Arts » Books

Identity Heft

Who's who, and why, in comics

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Ever since Superman pulled his red undies over a blue wrestler's suit, identity has been a linchpin of American comics. More often than not, the created persona of the superhero far surpasses the worth of the human being in the cape and gloves. After all, millions of kids want to be The Hulk, but who really cares about mild-mannered Bruce Banner?

In the 1980s, two comics rattled convention by exploring the human side of costumed heroes. Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns altered our views of superheroes, giving us human expectations of our comic characters. Watchmen showed us the painful and selfish reasons why some characters donned the costume, while Dark Knight gave an in-depth view of the Batman, one of America's favorite superheroes. Since the release of those two works, comics companies have been searching for the next step in the future of the genre, and deeper questions of identity have become more commonplace.

ANT by Sean O'Reilly, Mario Gully, Stefani Rennee (Arcana Studio)

In Ant, Hanna is a child whose life goes into a tailspin when her father is unjustly accused of murder and taken to jail. In an attempt to right her situation, she conjures up Ant, a superhero counterpart for her future self. Clad in a full-body red biosuit, her future self slices and dices criminals, eventually exposing the true killer and saving her father from the death penalty. But that isn't the story.

Ant is an exploration of Hanna, her feelings of helplessness reversely echoed in her prowess as a superhero. Her inability to act is coupled with a transverse hunger for violence, so she decimates the unjust and saves the worthy, acting as judge, jury and serial executioner in her mental world. Still, that's not the story.

Hanna puts all her information on Ant in a diary, which a young boy finds. The diary is mostly scribbles and words, but he comes to life with it, imagining the world in fuller, more explosive detail. In Ant, the boy is the reader, and Ant acts as the medium, the vehicle for the reader. For all of us, picking up a comic book is a form of transport, a way to leave our mild-mannered world and become the hero. This book is an examination of that form of transport, and despite a lackluster trick ending and only semi-decent art, it brings across the tradition of mental venture in wholly untraditional ways. Although not a solid read, Ant is worthwhile if only for the chances it takes.

Identity Crisis (DC Comics)

The highly publicized and glumly received Identity Crisis series from DC Comics is now available in trade paperback. Marketed as a new Watchmen, the story takes on DC solids such as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the Justice League. The book centers on a lesser known DC character, Elastic Man, whose wife is murdered. It explores the dangers of revealed secret identities, and tension mounts as other loved ones are attacked. The Justice League begins an almost murderous crusade against the unknown attacker, only to end in a corny plot trick. The issues explored in this comic might seem new, but if readers know their comic history, they'll recognize that this is simply toned down and revamped early-90s material. The only twist is the use of actual DC characters instead of similar characters with different names. The real risks taken are in the level of violence (a rather graphic rape scene) while the end result is a feeling that the hype was better than the product. If you're searching for a DC comic with more originality, I'd recommend The Authority. As for the Identity Crisis, I'd say it's over.

Mew Mew A La Mode (TokyoPop)

TokyoPop brings Mew Mew A La Mode from Japan to America. A new book in an already famous series, this one deals with a schoolgirl who accidentally enters into a group of superheroes, the Mew Mews. Very odd and suffering from a bad case of culture shock, Mew Mew A La Mode has talking strawberries, girls with bunny ears and cat tails, and dialogue that is as inane as, well, a talking strawberry. The new Mew Mew finds herself in another world filled with alien creatures to fight, people-eating aristocrats to watch out for, and a new part-time job at the Mew Mew Bakery. She's given an instant set of friends (the other Mew Mews) and still has to show up at school. Perhaps her slip into the identity of a Mew Mew is accidental, part of the rapid pace and indecipherable character tics that plague this manga. However, taking it from a less critical perspective, she's a teenager, and her personality is fluid, well able to mix Mew Mew superhero into a Japanese schoolgirl's daily life. From a critical perspective, though, this graphic novel is confusing and perhaps wasn't a great choice for a TokyoPop import.

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