Sunday, April 28, 2013

Defending Sue Dibny

After reading Colin Smith's analysis of the writings of Mark Millar at Sequart, I was poking around the site sampling some of the other articles and came across a piece written about a year and a half ago entitled "Defending Identity Crisis," in which author Cody Walker responds to then recent criticism of  Brad Meltzer's comics debut in an interview with Grant Morrison and a blurb on comics news site Newsarama. Despite my passionate hatred of that particular mini-series, I went ahead and clicked on the link, determined to give  Mr. Walker's views fair and open minded consideration, though I knew that nothing he could say would convince me of the merits of Identity Crisis.  What I did become convinced of was that I needed to address some of the points that Mr. Walker makes here on my own blog.  
Before proceeding any further with this post, I urge you to give Mr. Walker's piece a read
To continue, then...
Mr. Walker does not, as he quite rightly chastises the Newsarama piece for, put forth statements unsupported by any evidence.  However, the evidence he offers up is the evidence of his own experience, which, if the evidence of my own experience is to be trusted, is hardly typical.  
What Mr. Walker fails to offer evidence for is his assumption that simply because he has apparently never read an Elongated Man solo story, or Justice League Europe for that matter, and thus was unfamiliar with the very existence of Sue Dibny and had no previous emotional investment in the character prior to reading Identity Crisis, that the same somehow holds true for every reader of that mini-series.   Actually, Mr. Walker's lack of knowledge of Ralph Dibny's marriage, which to me is intrinsic to the basic concept of the character, leads me to believe that Identity Crisis was, in fact, his first exposure not only to Sue Dibny but to the Elongated Man himself.
Returning to my own experience, I had been aware of Sue ever since I first read of her and her husband's travels in the back pages of Detective Comics. In fact, I believe that my first exposure to the characters was the story in Detective #465 in which, perhaps ironically, the Elongated Man first met the Calculator, another character revamped by Meltzer in Identity Crisis, where the author turned the previously somewhat silly villain into an evil counterpart to Oracle.  
What made me truly love Sue, however, was the work of plotter Keith Giffen and his scripters, J.M. DeMatteis, William Messner-Loebs, and Gerard Jones, on JLE.  Over the course of three years on that title, Giffen and his collaborators crafted a delightful and witty portrait of an equal and loving relationship between two mature, intelligent adults.  Thus, contrary to Mr. Walker's contention, it was not the strength of Brad Meltzer's writing that made me  mourn his unneccessary sacrifice of a character of whom I was, in fact, a fan, despite Mr. Walker's assertion that such people had not existed prior to the publication of Identity Crisis.  
As to Mr. Walker's statements about the quality of Mr. Meltzer's writing, once again the only evidence he offers is that of his own perceptions.  These are his opinions and he has every right to them, despite the fact that I vehemently disagree with them.  What Mr. Walker sees as powerfully moving, I see as cheap, cynical, manipulative and exploitive.  One of the most egregious, and commonly cited in other critiques of the series, examples of Mr. Meltzer's shameless excess is that  Sue's death in itself was apparently not tragic enough, so Mr. Meltzer had to add the detail that prior to her death she was going to tell Ralph  that she was pregnant.
That, by the way, is also an example of Mr. Meltzer's cavalier disregard for what had been previously established about the characters of which he wrote.  Nowhere in any of the Dibnys' previous appearance had it ever been mentioned that the couple had any interest in having children.  It also seems to promote the rather old fashioned notion that procreation is the sole and proper purpose of marriage, but that's really a can of worms for another post, although I probably won't be the one to write it. 
What I can refute is Mr. Walker's clinging to the outdated and discredited notion that violence, cynicism and darkness are needed to make comics "adult" and "real."  In the real world, adults do certainly experience more than their share of dark times and even perhaps violence, though for most people, fortunately, such times are the exception rather than the rule.  Most of us do not allow them to define us or our world.
J. M. DeMatteis' run on Dr. Fate is, to me, the most eloquent refutation of the idea of darkness as realism that I've ever read.  While it has its share of violence and darkness like any super-hero comic, the overall tone is one of optimism and hope. Yet, I consider Dr. Fate to be one of the most "adult," by which I mean emotionally mature, comics ever published. 
Identity Crisis is no more "real" than any other super-hero comic.  After all, how "real" can a story be when among its protagonists are a guy who can run faster than light, a women who weaves magic spells by speaking backwards, and a man who uses a magic ring to create giant green boxing gloves and its villain is a guy who makes weapons out of solid light and wears a costume that includes a fin on top of his head.  Honestly, by attempting to make the heroes more "real", Identity Crisis, in many cases, ends up making them look kind of silly.  Rags Morales' realistic rendering of Ralph literally melting in his grief over his wife's death is less moving and affecting than utterly ridiculous looking.
Furthermore, I don't really see how Mr. Walker can name Grant Morrison as his "hero" and yet still hold such a view.  Most of Mr. Morrison's super-hero work has been a reaction to and refutation of the notion that darkness and violence equal "adult."  In fact, as early as Animal Man #26, the final issue of his first American comics run, Mr. Morrison, appearing in the story as himself, tells the book's title character, "We thought that by making your world more violent, we would make it more 'realistic' more 'adult.'   God help us if that's what it means.  Maybe, for once, we could try to be kind."  Since then, his work on such titles as Flex Mentallo, JLA, and All-Star Superman has been dedicated to recapturing the child like joy and sense of wonder and awe that he feels super-heroes should inspire.  Even Doom Patrol, by far Mr. Morrison's darkest super-hero work, champions the strange and wondrous over the dull mundanity and clockwork order of the "real" and "adult" world.
And now, I, heeding the words of Mr. Morrison, shall endeavor to be kind to you, my readers, and end this rant now.  Thank you for your attention up to this point and good day.

1 comment:

  1. Jonathon RiddleMay 9, 2013 at 4:30 PM


    As prompted, I read Walker's article before I read your reaction to it. It's a shame nobody in the comments section of his blog brings up the points you do here, because I agree with your sentiments wholeheartedly.

    I found a copy of Detective Comics 465 while spring cleaning recently and enjoyed reading "The Elongated Plague" which was a fun little backup story. I haven't read Identity Crisis, but I'm guessing "fun" is not a word any reasonable person would use to describe the story.

    The Dibnys had a stable, affectionate marriage rarely seen in a medium known for its soap-opera exaggeration. Seriously, who in the X-Men has had a sexual relationship that WASN'T replete with strife, pain, danger, and loss?

    Sarah (don't think I didn't notice her presence in your last blog!) told me once that she loved watching the Addams Family because Gomez and Morticia were a genuinely affectionate TV couple.("Tisha! That's French! You know what that does to me!") Think about it. You don't see happily married and genuinely affectionate people on TV all that often.

    I don't know if Meltzer targeted Sue Dibny because she and Ralph were a rarely seen, happily married couple in superhero comics, but it sure feels that way. Especially since the rape happened on her anniversary night and her murder happened just before she could tell Ralph he was about to become a daddy. Not exactly subtle, Brad.

    On the plus side, from what little I've seen of it, the artwork by Rags Morales in Identity Crisis looks excellent. I wonder how much of the page composition of the infamous rape scene was under his control. If the scene is indeed done with as much good taste as possible for such a deplorable act, (as Walker surmises it is) then maybe Meltzer is not necessarily deserving of the total credit.