We've covered a lot of bad storylines here on What Were They Thinking?. That's only natural, seen as this is the place where we look at all of the stupidest and most ill-advised things in comics history. But we've never covered a storyline that has been refered to as "the comic that ruined comics". Now what storyline could have recieved such a negative accolade? Perhaps it was something from the 90's, like The Death Of Superman, which ironicly killed off the concept of death in comics. Or maybe it could be refering to One More Day, the Spider-Man storyline that more closely resembles excrement than Fearful Symmetry. Or maybe it is refering to something like Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns or Crisis On Infinite Earths, which are absolute classic storylines but had a negative impact on the direction the industry would take as a result. Well, actually it's none of those. We are in fact taking a look at this:
Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, the time has come where we must talk about Identity Crisis, the first of the mid-00's crossovers from DC comics. But why talk about Identity over Infinite or Final Crisis. All are pretty bad, Infinte Crisis being famous for giving the world the concept of being able to bend and break reality by punching it, whilst Final Crisis decides to take The Monitor from COIE and make him a part of a race of extra-dimensional vampires, and the story makes just as much sense due to the concept of reality crumbling around it. So, why cover Identity Crisis? Well, it goes back to that old WWTT staple, rape.
The overall story of Identity Crisis is much simpler than either of its siblings, at it's core it is a simple murder mystery, that sees the heroes hunt for the person who is killing various people close to various other heroes (such as Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man and Jack Drake, the father of Tim Drake aka Robin). However, things start to go off the rails when we get to the suspects and motives.
You see, until the actual perpitraitor is revealled, there's only one real suspect, Doctor Light. It turns out that some years before Doctor Light had broken in to the Justice League Watchtower whilst the League were out fighting another villain and had attacked and raped Sue Dibny, who was in the Watchtower at the time. Light is also later revealled to be a serial rapist, something which was never hinted at prior to this storyline. When the League found out about the rape, they decided to wipe Light's mind of the incident and alter his mind to reduce his powers, which leads to them giving him a partial lobotomy. This whole aspect of the story was to retroactively explain how Light could go from being a villain capable of taking down the Justice League (as he was in his earliest appearances) to a joke who couldn't even beat Little Boy Blue and his Blue Boys, let alone the Teen Titans. But does anyone else see the major problem here? Well, let's break it down.
Firstly, they used rape as a plot point and it wasn't even the main focus. It was a side-plot. Light wasn't even the murderer, they just added a rape to their murder-fest for no reason other than to retroactively make a C-Grade villain feel like a threat. The victim got no character development or retribution in the storyline, they'd killed her off at the start. At least they didn't go down the victim-blaming route that Marvel liked to in the 80's, so that's a plus. But did the rape add anything to the story? Not really, in fact it actually had a real negative impact.
Which brings me onto point two, how bad the rape side-plot made the heroes look. They decided to mess with the mind of another human being in order to change their behaviour. That sounds scary enough without the fact that they botched it and ended up lobotomising him. There is, of course, a very fine line here. Many superheroes opperate outside the law, but most (if not all) stick within its guidelines. But this pushes that line to breaking point. It is the equivelant to Batman actually killing Joker. Yes, it would solve the problem, but it isn't what a "hero" would do. And it doesn't matter that they put it to a vote and that vote was 4 in favour 3 against (if you're interested it was Hawkman, Atom, Zatanna and Flash (Barry Allen) for and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Green Arrow and Black Canary against) they all went along with the descision afterwards. It made them all look bad.
If you take into account what was going on at the time in the world, this could be seen as somewhat of a social commentary on the use of torture in the war on terror, discussing the ethics of "the good guys" doing something evil for a good reason, how should you deal with people who have commited terrible crimes. Problem is, a crime is still a crime no matter how justified you think it is (how else do you think terrorism happens?) so dealing with a criminal in a way that would, in any other scenario, be a crime its self, then sorry, you lose the moral high-ground on that one. Especially when you start doing the same thing to anyone who disagrees with you. Oh yeah, did I mention that they mind wiped Batman as well because he didn't agree with what they were doing? Because they damn well did. If they hadn't crossed the line before, this is where DC went all in.
So that's why Identity Crisis is so objectively objectionable. It used rape as a side plot and made the heroes look almost as bad as the villains? But why do some people describe it as "the comics that ruined comics"? Well, it's the precident it set. We'd had dark storylines before and seen heroes toe the line (see, Wolverine) but the fact that this storyline set the bar for moral ambiguity in heroes left an impression on the industry. Suddenly, heroes could no longer be as heroic (see The Avengers and X-Men deciding to kill Scarlet Witch in House Of M only a few months after Identity Crisis finished, Tony Stark, Reed Richards and Hank Pym building a clone Thor that kills Black Goliath in Civil War, or what about everything Marvel have done to Cyclops since House Of M finished) and the villains would have to be worse than ever before in order to get any sort of reaction (see Joker cutting off his own face in Death Of The Family, Ultron killing pretty much all of humanity in Age Of Ultron or everything that happened in Ultimatum). Identity Crisis may not have been the origin point for many of these problems, but it applified them and accelerated their encroachment into almost every aspect of mainstream comics. Is it the worst comic ever released? No, nowhere near. But it is certainly one of the most destructive.
And with that