 if Superman is almost 40 (see timeline discussion above).
Martha Kent had tried to have a baby with her husband Jonathan for many years and was presumably reaching the end of her childbearing years when they found Clark's rocket. After two miscarriages and a stillborn child, they had almost given up on having a baby. Under the cover of a blizzard that snowed in all of Smallville (caused by the villainous Manhunters, who wanted to isolate the Kryptonian child until they could retrieve it), John and Martha Kent pretended that he was their own child born during the winter. Jonathan Kent was originally a World War II veteran of the war in the Pacific, where he was held in a Japanese hellhole of a prison camp. By the 1990s, this was retconned to be Korea. I'm guessing someday soon he'll be a Vietnam Vet.
Superman gets a pager note from Oracle (presumably) that Sue Dibny has been killed, an event we haven't seen yet. Switching to his costume in a few nanoseconds, he realizes that this could be part of a plan to strike at several Justice League members through their loved ones and tells his father to lock up.
A cute moment which reminds us that there are many things Clark doesn't share with his parents. Strange to think that in the DC Universe most people don't know what we know by heart: Batman is an orphan.
In 1986, when Superman was relaunched, it was decided that Ma and Pa Kent would still be alive. For the first 48 years of his comic existence, he'd been an orphan just like Batman. Thanks to this change, Superman and Batman are now clearly people shaped by the presence or absence of their parents.
Superman: Aside from a few DC Comics Presents stories that have been lost post-Crisis, Superman and Elongated Man aren't the closest of pals, though they are fellow Justice League teammates from the "Satellite Era" of the JLA. The Satellite Era refers to the arguably-greatest years of the JLA (early 1970s to 1984), when the team swelled to 16 members strong and was rendered by artist Dick Dillin followed by George Perez. Ralph Dibny joined during that era.
After Superman's 1986 reboot, the editors of Superman kept insisting that Superman was never a member of the team. (Batman editors did the same thing.) After a decade and a half of such selfish nonsense, they relented and allowed DC to have Superman and Batman in the Justice League again, and then backdated the history to once again insert Superman and Batman into the League again. (This re-retcon, or whatever you'd like to call it, was established during July 2000's "Silver Age" event.) This is important, because without this history on the team together, Superman's contact with Ralph Dibny is almost-nil!
Oddly enough, Superman and Sue Dibny have a connection. When Power Girl was mortally wounded (JL Europe #8), Sue called Superman for help while the rest of the team was at a loss. I believe he and Sue have talked at other times, though none are springing to mind at the moment.
[Of course, one of the best Superman and Sue Dibny stories was one I planned to write for DC one day...but obviously that's never going to happen now. Damn it.]
Nightwing and Starfire are at the grave of John and Mary Grayson in Gotham City when they get the call.
Nightwing was formerly the original Robin, the Boy Wonder. He retired that identity when he'd outgrown it and became Nightwing, the leader of the New Teen Titans. During his time with the Titans, he fell in love with Starfire, a warrior princess from the planet Tamaran. The two almost married, but the wedding ended in disaster. Since then, Nightwing began a new relationship with Barbara Gordon, formerly Batgirl, now known as Oracle. (Currently, they have broken up.)
Nightwing and Ralph Dibny are kindred spirits, both being detectives with a circus background. During Ralph's trek from circus to circus to discover Gingold, he probably ran into the Graysons! [Actually, I have just such a scene in the Elongated Man Year One story I planned to write for DC which, obviously, is never going to happen now. Damn it.] The two got along well during a circus performance for charity with Superman in DC Comics Presents #58 , though that story is perhaps another one lost to continuity.
Ralph Dibny and Starfire have absolutely no personal connection whatsoever, barring some unrevealed tale of the past.
Green Arrow, his son and Wildcat are in a gym when they get the call.
Okay, this is confusing enough if you don't know your backstories.
The people interacting here are a father and son who both have used the identity of Green Arrow. When the father, Oliver Queen, perished in an explosion caused by eco-terrorists, the son, Connor Hawke, took over the identity and served in the Justice League for a time. Then his father was brought back to life and became Green Arrow again, but his son is continuing to go by that name as well. I think that's about the simplest way I can put it.
The man in black is Wildcat. Boxer Ted Grant adopted the identity in the 1940s. Yeah, he is 80 years old.
Like many of the member of the 1940s Justice Society of America, he was granted a long youthful existence due to numerous magical and scientific events, including the explosion of Ian Karkull which imbued them with temporal energies. Later, as after five decades this didn't seem to be explanation enough for why the JSA members all still looked like they're 45 years old, they were "killed" (not really, but placed in another dimension where they would live forever fighting the Norse gods) in the excellent Last Days of the Justice Society. Six years later they were brought back in the completely forgettable Armageddon: Inferno mini-series. Since then the team has lost several members due to age, and the rest have had their youth explained by personal fortunes. Green Lantern Alan Scott has his magic ring energy keeping him vital. Likewise, the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, has his speed powers granted by the Speed Force keeping his body in top health. As for Wildcat, though it isn't fully explained how, he indeed has nine lives like a cat.
Ted Grant has been the personal trainer for a slew of superheroes (at least, this has been retconned into their origins now that, post-Crisis, he has occupied the same Earth as them), everyone from Batman to Black Canary. Here we see this newfound tradition continuing with Connor Hawke.
Panel 8 makes me laugh. Ted doesn't need to clarify that they're talking about Elongated Man! I realize this is somewhat for exposition purposes...just a reply to move the conversation along...but if anything it should come from Connor. Wildcat is probably a good friend of Ralph's, as they are both from the down-to-Earth cliques of their respective teams. Heck, that skinny shrimp had to learn how to fight from SOMEBODY, why not Ted?
Green Arrow relates one of Sue's previous birthday mysteries for Ralph, wherein Barry Allen disguised himself as an old man to fool Ralph. More on this below, when it's mentioned again.
Connor's comment is the first real hint as to who has been killed in this issue, but it sure seems like a bad time to make a witty joke. Oliver has to be one of the closest remaining friends to the Dibnys.
Pages 8 - 10
Ralph Dibny retells his love affair with Sue Dearbon.
More foreshadowing. If anyone had any doubts that Sue will be the one to die, this beautiful retelling of Ralph and Sue's love affair seals the deal. For me, these pages are just heart-breaking. For many other readers, especially the punk fanboys who moaned that killing off Sue would be so lame because nobody cares about her, Meltzer is giving the 411 on a love affair that really hasn't been given any attention in ten years. The fans that don't care will care once this is over.
The only real mistake, if it can be called that, is that I thought it was clear that Sue and Ralph didn't meet in Central City. Meltzer's the writer, so if he wants to countermand such a minor bit of trivia, it's his right to. Still, I thought it was a central part of Sue's character that she's a big city, East Coast, summer in Martha's Vineyard, trips to the Hamptons, private tutors, jetting to Europe to shop rich brat. For Ralph, a guy from Nebraska, she's an opposite and way out of his circle, but they meet and fall in love. It's the kind of screwball story told often in the 1930s. Having Sue be from Central City, MISSOURI, just doesn't seem to have that kind of impressive class difference for them to overcome. Debutante balls are local affairs, held to impress all of the rich snobs' friends in the area, so a New York gal isn't going to have hers in Missouri, either, so I can't think of how you'd blame this on a trip.
[Not that it really matters at this point. It only matters to me because of the Year One story I had sketched out to pitch to DC, which takes place entirely in the NYC-Gotham-Metropolis area. And now I'm never going to get that story sold to DC anyway. Damn it.]
Page 10, panel 1 is a bit odd. Firehawk says that Ralph is getting mushy about Sue, but all of his captions on the previous pages were internal monologues. (They don't have quotation marks around the words and they are orange.) We'll have to assume that he's been telling her the story similar to what he's thinking internally, but we're seeing a few additional private thoughts.
Bit of a retcon with the next panel. Sue never got to hang out on the satellite, which is why Ralph insisted that the League allow Sue to move in with him when the JLA became a full-time organization based in Detroit. Still, there's no reason why this scene couldn't have taken place. [In fact, I'd planned to show just such a scene in flashback when I wrote an Elongated Man comic someday. Of course, not now. Damn it.]
Firehawk's question about Wonder Woman is odd, given that Elongated Man and Wonder Woman effectively do not know each other at all. In 1987, George Perez rebooted Wonder Woman's history and started her off as a new character, which means she was never a member of the Justice League of America. This is yet another decision which, while made for arguable reasons and resulting in some good stories, looks like the wrong choice in retrospect. (I'm being generous: I thought it was a poor choice back then. I hated losing Wonder Woman from all the great Justice League stories.) We'll be getting back to this later. In any case, why Firehawk mentions her as though Ralph has ever considered her as a replacement for Sue is baffling. But to the average DC reader who is oblivious to all this backstory, it's probably an obvious question: Ralph was in the JLA and everyone knows that Diana is in the JLA.
I should offer a caveat: There are obviously a ton of untold Elongated Man stories, given that he's been active for all of these years that he's been unused by DC. This is even hinted at here, as Ralph talks about being on stakeouts with Black Canary, Zatanna and Power Girl, which we've never seen on the page. I suppose that it's possible that Wonder Woman and the Dibnys have become fast friends and this all happened off-panel.
Ralph and Sue's backstory continues, but this one centers on his "birthday surprises."
Sue has pulled a number of these mysteries, although only a few of them have been told to us. Once again, we are told about the case where a mysterious old man turned out to be Barry "Flash" Allen in disguise, which happened in Detective #449 back in 1975. That this should be mentioned twice seems significant, though I have no idea why.
It makes me wish that the murder later this issue is a setup, with some invulnerable superheroine in disguise playing a trick on Ralph, but of course it isn't. Sue would never take a birthday mystery that far. Hey, maybe the woman in the apartment is not Sue but a twin or a double, set up for the prank, and she gets offed by the murderer who mistakes her for Sue! Well, why not? It worked with Scully's sister on the X-Files!
There are other birthday mysteries worth mentioning, such as Mark Waid's immortal story in Justice League Quarterly #6, "Take My Wife, Please," wherein Sue disappears from a locked room. I am certain Meltzer has read it, because it established two elements incorporated here: That Sue has begun staging the mysteries on other days because he is too well-prepared if it's on his actual birthday, and that Ralph usually has solved the whole mystery before it even starts but plays along for fun.
I guess Meltzer and/or Morales didn't use "Dibny Dirt" as a reference, as my notes for that story clearly state that Sue does not know Barry Allen is the Flash, but panel three here shows Barry underneath the old man's mask, right in front of Sue. Not the world's worst retcon; I don't think it was ever established when Sue learned Flash's secret identity, just that this story clearly established that she didn't know it.
Hey, is it just me, or does Sue look Jewish in all these flashbacks? Her cousin, mentioned in a Justice League of America issue, has a Jewish name...but I'd bet $20 that Morales didn't know that. Regardless of whether Sue is a WASP or a Jewish princess, either works for her character.
Pages 12 - 14
We see Bolt in his car, running a background check on the punks he's meeting via a conversation with an underworld information source formerly known as the Calculator.
Bolt is alive! How about that. I always thought it was dumb that a guy who can teleport would die getting eaten by army ants in Suicide Squad (second series) #3, and it was a waste of a great character. Of course, I would like to know how he did it, given that we saw his skeletonized corpse. If DC is declaring that that whole Keith Giffen Suicide Squad series didn't happen, that's fine by me.
Bolt is Larry Bolatinsky, an engineer who worked with special effects/stuntman Dan Cassidy in inventing the Blue Devil costume, which later bonded to Cassidy and turned him into the adventurer of the same name in the series of the same name. Bolatinsky became Bolt, a villain-for-hire who fires lightning bolts and can fly and teleport thanks to his costume. Bolt has had a much better career in DC than Blue Devil, actually, as he's a distinctive hired assassin with a cool gimmick and he looks great in group villain shots. While he has intimidating offensive abilities, and can teleport away, he isn't able to take much damage in an actual fight, which is why he's scoping out his business associates.
Calculator is, indeed, something of a joke in terms of presentation. His costume and motif are strictly a thing of the times, the 1970s, when pocket calculators were amazing devices that allowed people to do math without the use of slide rules and long paper calculations. My parents had a calculator that was two inches thick, had a massive battery and was a major purchase for them. A decade later, calculators are thin devices selling for 10 bucks, powered by the sun and available as a trinket in any grocery checkout line. In our current era of personal computers, laptops and PDAs, it's tough to understand why anyone was impressed by the calculator.
Thus, the supervillain known as The Calculator is, to modern eyes, laughable. Still, as created by Bob Rozakis, he wasn't THAT lame. He had a costume lined with computer circuitry that analyzed a foe's abilities during battle and then prepared countermeasures so that the Calculator could not be defeated by the opponent again. Cripes, when I describe him like that, he sounds like THE BORG! Give him a new name and a better costume, he could still work.
Or, as shown here, he could latch on to Oracle's schtick and offer it to villains. Information brokers for criminals aren't new to the DCU. An organization known as Meta-Wise operating in England once placed a microcamera in the eyeball of Power Girl's cat, only to find that the cat's meanderings around the Justice League Embassy resulted in endless shots of toilet bowl water, mice and garbage cans. Still, the organization has never been shut down. [I intended to use them in an Elongated Man story one day, although that can't happen now. Damn it.]
An oddity is the reference to Huntress, as opposed to Oracle's longtime operative Black Canary. Huntress only joined the Birds of Prey team in recent issues; before that she never had the equipment to talk to Oracle in the field. Unless Calculator launched the operation extremely recently, this is a bit of an anachronism.
Calculator refers to the D.E.O., the Department of Extra-Normal Operations, a government agency that handles superhero and supervillain activitity. For more, see the excellent, short-lived, much-missed series Chase.
Bolt is having money problems. Seems unlikely for a guy who can do a snatch-and-grab more easily than anyone save a superspeedster.
"Firehawk or Flamebird". Flamebird is a modern day retcon of an old Teen Titans character. Flamebird is a would-be companion to Nightwing, a tennis pro who dresses in a bright red costume and tries to tag along with the Titans, but not much of a crimefighter in her own right. Bolt is right to be worried that he could be facing either a costumed vigilante wannabe or a nuclear-powered fire goddess.
Ralph Dibny and Firehawk discuss the danger to Sue of being married to a publicly-known superhero, and then Ralph takes a guess at his birthday present: an antique magnifying glass.
I think it's pretty clear by now that Sue's in that coffin. And yes, my heart was in my stomach by this point.
Ralph refers to the technology in their apartment: Martian (home of Martian Manhunter), Kryptonian (Superman's technology, natch), Thanagarian (Hawkman's homeworld, though this is a big ball of wax) and a "mother box" (a supercomputer from the world of the New Gods).
May as well deal with this here: Hawkman's continuity is a major mess, far worse than Wonder Woman's retcons or Superman and Batman being removed from JLA history. In 1989, writer/artist Tim Truman wrote "Hawkworld" which rewrote Hawkman's history to be dark and tortured. The book was so successful that it led to a new Hawk-book, but some editor decreed that instead of being a new backstory to the character we all knew, Hawkman and Hawkwoman would, like Wonder Woman a few years previous, be reintroduced to the DCU as new arrival characters.
Who would have thought that such a minor character could leave a gaping hole far bigger than Wonder Woman's revamp did? But he did. Removing Hawkman's historic roles (friend to The Atom on numerous cases, a major player in Justice League of America for most of its run) destroyed numerous Atom and JLA stories, and removed Thanagarian tech as the explanation for the JLA's amazing satellite and teleporters. Plus, without Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Hawkman and Hawkwoman, those old Justice League stories were getting to be a bit understaffed! On top of all that, the Hawks had been active throughout the 1980s, fighting a major war with their homeworld, escorting Superman back to Krypton, and playing a role in the Giffen-era Justice League. In other words, the retcon was wiping out stories that people had just purchased months prior!
The new Hawkworld and Hawkman books spent far too much time trying to putty up the gaps in DC history, finally explaining away the Hawkman in Justice League as being the original JSA member who was now serving as a liason between the teams, and after Hawkman was sent to limbo with the JSA some spies from Thanagar posed as Hawkman and Hawkwoman. (With me so far?). This meager patch to the problem was insufficient. The Golden Age Hawkman was an Egyptian using a mystic metal, not a Thanagarian, and he couldn't offer any technology to the League. Plus he was a senior citizen. And on top of all these other problems, the new Hawkman books stunk up the place, despite numerous different takes on the character. (First he's an armored fascist who "flashes meat", in keeping with the dark early 90s, and then he's a native American alien with wings growing out of his back.)
Geoff Johns has managed to salvage Hawkman in the pages of JSA and a new Hawkman series, but the current Hawkman is just a reincarnated version of the classic flying Egyptian character. The Silver Age Thanagarian Hawkman is still greatly missed.
SO! All those paragraphs were used just to explain that the Justice League still isn't likely to have scads of Thanagarian secret technology. Perhaps Meltzer should have just written "Rannian", since Adam Strange is an honorary member of the JLA and he could have offered plenty of technology from that advanced world.
The Question is a rather intellectual mystery man.
Sue is on the phone with Alfred Pennyworth, butler to Bruce Wayne. This heavily implies that Sue Dibny knows Batman's secret identity! It's refreshing, but post-Crisis DC rewrote Batman's history so that Batman didn't reveal his ID to most of his fellow superheroes, and as recently as Batman: Gotham Knights #42 Batman and Elongated Man didn't appear to be very chummy.
Ralph, being a master detective, probably deduced most of the secret identities of his fellow superheroes, a trait he showed in Detective #350 where he had Green Lantern wipe his mind to remove his knowledge of Hal Jordan's double identity because he wanted to figure it out for himself. I actually planned to use this in an Elongated Man story someday, but...oh, damn it.
Five minutes until Sue dies. Sue Dibny, preparing a special gift for her husband, hears a thump of someone in their apartment.
Note that the giftwrap is colored to match Elongated Man's costume that he wore from 1986 through the early 1990s, and occasionally ever since. (Creators have different ideas about which costume is his classic costume.) Purple is both Sue and Ralph's favorite color, but Ralph is a bit more ostentatious about it. (He has a purple tux that makes her shudder.)
Sue is now in her late 30s, looking very different from the previous pages. Her wedding ring in panel one is a zircon, as Elongated Man was not all that rich when he proposed and married Sue; they could now afford something expensive, but she keeps it for sentimental reasons. (See Justice League Europe/International #50, where the ring is a pivotal plot point.)
Three minutes until Sue dies. Ralph says that he doesn't regret his public identity, and hints that only once has a supervillain been hiding behind their shower curtain.
He may just be joking, or this may involve the Big Secret of this series.
Two minutes until Sue dies. Bolt teleports in front of his sellers, gives them an evil grin and implies that he's not going to pay them.
Why he's surprised at what happens next is a good question.
The criminals open fire and Bolt is hit by bullets, smashing into the crate behind him. Meanwhile, as Ralph and Firehawk try to intercede, Ralph receives a panicked radio transmission from Sue, asking if he's there. We see Sue flung into the kitchen table, knocking over the cake and gift.
Sue actually has martial arts skills, as shown in 1977's Flash #252. If she had some self defense moves back then, it's hard to believe that she didn't get even more training during her time when she was living in the Justice League Headquarters. Then again, she's a good 10-15 years older now and perhaps out of practice. Plus, she's been kidnapped a dozen times since 1977 and her self defense skills never seem to do any good!
By the way, a reviewer over at Sequential Tart said that the buzz was that Sue may have been sexually molested before her death. I have no clue why they might say that, aside from her torn stockings, but if he managed to do that and kill her in the space of three minutes, he's pretty efficient. There ARE people in the DCU with such capabilities, of course. But I think that's a bit too gruesome even for this story.
Sue and Bolt are both injured.
Sue's expression doesn't change; she may already be dead, or at least unconscious, which may be a small blessing given what comes next.
Ralph order Firehawk to fly him home, but Firehawk says her flames will burn him. He doesn't care. Of course, he could have run the distance if necessary, given that his legs can extend to 1000 yards.
The killer, wearing a trenchcoat, aims a flamethrower-like gunbarrel at Sue's head and fires it. Sue doesn't react.
The killer addresses her in the familiar: "Goodbye, Sue..." Could it be someone who knows her and wants her dead, as opposed to someone who would call her "Mrs. Dibny" or "Mrs. Elongated Man"?
We don't get to hear what follows after the ellipses. Did he say anything more?
Bolt falls away from the crate, revealing that it contains one of Lex Luthor's battlesuits. Ex-President Lex Luthor was actually last seen in one of these suits in Batman/Superman #6, though whether this is the same suit is anyone's guess.
Trey, one of the gunmen, calls for an ambulance for Bolt.
Bolt seems surprised that they shot him. Again, this is curious. Could he have meant his words in a way that came out wrong and unnecessarily frightened the two?
Ralph enters his apartment to find the table, chairs and paintings knocked over, and his wife's bare feet sticking out from behind the table.
No comment needed.
Okay, one comment: YOU BASTARDS!
Now back to the annotations.
Ralph finds his wife beaten and burned, beside the pregnancy test revealing that Ralph was going to be a father.
One more strong, wonderful character gets the "women in refrigerators" treatment.
Meltzer maybe takes this a bit too far. Losing Sue is bad enough. To lose her and then, while looking around the crime scene, find the pregnancy test? Jeez, if anyone deserves to go nuts and become Parallax, it's Ralph! I could get behind that.
Many reviewers are saying that the pregnancy test is a hack move. While I don't think Meltzer is a hack, given his obvious writing skills and the sharp character dialogue...yeah, it's a bit hack-ish. So much so that weeks before this came out I predicted, almost as a joke, that if Sue were killed off they would have her reveal that she was pregnant just to make it extra sad.
Yet it's not as though this plot twist couldn't be done right. Imagine if sometime later Ralph had finally opened the present that he wasn't in the mood to open at the time, only to find this. I think it would be a whole new layer of devastating. But having it in this scene seems unnecessary, because Sue alone is his world. Losing her is, simply put, bad enough.
Perhaps the Women in Refrigerators database needs to add a new list of pregnancy-related threats. Barry and Iris Allen discussed finally having children just moments before Iris is killed by Professor Zoom. Wally West's wife Linda is having twins when she's attacked by Zoom (a different villain) and loses the babies. Adam Strange's wife Alanna dies during childbirth. Although these are the first ones I can think of, I'm sure that many of the "woman in jeopardy" stories of comic-dom have endangered pregnancy as an added level of risk.
Tim Drake, a character with no personal connection to Elongated Man, is nonetheless moved because of how it affects his situation. Now his dad sees the risks that go with being a superhero.
Robin: In the pages of Robin, Tim's dad has just found out that he has been a vigilante superhero for a couple years (Tim doesn't age, though clearly much time has passed since he first started his career). Lying to his father about his activities has been a difficult choice for Tim. Actually, this is a bit of a continuity hiccup, as in the Robin title Tim has stopped acting as Robin and Stephanie "The Spoiler" Brown is serving as Robin. Given how hard it is to coordinate a book like this and have it come out interlinking properly with all of DC's ongoing titles, this is probably an unavoidable mistake.
Black Lightning and Katana meet in a restaurant.
Black Lightning and Katana were teammates in The Outsiders. Neither of them are close to the Dibnys.
Black Lightning was created in 1977 for DC Comics by Tony Isabella as their first black superhero with his own book. A strong, compelling character with a thrilling backstory and a dynamite name, Black Lightning could have been much bigger at DC over the years. However, one problem has been Isabella's claim of ownership of the character, whilst DC claims he created the character for them. Ever since the second attempt at a Black Lightning title ended with Isabella removed from his own book, Isabella has been trying to retain control of the character whilst DC takes his character in ever more unwanted directions (retconning him as an absent father, putting him in Lex Luthor's White House, etc.). [I'll admit that personally I'm very torn between my love for the character's appearances and my support of Isabella's control of his creation.]
The summoning of Black Lightning is interesting. He is, at most, a friend of a friend to Ralph Dibny.
It appears that Oracle (or possibly Green Arrow) is notifying pretty much everyone in the superhero community, implying an interconnectedness to the DCU that hasn't existed much before. I remember the "old days" just ten years ago when superheroes had no idea how to get in contact with one another. Today, so many normal Americans have cell phones and pagers on them at all times that it would be difficult to believe if superheroes weren't in touch with each other.
The Atom and his ex-wife, Jean, are finalizing some details of their divorce settlement when the word comes in that Sue is dead.
The Atom is a fellow Silver Ager, beginning his career only shortly before Ralph. Professor Ray Palmer is a good friend to Ralph, respecting his intellect and getting along well with him. Ray dated Jean Loring for many years, finally marrying her in the pages of Justice League of America #157. Presumably Ray, Jean, Ralph and Sue were great friends, as married couples tend to hang out together. One may even guess that Sue was one of the ladies in waiting at their wedding, given that Supergirl and Wonder Woman weren't there post-Crisis. (See image) However, Jean fell in love with another man and divorced Ray in the Sword of the Atom series of specials. Relating their story to a biographer, they made Ray Palmer's secret identity public. Today Ray still has his teaching job at Ivy University while openly operating as the Atom. Given the ideas behind this series, of public identities endangering family members, this may be portentious.
Various dogma of The Atom's history have changed of late. For one, The Atom's suit used to disappear when he resumed his full-size, which is why The Atom was always shown in six-inch size even in private. Also, I believe he couldn't shrink other objects (and people?) because they would be unstable and explode. As the final panel on this page shows Ray and Jean becoming microscopic and traveling via phone signal, we must presume that Ray has made various improvements to his size/weight controls over the years.
Atom gets the call not from Oracle, but Green Arrow. This is because Ollie is summoning him for the post-crime duties seen in the next pages.
Oliver Queen/Green Arrow muses about the preparations the Justice League organization has made to handle the death of a superhero in the League (or, presumably, affiliated via friendship or an allied superteam).
This is a good place to bring up the nature of death in the DCU (actually, in all comic books). Superman died and was brought back to life due to the circumstances of his death and his Kryptonian nature. Oliver Queen died in a bombing and was brought back to life via the magic/superscience of his friend Hal Jordan, The Green Lantern (technically, he was renamed Parallax at the time). Characters who have died and returned include, but certainly are not limited to: Superman, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Hawkman, Guy Gardner, Metamorpho (twice), Alfred Pennyworth, Dr. Light, numerous Batman villains such as Hugo Strange and The Joker, Booster Gold, Halo, Flash's Rogues Gallery, The Top, Blue Devil, Mindboggler, Maxwell Lord, members of the Green Lantern Corps, Java, Captain Atom, Jack Knight, Alanna Strange and many, many more. Ice (Tora Olafsdotter) is alleged to be returning soon in I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League (a mini-series which was delayed due to the death of at least one central character in the pages of Identity Crisis).
So many superheroes have died and been reborn that it has become a joke, and the most immediate reaction of my associates reading of Sue's death has been, "It's okay, they can just bring her back." The second time Metamorpho died, Superman was the only person at his funeral because even the priest assumed he would come back soon.
However, Sue is just a plain, ordinary person. She's not a Kryptonian. She's not an ice goddess. She's not a Vuldarian who can grow new organs, nor is she on Rann where the tiniest spark of life can bring you back. She's not an inhuman elemental.
She's not a shape-shifter...although her unborn baby may have the daddy's meta-gene for shapeshifting, and who knows whether maybe this is shared through the placenta?
The Dr. Magnus referred to in panel one is the inventor of the Metal Men, a team of shape-changing robots each made of a different metal. The Metal Men's backstory is actually much more complicated, unless their regrettable 1994 mini-series has been cast into the trash. As we shall see on the next page...perhaps it has.
The introduction of an unofficial DC Universe Crime Scene Investigators group.
Mr. Miracle (Scott Free) is a genius born on the planet of the New Gods, New Genesis. The son of their leader, Izaya, he was traded to their rival planet, Apokolips, as part of a peace agreement between their two leaders. Raised in a brutal orphanage, he escaped that planet...but as he was not allowed to return to New Genesis, he made a new life on Earth as an escape artist using a combination of his wits and advanced technology. He is married to Big Barda. His relationship with Ralph is meager, though in many ways he and Ralph are similar and he has to be taking this personally.
The Ray (Ray Terrill) is a light-powered superhuman, the son of The Ray who belonged to the Freedom Fighters in the 1940s. (Yes, the son of a man who was in his 20s or 30s back during World War II wouldn't be just out of his teen years now, but DC hasn't found a viable way to insert a generation or two between then and now. They tend to just glide over this uncomfortable fact.) His connection to Ralph is almost nonexistent.
The two robots are Lead and Gold of the Metal Men. As I hinted on the previous page, the appearance of these Metal Men is a sign that continuity may have changed. In 1994's Metal Men mini-series, the Metal Men were revealed to be humans trapped in robot bodies. In the final issue, Gold was killed off and Doctor Magnus became a Metal Man named Viridium. Yet Gold appears here alive and well. Whether he is restored to life, a new version of Gold, or was never killed due to a retcon is not known. A 2005 Metal Men series may clear this up, assuming that Meltzer does not reveal the answer in Identity Crisis. The Metal Men and Elongated Man, despite their common Silver Age history, have never crossed paths (excepting the grand crossovers that include all characters in the DCU, naturally).
Metamorpho (mentioned) is Rex Mason, an adventurer who was transformed into an inhuman form by exposure to a meteorite. He can transform into any element in the human body. Metamorpho also has a wife and son, and an identity which is public though not well-known. Metamorpho served with Elongated Man in Justice League International and the two are good friends.
Animal Man (Buddy Baker) has the abilities of all animals on Earth. Animal Man was a mediocre character from the Silver Age who was reimagined by Grant Morrison in the late 1980s as an animal rights activist. Worth mentioning is his public identity and his wife and children. In the culmination of his two-year arc, Morrison brutally killed off Baker's family and turned him into a dark avenger; however, in an ultimate act of deus ex machine, Morrison wrote himself into the story as an omnipresent character who brought Baker's family back to life. Animal Man recalls this story, though to everyone else his family never died.
The casket is carried in, while Ollie Queen still narrates.
Again, I dislike the assertion that Ralph and Sue met in Central City, but it's Meltzer's story.
The mention of Sue's uncle is a wonderful, humanizing touch. Look above at that picture of The Atom's wedding, where everyone in the wedding party is a member of the JLA, as though Ray and Jean aren't people with friends and family outside the League. A sloppier writer would have seen Identity Crisis only as a superhero story and forget that Sue was a person with a family and a life all her own before she ever met Ralph and his circle of friends.
The big two-page spread of the funeral.
Hoo-boy. This is the big one. I'm going to cover the people in the pews row by row, starting with the front (inward) pews full of superheroes, then the general congregation starting in front. People introduced above will only be named. Superheroes in civvies will be identified by their civilian name, with the superhero name in quotation marks. Some characters require further commentary. A couple of these are guesses (indicated with a question mark) or are stated as unknown, and I would be glad to hear from anyone who can help me fill in the blanks. (Use the e-mail link in the left menu.)
Green Arrow reflects on Ralph and Sue's Justice League membership.
I commented on Ralph's admirable length of JLA service on my page of reasons why I like him. Maybe Brad did read the site!
Sue's eulogy is delivered by Wonder Woman while Green Arrow, not listening, enumerates the suspects.
Green Arrow states that Wonder Woman knew Sue better than Superman did. Again, if this is so, it's happened entirely "off the page" as post-Crisis they've hardly met. Wonder Woman was featured in Justice League Europe #1, but she withdrew from the team almost immediately.
He enumerates a long list of fire-wielding and teleportation-capable supervillains. I could go into all of them, who they are and how they may be involved with Sue's death, but as we see in a few more pages, this is all misdirection. Still, I thought that Firefist, Firebug and Dr. Phosphorous were all dead.
Heatwave has been a reformed criminal for years and years. Heatwave recently worked for Cadmus, a DC Universe cloning organization, over in the pages of Superboy. Perhaps we shall luck out and Heatwave torched Sue's clone, and she's alive and well somewhere.
Missing from the suspects is Heatmonger, a neo-nazi character who, unlike all the others, has at least a possible motive, given that Ralph played a role in stopping her team from wiping out all non-white people on the planet.
Indeed, it's odd that the suspect list is limited to people with the right powers, with no consideration for motives. Sonar, the master of sound, tried to steal Sue away from Ralph on two separate occassions, and the Dibnys helped overthrow his rule of the nation of Modora and later foiled his takeover of the entire ex-Soviet Union. Here's a guy with tons of motive, and he could hire assassins or have possibly used sonic devices to break in, kill Sue without leaving any evidence and set the fire. Other villains also have a grudge against Ralph; isn't that worth looking into?
Ollie says Ralph could barely hold his form. Considering he has to take Gingold elixir daily to retain his powers, I'm amazed he'd be taking it at the moment. Unlike Plastic Man, Ralph is naturally humanoid, so it's not like he has to concentrate to hold his form. Still, grief can turn even a normal man into a puddle.
Ralph tries to speak, but is overcome by grief.
In the first panel, far left, we see Metamorpho (or possibly the copy of Metamorpho who belongs to the new Outsiders team). In the last panel, we get a better glimpse of Ralph's father (the guy who looks like Scotty circa Star Trek II).
The teams split up to search for various villains.
I guess I'll deal with these villains, though, again, this is all misdirection.
The Brotherhood of Evil includes fiery Plasmus and teleporting Warp, and they are enemies of the Doom Patrol and the Teen Titans. Ralph and Sue fought Warp in the Elongated Man mini-series, but this seems hardly a reason for Warp to take such revenge.
Scorch is a recent Superman villainess.
Heatstroke is a member of the Masters of Disaster, who have often fought the Outsiders.
Mirror Master is a mercenary and a Flash villain. He can travel via another dimension and emerge from any mirrored surface.
Dr. Phosphorous is an old radioactive enemy of Batman, though he most recently attacked Ted Knight, the Golden Age Starman, giving him a cancer that was slowly killing him. Before Ted died, Phosphorous reappeared as one of several supervillains terrorizing Opal City, and Ted squished him. I don't believe Dr. Phosphorous survived, since Knight's funeral included a reference to his having avenged his own death. Still, if he was alive, the JSA would go after him, as Ted was a member of their organization.
Anyone notice Batman isn't even IN this issue, aside from the mention that he is in the Batcave working on the case? It wouldn't be like him to attend a public event during the daytime, but to not even hover in the rafters is a bit rude even for him. Sue was both a member of the Justice League AND a member of Bruce Wayne's East Coast upper class society, and she's on first-name terms with his butler, so they're obviously friends. (Of course, I was going to write a story where they had dated back before she married Ralph, but I guess that's not going to happen now. Damn it.)
Do you really need Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern to bring in Bolt if he's in the hospital with numerous nasty wounds?
The first real hints that there is a secret some members of the JLA are hiding appear in panel 6. Given that their friends are smart, have superhearing and telepathic snooping, I wonder how they know it's safe to talk amongst themselves? Didn't anyone notice that these big-name Leaguers didn't volunteer to go on one of the teams?
More hints about a secret that these Leaguers are keeping.
The secret involves something that Sue but not Ralph was present for, and something that Ralph is not totally informed about. Ralph arrived at the tail end of the event, whatever it was.
Ollie asks who else would want to kill Sue Dibny. Again, everyone is forgetting Sonar, whom Sue betrayed and humiliated.
Ollie mentions the seven aspects of human experience, which is a reference to the seven characters in the Sandman book referred to as the Endless. Despair, Destiny, Dream, Desire, Destruction, Delirium (Delight) and Death.
There's an odd thing I must point out, though whether this is a plot point or bad writing is unclear. Ralph says, "Do you understand? H-he wrecked my life...wrecked it...without a care." It seems a selfish point of view, that the killing of Sue is not seen as the murdering of a woman with her own dreams, desires and future, but is the ruining of her husband's life. If someone murdered my wife, I'd be angry about what was done to her, not about how it disrupts my life. Even if this is referring to the unknown event shown earlier, it sounds odd.
Ralph reveals that Dr. Light is the culprit they all suspect.
Ralph looks extremely angry, quite uncommon for him.
Dr. Light is something of a joke character, a feeb who can't even beat the Teen Titans. He doesn't have any connection to Elongated Man in continuity, so this must be a whole new backstory.
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