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Is Anyone Irredeemable?

    Welcome to Comical-Musings! In my first post, I chose to review the theme of redemption as it applies to one of the central figures in mystery writer Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis. This miniseries was a critical AND commercial favorite, and it’s easy to see why. If you haven’t yet read the comics, go do that. Fair warning-this review contains major spoilers!
The cover to Issue #1

    Meltzer humanizes these heroes with such skill that while you, the reader, become acquainted with Zatanna, Batman, the Atom, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, Green Arrow, Superman, and Black Canary (just to name a few), you’re swept into the drama, the poignancy, and the absolute heartbreak. It’s this investment in the characters’ lives that makes the outcome of this story so tragic.
    This brings us to the main Identity Crisisvillain. (Seriously, if you haven’t read these comics and plan to, stop reading now!) Jean Loring, ex-wife of the Atom Dr. Ray Palmer, suffers a mental breakdown. After killing one of her dearest friends, Sue Dibny, (in an attempt to bring all the members of the hero community running home to their families), Jean then stages an attack on herself, which causes Ray to briefly come back to her. Jean accidentally gives herself away in a conversation with Ray, who then fits the pieces of the story together and realizes that his ex-wife murdered Sue. After hearing her explanation for her crime, he realizes that she’s gone insane and, instead of handing her over to the other heroes for their own type of justice, sends Jean to be incarcerated in Arkham Asylum.
    But does this woman, who methodically plotted the death of a friend and an innocent woman, deserve Ray’s compassion? At first, Jean tearfully insists that Sue’s death was an accident, but later states that when she came to Sue’s home, she brought weapons with her, “just in case”. This clearly indicates forethought-Jean rationally planned this event, and made preparations in case anything didn’t proceed according to her plan. Meticulous planning is evident within every step Jean takes in her insane attempt to win back her ex-husband.
The cover to Issue #4

However, given that Jean was not in her right mind when she orchestrated the attack on Sue (and others-read these comics!), should she be held responsible for the consequences of her actions? Jean clearly suffers from debilitating insanity, and though Jean is a murderer she still cares for her ex-husband. She still possesses the capacity to love, or at least desire human companionship. Should the strength of this affection not be considered in her favor? Jean only committed her crimes when she was faced with the reality of losing her husband forever. Her grief-tinged lunacy caused many people terrible heartache, but for one chance-one chance to get your lost beloved back-can you honestly say that you would never consider extreme measures? No, normal people do not murder their fellows, but entirely normal people secretly stage “chance meetings” to cause jealousy, question mutual family and friends for details of their ex’s life, and stalk online social media sites for information about their former

Much of the beauty of this story is the honest heartbreak experienced by all the characters. Secrets are revealed, lives are ended, and trust among friends is shattered-but the utterly human relationships are at the forefront. While Jean Loring’s actions can’t be undone, her motives can be understood, and even empathized with. Does she deserve the chance for redemption? Certainly not, but that’s the beauty of grace.

~ Shiera Carter ~

Letter From The Editor: You can purchase Identity Crisis collected into 
a hardcover edition for only $14.99 through!

About Shiera Carter

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  1. Excellent write-up. Welcome to the team.

    Your title asks if anyone is beyond redemption, but I found that this story answered the inverse question. It demonstrated that anyone can be corrupted; anyone can be lost (which makes it a great topic for the Week of Villainy.)

    This story arc is presented as a murder mystery where the heroes are trying to figure out which super-villain killed Sue Dibny. The twist is that the murderer is neither super nor a villain (at least before this series.) On her own, Jean Loring has no super powers, and she was among the Justice League’s trusted circle of friends, almost on the same level as Jimmy Olsen or Alfred. But she chooses to become a super-villainess without explicitly realizing it. She puts her own desires ahead of absolutely everything else. Using the Atom’s suit to give herself powers, she murders a close friend and then attempts to cover it up by framing others. As a result, in the ultimate justice of the DC universe, she suffers the fate of a super-villainess. You mentioned that Ray Palmer has her committed to Arkham out of compassion. Obviously, he still had feelings for her, and those feelings are likely to have motivated what he saw as a compassionate consequence for Jean. But based on some descriptions of Arkham Asylum, being admitted there may be a worse fate than life in prison or a death sentence, especially for a person who had previously been used to a “normal” life. “Identity Crisis” does give the impression that some heroes occasionally employ morally questionable means when bringing their enemies to “justice,” but I doubt that anything they would have done would have been worse than Arkham. Metaphorically, Arkham Asylum is one of the closest things the DC universe has to a living hell. Anything is possible in comic books, but to me, Jean being committed to Arkham implies that there is no hope of redemption.

    “Identity Crisis” stares directly into the face of debased evil, in the form of Dr. Light, and then it reveals that ANYONE could become like that. In a way, it is a cautionary tale to the reader, showing that what we might consider minor misdeeds can quickly escalate and result in our committing atrocities that we previously believed were impossibly beyond our capabilities. Jean Loring had previously had a closer-than-average view of super-criminals like Dr. Light, and she may have told herself that she could never be like them, yet that is exactly what she becomes. And the fact that this transformation is possible is one of the most shocking revelations of the series; it is the ultimate identity crisis.

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