"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Brad Meltzer's "Identity Crisis"

I was going to rant over in Cyber Chocolate about Brad Meltzer and the DC Comics "Identity Crisis" mini-series he wrote last year, thanks to an interview with him and Rags Morales, the artist, in the March issue of "Wizard," but then figured it was getting too long for that blog and is basically a review/commentary, and is more suitable here. And since most folks here probably don't care about comics, I'll do the short version of the rant. I mostly liked the series and was disappointed by the ending. The full story was part mystery, part character study, but I think the mystery should at least have a satisfying resolution. I didn't think this did, nor did many other folks, and a lot of people didn't like any of the story, though they are outnumbered by the folks who liked it. But still, I enjoyed it enough to consider reading on of Meltzer's suspense novels. Til I read that interview.

Without boring you with details from the story, or to give anything away for folks who haven't read it but want to, here are some bits that bugged me.

About a moment in the story where it's revealed that the superheroes did something morally questionable or wrong years ago to a villain (altering his memory and personality), Brad said: "...And you actually feel for Dr. Light. For the first time, in this moment, you're rooting against Zatanna, and you're routing against the heroes." Except that while I did feel sorry for the evil idiot, I was also glad for what the heroes did to him because given what he'd done, he deserved it. At best, this was morally ambiguous, not clearly wrong because people do have a range of feelings re: criminals and punishment. And if Brad thinks the readers got his point or couldn't see it otherwise, he either doesn't know his readers here or he didn't write the thing as well as he thinks he did.

About the big "red herring" in the mystery where it looks like another character is about to become a victim, he said, "...People were so convinced that all we were after was death, once we killed Sue Dibny, they never realized we were putting the killer right in front of them." Except that a number of people on various message boards figured it out fine.

About giving away on a cover who the next victim was to be: "...Seeing (character name) on that cover is why you feel the tension. I told you want is going to happen on page one. Now I'm going to use the old Hitchcock quote: 'It's not the bang that's scary, it's the anticipation of it.' You know the ending. You know what is coming. You know he is going to die. But I'm not going to give you the death until you feel every emotion I can put you through to get there, to the point where you don't want to turn that page." I'll give him that it was emotional, but tense? Not as much as it could've been. Because to me, it had a feel of inevitability to it and all that remained was the how. Hitchcock succeeded because it was never obvious. He was a master of putting it all there but keeping you guessing as to what mattered a lot and what didn't matter as much. And a movie flows. Comics told in monthly installments can be static, and the reader has time to pick each issue apart. Again, Brad's skill didn't live up to his intent in my opinion.

The next to last issue ended with one character looking guilty, but the killer is never revealed so soon, so I knew it was a fake-out, which left the obvious other one who was the actual killer. Batman, busily using his intellect to solve the crime, became superfluous as someone else figured it out first. Half of the last part was essentially epilogue at that point despite focusing on the theme that most interested Meltzer — what it means to be a hero, to strip them of their confidence, yadda yadda yadda. The true epilogue is moving and bittersweet, but there's a whole lot of stuff in between it and the revelation of the killer's ID that fall flat.

To me, this was a clear case of the parts not adding up to a cohesive whole. I wish Brad had addressed complaints many readers had with the clues and odd characterizations. And now I can't help wondering if his novels are like this; a lot of great scenes that don't add up between the covers. I was considering reading The Zero Game (I think I got the title right). Anyone read it? Or any of his other books? Care to let me know what you think of them? Thanks.