Behind Every Hero: “Identity Crisis” and the Family Dynamic

If You Like…

  • Conspiracy
  • “Breaking up the team”
  • Disney films from their Golden Age
  • Marvel franchises
  • The movie “Se7en”

Then You’ll Like…

Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer

Art by Rags Morales and Michael Bair

quirkyIf you haven’t seen at least one Marvel movie, Batman film, Spiderman, XMen or other superhero franchise on screen, than frankly you’ve been living under a rock. If not seen them, then you’ve seen their posters, watched the ads on television and printed in the papers. The studios have done a fantastic job at bringing the hardcore coolness back to superheroes, no longer just characters on a page.

But in spite of all the superhero hype, there is a sense of a lull within the pop culture. I heard someone call it “blockbuster fatigue” — a point at which we’ve become so accustomed to superhero action movies that nothing fazes us anymore. Explosions and superhuman powers put us to sleep. Love interest in distress? Snore. Opening night madness? Naw, I’ll catch it on Netflix.

Today I want to bring to your attention a particular graphic novel that was a breath of fresh air in my consumer lungs. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching the superheroes. But for the most part, I couldn’t bring myself to care. Until the day I read Identity Crisis. And here’s why.

There’s a saying that “behind every great man is a great woman” and vice versa, or some other variation of it. Well, with this graphic novel I think it’s safe to say that behind every superhero is a family. Not just in the metaphorical sense, but the blood relation kind. In all this hero madness, sometimes one can forget that each hero has parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and so on. Before I read Identity Crisis I was not very privy to this knowledge. It wasn’t something I sought out, and in most superhero media that I consumed, it was always the close relatives who ended up dying. It was a recipe that was never changed, like Disney killing a parent in the beginning of most of their films.

IMG_1267What blew me away about Identity Crisis was that it brought you into the family homes of the Justice League heroes, even the lesser-sung ones. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the story begins with the murder of a wife of one of the lesser-known heroes. Hell, I hadn’t even considered that other heroes had spouses, outside of Lois Lane and Iris Allen. But we are not just introduced with her murder: we are shown how she and her husband met, courted, and eventually married. We saw how compatible they were, and how brutally she died undeservingly.

What transpires afterward is not something that’s black and white. There is not one bad guy, and even the good guys are acting shady. It’s later revealed that a traumatic event happened that only a few of the League were witness to. However, the way they cleaned up afterwards is what brings the shock and awe to this story. It was an act that you wouldn’t expect the heroes to go for. And why did they do it?

For their families. Throughout the novel, seemingly random family members of the Justice League are being targeted. They’re looking over their shoulders constantly. It comes to a point where even a few of them put duties on hold to spend just a little more time with their loved ones. Just in case. All along, even Batman is questioning who the hell would benefit from all this. And once it’s revealed, it opens the door to a side of human depravity that never crossed my mind when regarding superheroes.

I didn’t know that you could write superheroes like this. There are no explosions, there’s no government conspiracy, or bad guy behind the curtain ready to brag about his master plan. It’s just a small group of people with powers beyond belief who are all scared shitless because someone or something is targeting their loved ones, and they don’t know who it is. In spite of their strength and powers, I have never seen them this vulnerable.

I suppose it’s a good trope in fiction that if you need a motivation for your character, take away a loved one. However, if you only hover that shadow of death above the heads of their loved ones, you create a level of suspense that is engrossing and emotional.


Will Make You Feel: Like reading up on backstories online

Music to Listen to While Reading: Really Slow Motion

Publisher: DC Comics


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