By Will Barber – Taylor
Following on from the last edition’s look at the classic Batman story, The Killing Joke, in this instalment we look at a lesser known story from the canon which, like The Killing Joke, deals with deep and dark emotions. Identity Crisis – (Batman #455 – 457).
Rather like the previous edition’s story, the famous and beloved story The Killing Joker, Identity Crisis looks at not just identity (like The Killing Joke) but also about the power of the mask, the power of being able to become another person – just like in The Origin of Black Mask (see The Dark Tales of The Dark Knight 5).
The story’s central theme of the power of identity nicely links in with its other theme of the power of an alter ego. The story features several ordinary citizens of Gotham donning masks and attacking other people for no apparent reason. As Batman investigates, Tim Drake, Bruce Wayne’s young ward contemplates whether he feels he can live up to the reputation of Robin and take on the responsibility of being Batman’s partner. Tim’s sense of conflicting identity about whether to become Robin connects with the recurring theme that masks can change you for better or worse. The idea that taking on a mask can alter not just the personality of a person but also the person themselves is brilliantly explored in the book. The villain of the tale, The Scarecrow (who similarly wears a mask and dresses like a Scarecrow) suggests to Batman that he more than anyone would understand the liberating effects that wearing a mask can give.
The exploration of identity and how a mask can warp it are further explored in a scene in which Tim dreams that he is being confronted by the two previous Robins, Dick Grayson and Jason Todd. Todd and Grayson reflect the past of the identity of Robin and as they both point out to Tim, to hold the identity Tim has to accept that he can’t be swallowed by the mask – he has to remember that deep down the mask is simply a disguise and that it is not actually him. This is something that The Scarecrow doesn’t realize; he has become too swallowed in his identity as the bringer of fear to realize that this isn’t him. He is lost within his own created persona, while Batman and Robin use their personas as tools to fight crime and bring justice.
Norm Breyfogle’s artwork throughout the story is beautifully realized. He creates great images of Batman and manages to keep him to the shadows. His illustrations of the masked killers that have been drugged by The Scarecrow are wonderful as well. Breyfogle manages to create a true picture of Gotham; a grungy, terrible place filled at the seams with crime.
Overall, Identity Crisis is a fascinating look at identity and how wearing a mask and pretending to be someone else can alter your identity. It can change you for better or for worse, however, mainly for the worse.
In the next edition we look at The Joker’s attempts to summon Satan in Major Arcana.