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“We can’t damn the torrent of death and injustice”

I wanted to write about Identity Crisis, but it’s as if I’m being stalked by the post I meant to write. I ended up thinking about it while writing about Eightball, and then while Steven was writing I ended up reading Daredevil: Guardian Devil, Kevin Smith’s epic and awful attempt to Make Daredevil’s Life Hell. (No, I don’t know why I’ve been driven to capitalize important words lately in a way I know everyone finds frustrating, and I don’t know why I write asides like this either, to head off complaints on that front.)

Guardian Devil is horrible in many ways, from the constant in-jokes (ooh, Silent Bob says nothing about Catcher in the Rye! Dogma is showing at the theaters Daredevil passes!) to the hideous Cabbage Patch Kid at the core of the story to the spectacularly dreadful dialogue. And then there’s the story! See, it’s really about consent and forgiveness and the pure vision inspired by pure, true love, but that’s trapped under layers of craziness and blood. I’m not even sure how to summarize, so I’ll just hit the highlights. Matt Murdock is Daredevil, of course, and his girlfriend at the beginning of the story is Karen Page. The story starts with Matt in the confessional, perhaps about to mention he’s been sleeping with Karen or something like that, but really just because Kevin Smith is obsessed with bad ring structure and an early confessional joke leaves room for later ones. There’s a throwaway line about how lapsed Catholics just return to the church for Christmas and confession, but unless “confession” was a typo for “Easter,” most of the many lapsed Catholics I know must be so extreme they’re not even living up to their lapsed-Catholic duty to seek out Mother Church after nasty breakups. I know Kevin Smith’s is not my mother’s Catholicism, but he seems to get things wrong so much more often than he gets them right that I don’t understand his insistence in harping on Catholicism.

And speaking of harping on things, let’s get back to Karen Page. See, she’s a radio dj now, but back in the good old days she was involved in less wholesome entertainment as a means of financing her drug habit. While Daredevil let her back into his life (and that was very sweet of him, I’m sure) she is sure he hasn’t been able to forget her past and that he can’t look at her as anything but sullied, and so she decides the time has come to become Matt’s ex-girlfriend. And I need to pick up the pace if I hope to ever escape even the first issue, not to mention the whole story. Matt/DD runs out of the confessional to save a teenaged girl and her little baby from being run down by a car going 90 in Hell’s Kitchen. And while he manages to save them, both baby and girl disappear in the ensuing craziness. Oh, and I forgot to mention the silly, portentous narration to inform us that a maternity ward(s?) has blown up, which returns to be a major plot point when the villain admits that this was a total coincidence and nothing more.

Anyway, Matt goes to his law office, where his partner Foggy is smitten with a client in a divorce case, a woman who plans to get a lot of money from the husband who had her sterilized without her knowledge or consent. Foggy is in a serious relationship with Liz Osborn, but that’s not getting in the way of anything here. Daredevil hears and then loses the heartbeats of the missing girl and baby, but is saved from another super-keen chase scene by the girl’s appearance at the law firm, because an angel has told her that Matt Murdock is Daredevil and that he’ll take her baby, which he does, before she disappears again. And people who are not absolute morons who think it’s normal for mothers of two-month-olds to refer to their babies as “it” will be really shocked in another issue or so when it turns out this baby, potentially the Antichrist, is a girl. Icky! Well, probably the ickier point is that the baby might be the Antichrist, polluting all it touches, according to an old man who mysteriously confronts Matt with secrets about his own past and secret identity. So poor Matt, unwilling to do so much as change a diaper, is able to pass the baby off to his other ex-girlfriend, the Black Widow, whose ridiculous maternal instinct makes her keep Matt from dropping the baby from several stories to the ground to rid the world of this absolute evil.

Wow, this is getting long. Once the Black Widow is gone, Karen shows back up to tell Matt that her HIV test has come back positive and then she collapses in tears before he can talk about how much it sucks to be the foster dad to the Antichrist, maybe. Meanwhile Foggy has been discussing his case with his client, Lydia, and things get a little hot ‘n’ heavy, and the next thing you know, Lydia’s been thrown through a window and Foggy’s getting jailed on murder charges. Foggy’s mother, who runs the law firm, fires him but Matt nobly leaves Karen in her misery to get to work and even more nobly resigns his own position at the firm, which does nothing to shore up support for Foggy’s case. Meanwhile Karen gets a visit from the same weird old man, as yet unnamed, who tells her that she’s been polluted with AIDS because the wicked baby’s miasma destroys everything it touches, and although this is the first she’s heard of the baby, she finds the story plausible enough that she agrees to help get the baby handed over to the old man’s organization, Sheol. Clear so far?

Anyway, Matt tries to get the baby back from the Black Widow to kill her (the baby, who perhaps generally goes by “it” because it resembles the Joker’s hideous dollbombs in The Dark Knight Returns more than it does any real child) and in the process does some serious damage to the Black Widow. Matt, as Daredevil, tries to stop a crime only to realize it’s a setup, and gets knocked out and captured. He’s able to eventually fight his way away from his captor, Baal, and escapes, bruised and ill. He decides to pay a visit to his mother, a nun who runs a mission downtown somewhere. Sister Maggie takes in Daredevil and the baby, and he sleeps for two days while Foggy is suffering (and because I forgot to write about Matt’s meeting with Foggy, I’ll just note for the record that the obligatory prison rape “joke” is made then) and Karen is presumably hysterical and maybe the Black Widow has regained consciousness. Then Sister Maggie and Matt share some touching moments talking about whether God exists and Sister Maggie slaps Matt across the face for suggesting that God might not be what she expects. Then Karen has tracked Matt to the shelter and asks to be given the baby so she can give her away to Sheol and clean up their lives. Matt, being perceptive for a change, remembers that he’s never told Karen about the baby and that she’s part of an Evil Trap.

Matt escapes and visits Dr. Strange, who deduces Matt has been given a colorless, odorless, tasteless drug and is hallucinating. Oops, that’s going to mean an awkward apology to the ex he just beat up!! Then they both talk to the demon Mephisto, even though Matt has promised he won’t talk to Mephisto, and Mephisto is apparently more up on his holy scripture than either of the humans, because he reminds them that the Antichrist should be a fully-grown adult man, not a baby girl. Matt Murdock’s convinced, but this reminds me that I forgot to say the baby’s mother, Gwyneth, claimed to be a virgin and that her heartbeat told Matt that She Was Not Lying. Also she escaped and was running in the first place because someone was in the process of slicing up her newly dead parents, but this part isn’t particularly relevant, but just gruesome for its own sake.

Ruminating on a cryptic quip from Mephisto, Matt decides to swing back to the shelter, only to find his mother and the other nuns and the poor innocents who came to the mission downed in blood. Bullseye is there, looking for the baby. Karen offers to give her to him, but it turns out she’s just given him a statue of The Baby Jesus. Meanwhile Sister Maggie, bleeding profusely, tries to sneak the baby out of the mission. Bullseye, not amused by this, manages to skewer Karen with one of her own true love’s sticks, and she dies in Matt’s arms in an egregious Pieta scene in front of the altar.

Then Matt’s off after the bad guys, knowing someone must have hired Bullseye. But who could it be? Artfully placed newspapers let us know that the aged representative of Sheol is John (later Jonathan) Curtain, which is not how you spell the name, people, but then his pseudonym “Macabes” is not exactly “Maccabee,” if that’s what it’s supposed to suggest. But who is this guy and what does he want with Daredevil? All becomes clear when Matt fights his way through a bunch of outclassed ninjas and then meets Baal again, who claims to be Matt’s guardian angel. Matt is able to figure out he’s not a real angel/demon but just some guy in a suit (and his real name’s Gabriel, ha ha!) and so is able to disable him and head on to see the main bad guy. It turns out this is Mysterio, Master of Special Effects. He’s dying because of illness caused by the plastics he’s used in his special effects and costumes for all these years, and he thought it would be fun to utterly destroy a superhero. The obvious choice would have been Spider-Man, but apparently he worried that clone fears would make this less satisfying. Luckily everyone knows Daredevil’s identity can be easily bought from the Kingpin, as well as information about his Catholic guilt and women trouble, and so it was easy to unmake the Man without Fear. All it took was a guy in a weird marble-headed suit dressing up in the latex skin (at least I think that’s what happened) to be old John Curtain and put the fear of God into Matt and Karen. Oh, and then slipping Matt a hallucinogenic talisman and hiring Bullseye in the first place. And most of his bodyguards were apparently doped up too.

And Doctor Strange’s skills of perception must not have been as faulty as he feared, because his prediction that frat boys and athletic teams would just love this mystery hallucinogen proves to have been borne out when it is used as a date-rape drug… against Foggy! Yup, Lydia was a plant all along, given false memories or something to trick Foggy into believing her story of forced sterilization enough to take the case and be seduced and then be framed for her murder, which is either some sort of suicide or she’s destroyed by some weird demon-thing and is not herself the demon-thing. Unclear, but all part of Mysterio’s plan! And then there was that baby, a symbol of the purity Daredevil idealizes and hopes to protect, but Mysterio was able to make Daredevil believe it was an evil baby almost to the point where he would have destroyed it. And it turns out the poor kid was the result of a virgin birth, since Mysterio’s henchmen had kidnapped the mother and artificially inseminated her, then using the magical drug to make her believe she’d seen angels sending her to Daredevil. All becomes clear! And Mysterio dressed up as a doctor to give Karen a false positive reading on her HIV test, just to make Matt hate her more for being an evil whore who’d put Matt’s very life at risk by having sex with him. The fact that he was completely covered in her blood during her last moment doesn’t seem to have caused him any worry, but luckily it didn’t matter since she probably was HIV-negative anyway.

Laughing at the way he has ruined all aspects of Matt’s life, and most of all his faith and hope, Mysterio commits suicide, although it’s not clear whether this is totally intentional. And that’s that, except not. Matt still has to search the building to find the baby, who still has a role to play in the touching epilogue in which Matt is reunited with a healing Sister Maggie outside a non-exploded maternity ward and decides to name the soon-to-be-adopted non-Antichrist baby … (wait for it) Karen!. And then he does manage to apologize to Black Widow, who is more sympathetic now that Matt has just lost his girlfriend. And Foggy gets to apologize to his girlfriend, who doesn’t care that he was drugged and unable to consent to anything or understand reality, because he chose to spend the night with another woman and therefore They Are Through. And Spider-Man commiserates with Matt about how difficult it is to lose someone you love to a bad guy you hate, which is a lesson Matt has already learned about 6 million times with his previous ex-girlfriends, and then Matt heads off to confession again only to (ha ha!) skip out once more to defeat evildoers as Daredevil!

And if you thought that synopsis makes Guardian Devil sound like an excellent story, be warned that the writing has such sophisticated errors as the one in this post’s title, part of a sentence in which “everyday” is used as a noun. And the art is just bizarre, with grotesque characters who are recognizable from one scene to the next mostly because of their distinctive garb. And if you’re not sure why you suffered through that whole explanation, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with Identity Crisis. In my mind at least, a lot.

Identity Crisis #1 features the mysterious murder of Sue Dibny, non-superpowered wife of the Elongated Man, with the shocking twist being that she’s pregnant, though there are no hints that the baby would have been the Antichrist. Then in issue #2 it turns out that a long time ago she was hanging out at the JLA space station while the heroes were off taking care of some disaster and Dr. Light managed to find his way onto the space station, where he sexually assaulted her. The response of the heroes was to cart her off to a hospital and psychically lobotomize him so he couldn’t follow through on his threats to do the same to other women who consort with the JLA. Since the members of the JLA who weren’t involved in meddling with Dr. Light are unaware of what went on, we can assume that the Justice League of America didn’t urge Sue Dibny to testify against him, despite having plenty of physical evidence as well as witnesses to the assault. Or maybe we’ll learn that Sue chose not to testify, chose never to be open about this part of her life,which is why we readers are just now learning about it.

Identity Crisis is not painful at every turn the way Guardian Devil is, but I’m worried it could become every bit as muddled and bad in the way it deals with gender imbalances and interactions. So far what we see is that it’s easy for superheroes to forget that regular people can control their own lives, make their own decisions. And admittedly it would probably be hard for heroes to keep on the right side of the line between being heroic and meddling and micromanaging. Still, there’s more than this. It’s not just that non-superpowered women can’t defend themselves against supervillains, but that all the male characters are worried about protecting all the female characters. Sure, Black Canary is dismissive of their concerns, pointing out that she hasn’t even been killed, but I hope the JLA don’t equate being protectors of the weak and powerless with protecting and overprotecting women.

There’s plenty of time to further flesh out Sue’s role in all this, show how she dealt with the pain of her assault and its aftermath and her recovery, how the decisions she made to remain with her husband (whose lack of a secret identity prompts the crisis in the title) affected her later life, her years spent in an over-secured apartment that still proved permeable. And if this doesn’t happen, if this is just a story about how much it annoys men when you break their toys or women, I’m going to be unhapy. And I’m making this more essentialist than I ought to, since Black Canary and Zatanna were both part of the group that chose to punish Dr. Light for assaulting Sue, for assaulting the sanctity of their base and their perceived safety, but we’ll see how this plays out.

I have more to say, but for now it’s time for an end-of-episode moral on behalf of Sue Dibny and myself:
If you learn a friend has been sexually assaulted or abused, don’t be like the JLA; saying “I’m going to track down that bastard and make him (or potentially her) pay” takes the power to make that decision away from your already friend, who is already dealing with the pain of forcible loss of power and choice. Be supportive, be sympathetic, be hurt and sad and angry, but be respectful and fair, and your friend will probably appreciate it.


  1. Ian says:

    Good call on the Daredevil book. I read the first issue and couldn’t get past the fact that it seemed like Kevin Smith was a little too in love with his own writing, never a good sign.

    Honestly, except for some of the Clerks cartoon I’ve seen, I can’t think of anything by Smith that has impressed me (and I am a lapsed Catholic).

    — 21 July 2004 at 2:02 am (Permalink)

  2. Shane says:

    Ok I agree with you about how “If this is nothing but how much it annoys men if you break their toys or women” bit. If nothing comes of this series other than the shock it will be upsetting, but I’m hoping it’s more.

    — 21 July 2004 at 5:52 am (Permalink)

  3. Rose says:

    Was it that clear that I’m not a Kevin Smith fan either? This tpb came from the library, and I wouldn’t have bought it myself. I don’t have his sense of humor and just don’t think he’s smart at all, and most of my character judgments boil down to that criterion.

    Shane, like I said in Steven’s comments, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m seldom very optimistic about those things. I think part of what worries me is that there isn’t much shock, it’s just “Oh, they’re killing off a minor character’s woman again.” Luckily I’m only looking at this because it deals with sexual assault issues, so I don’t have to be reading Avengers Disassembled also.

    — 21 July 2004 at 1:15 pm (Permalink)

  4. Shane says:

    I gave my basic thoughts on the subject below. I’m reserving judgement on the story until it’s completed though. Btw, people seem to keep forgetting it wasn’t all men involved, Zatanna and Canary were there as well and made a choice. This site never ceases to have an interesting conversation going on and stays pretty level headed compared to most. Thats why I keep coming back. Keep up the good work you two!

    — 22 July 2004 at 8:37 pm (Permalink)

  5. Rose says:

    I’ve been trying not to ignore Zatanna or Black Canary, but neither of them has really gotten a chance to speak for herself yet, so it’s hard to credit them with much either. And I don’t think the comic does fall on men do this/women do that lines, which is at least theoretically a good thing.

    One of Steven’s questions (and neither of us is very fluent in DC stuff) is why if Green Arrow is supposed to be this big crazy liberal he’s got such retrograde views of women, that they need to be kept on pedestals and protected. I think maybe this is some sort of indictment of liberalism as being a patronizing mindset, but maybe I’m reading too much into it.

    And if I’m level-headed, either you don’t get out much or I’m editing myself well!

    — 22 July 2004 at 9:17 pm (Permalink)

  6. Shane says:

    Well your level headed compared to a lot of other bloggers out there. Some of them just cause you don’t agree with them they go off on you. :)

    GA is pretty human when it comes down to it. He talks the talk, he has a lot of liberal goals, he’s very liberal in his politics, he’s very concerned about environmental issues, but he doesn’t walk the walk in his own life. He’s a womanizer and has cheated on Canary multiple times as well as betraying many of his teamates and others through his brash actions or hotheadedness. He’s more set in his ways than anything. He doesn’t like change too much. I think this contradiction in his personality makes him all the more human. I know a lot of people that have those same personality traits.

    — 22 July 2004 at 9:39 pm (Permalink)

  7. Steven says:

    I don’t know that Green Lantern’s repeated attempts to be protective of Canary really work as an indictment of liberalism—it’s not the sort of thing liberals stereotypically get patronizing about. I think it’s just that it’s one of the standard devices authors use in stories like this to show how egalitarian and feminist they are. Some dumb guy insists that the woman stay behind when the heroes are heading off to the big battle, but the woman swiftly emasculates him with a cutting remark about how much cooler and more bad-ass she is than he. The two examples I can think of right now are in Jurassic Park and The Matrix, but I know I’ve seen it a million times.

    — 22 July 2004 at 11:30 pm (Permalink)

  8. Shane says:

    yeah, it’s everywhere, but Green Arrow is a womanizer.

    — 23 July 2004 at 1:34 am (Permalink)