Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer (2004)  

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I would have to admit, I'm not much of a comic book fan. I watch a lot of cartoons, but I just couldn't picture myself holding up a comic book, much less a graphic novel. But I believe that's all just about to change because of this book: Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer which was published in 2004. I swear, the story line almost (fake bravado) had me in tears. Here are a few snippets from Meltzer's interview with DC Comics that talks about this novel. If you haven't picked up a good comic book in a long time, this book's a good place to start.

Q: You have six million books in print, two movies in development, and a WB television series that was the critic's darling. What convinced you to put it all aside for the chance to write Identity Crisis?

Brad: To put it simply, I love the characters. That's really it. It's sort of like that kid in your old neighborhood who used to have the best toys, so you wanted to go to his house to play. Well, DC has the best toys. I love my novels, and I love my characters, but DC has Superman. And sometimes, you just want to play with Superman.

Q: Your most recent thriller The Zero Game debuted at #3 on the New York Times bestseller list. How do the stakes change when you're writing a murder mystery involving superheroes, instead of say Supreme Court clerks (The Tenth Justice) or Capitol Hill Staffers (The Zero Game)?

B: I treated it exactly the same. I tried to pull all the emotion out of every character. The only difference was, in Identity Crisis, I'm dealing with superheroes, which raised a totally different set of issues: How do you hide from a man who can see through walls? How do you lie to a woman who has a magic lasso to make you tell the truth? You'll see.

Q: Identity Crisis has been a billed as a murder mystery featuring the World's Greatest Superheroes. Aside from the identity of the killer or the murder victim, what can you tell us about the series that readers might not already know?

B: The murder is really just plot. To me, what the book is really about is the cost of being a hero. People always assume that the villains should be scared if they see a man in a cape—but to me, the person who should be terrified is the person putting on the cape. Identity Crisis let's me bring a little more "man" to the "super."

Q: The Justice League of America is at the center of Identity Crisis. What is the Justice League and what interests you about it as a writer?

B: Rule one of writing: write what you love. The JLA are there because I just love those characters. I've loved them my whole life. Truly—that was the first comic my Dad bought me. JLA #150. Of the JLA, though, I picked those I love most: Green Arrow, Batman, etc, etc. Some, I just didn't have room for. And as for villains, those were the ones who really opened the story for me. Every hero is only as good as their villains.

Q: The icons of the DC Comics universe—Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman—have all been around for more than fifty years. What is it about these characters that allow them to thrive?

B: Somebody recently asked me about writing Superman, and they asked if I felt the need to add my mark on the character. Superman doesn't need my mark. Superman has been around for 60 years, because, as a character, he's almost perfectly defined. He doesn't need more definition. My goal is to find something that's in him...pull it it to you, and you know when you see it, it's something that's been in there all this time, and it makes complete sense. That's what I tried to do with all the characters in Identity Crisis. Remind you what makes a hero great.

Q: What characters surprised you while writing Identity Crisis?

B: Batman. My whole life, like every twelve year-old comic book kid, I've dreamed of writing Batman...of watching him interact with Superman...and helping him lead all the heroes to victory. But when it came time to talk to him, Batman was the toughest to write. Not because I didn't understand the character, but because, unlike my dreams, he didn't want to spend time with everyone. He wanted vengeance. And he certainly didn't want to chit-chat. That alone changed my whole plot. Batman was just too big.

Q: Novelists tend to be solitary types, but comic book writers often have a much more active relationship with the artists illustrating the work. What was it like collaborating with Rags Morales and Michael Blair?

B: If I want, I can hand in my script and walk away. But the art is the other half of any comic book story, and if it's not dead on, it doesn't matter how good the story is. So...I speak to Rags almost every day, even though he certainly doesn't need my help. Mark my words. The name people will be talking about when issue 1 hits is Rags Morales. He's the heart behind Identity Crisis. The story is all about emotion—and Rags is one of the few artists who does real emotion. Rage, envy, shyness, hate, loss—Rags does each one truly differently. This isn't just "bad-ass pose time for the heroes." This is their humanity. Plus, Michael Bair on inks and Alex Sinclair on colors... all three are killing themselves for this book. I've seen the art for the first three and a half issues. Brace yourselves. The art is the only thing I'll hype.

Q: What do comics and graphic novels need to do to continue to reach a mainstream audience? Where you conscious of that challenge while writing Identity Crisis?

B: First, they have to stop apologizing for what they are. Somehow, over time, a literary hierarchy has been established with "literary fiction" on top of the pyramid...and comic books somewhere toward the bottom, just above comic strips. The worst part is, the comics industry believes it, forever wondering how they can be "accepted." Let me tell you something, just because something is in a graphic format doesn't mean it needs to be apologized for. And just because a novel is serious, doesn't mean it's serious fiction. The only thing comics should worry about is telling a good story. You do that and people will find it.

Q: The New York Post ran an item mentioning Identity Crisis declaring that, "In the world of comics this is the event of 2004. The mini series has also been mentioned in the New York Times and Spin magazine and been named the event of the year by comic industry magazine Wizard. Given the high level of anticipation, are you nervous about how fans will react?

B: It's certainly humbling. Obviously, any time you start any project, you hope that people are going to react. The scariest thing is when you put something out there, and nobody notices. What's kind of surprised me is how vocally everyone has reacted—and I mean that in the most positive sense. I've gotten flooded with emails, and my own message board has been loaded with comment after comment after comment. Will we live up to the hype? Only the story will decide that—which is exactly as it should be.

Q: What source material inspired you while writing Identity Crisis? Do you have a muse?

B: I've been reading comics for as long as I've been able to read. I grew up with them, was amazed by them, and matured with them. Identity Crisis is my love letter to these heroes. They've been with me my whole life.

Q: So as a murder mystery, this is not a story that ends with smiles, is it?

B: Is there ever a happy ending at the end of a murder mystery? The heroes are going to be much more unhappy, beyond the mourning associated with who's dead. Life has changed. People always love to hype things as saying that the 'Universe will be changed forever!'—I make no aspirations to say that I'm changing the universe, but I think, of you look at my run of Green Arrow, it will be hard to look at that character in the same way. That's the catch—have you left the character, or characters...changed? Not have you pulled off an event that can be undone in an instant. Any death can be undone—we've all seen it within, what? The past six months? But for me, that's not the ultimate harm you can do to somebody. There are far worse things that you can do to someone that involve leaving them alive.

Q: One last question: if you had one super power, what would it be?

B: Flight. No question.



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Stories from the Simian Crease by Binchee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.
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