Monday, August 12, 2019

Comic Comics #1: Superman: Identity Crisis

The covers to "Identity Crisis" by (clockwise from
top left) Alan Davis & Mark Farmer, Dave Johnson,
Kieron Dwyer, and Howard Chaykin.
One of my favorite Superman stories was a four-part story that appeared in each Superman title with a July 1996 cover date. What's interesting is that none of the issues were done by the regular creative team. It was special guest month and I'm fairly certain the regular team was unavailable because of the death of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel in January.

In "Identity Crisis", Brainiac puts himself in Superman's body and proceeds to...learn everything he can about everything. This was the first story that made me write a letter to the editor. It actually saw print in Action Comics #727 and, well, let's just say I've grown as a writer since then.

"Identity Crisis" was written by Tom Peyer and Mark Waid; penciled by Chris Renaud, Curt Swan, Steven Butler, and Chris Marrinan; inked by Dick Giordano and Pam Eklund; lettered by Albert de Guzman; colored by Glenn Whitmore and separated by Digital Chameleon; and edited by Mike McAvennie and KC Carlson. As always, Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

We open on Superman saving a girl from getting splatted on the highway while trying to vandalize a sign with her friends. We then cut to Brainiac, as Milton Fine, at a psychiatric hospital getting treatment when he escapes his bonds and goes looking for a fellow 15-year-old resident who thinks he's Superman--Chas Cassidy. Creating a distraction to lure Superman to the hospital, Superman does arrives and Brainiac creates a mindswap putting Superman's consciousness into Chas and Brainiac's consciousness into Superman's. Believing even more now that he is Superman, the doctor sends Chas to electroshock therapy.
Chas and his friend, Aminah.
Superman to the rescue!
Whoops! Spoke too soon.
After the therapy, Chas' friend Aminah takes Chas/Superman up to the roof for a few minutes of "freedom." He actually kinds of convinces her that something's wrong before the evil orderlies, who like to beat up on the younger patients, arrive. The next day, Chas is able to place a call to Lois Lane but when she arrives at the hospital, Chas/Superman is unable to figure how to convince her what has happened so he fakes a seizure and she leaves.

Brainiac, meanwhile, is trying to figure out how he can gain access to as many people as possible. Using Superman's senses, Brainiac decides to address the nation on television. Chas, not able to wait around anymore, decides to escape. Unfortunately, one of the mean orderlies finds him and Aminah and runs to catch them, slipping on the wet roof and falling to his death. A security guard sees this and let's the hospital know that Chas has escaped and that he killed an orderly.
Aminah shows Chas the world.
Looks like Chas/Superman has gotten himself into a sticky situation.
To her credit, Lois does feel that something isn't right with the call she got from the hospital or with Superman--as Superman would never address the nation on TV like he's a president or king. Lois goes to WGBS to talk with him. Instead, Brainiac goes on TV, reveals a giant dome has been placed over Metropolis and proceeds to hypnotize the citizens of Metropolis. This includes Lois and everyone else who could help Chas so he's on his own to defeat Brainiac who has secured himself inside LexCorp Tower.

Just like now, only without phones in our hands.

Brainiac's plan is very strange. His goal is to collect all known knowledge but Superman's brain, while not a terrible vessel, still has its limitations so Brainiac is using the people of Metropolis to store the excess information. It's an odd plan especially coming off his illusion that Superman is still dead just a year prior. Anyway, Chas makes it into LexCorp Tower but is immediately confronted by Brainiac. Now, instead of just killing Chas, Brainiac throws him out the window but then flies down and saves him. That act causes Chas to realize that Brainiac is not the only conscious in Superman's body. Brainiac needed Chas to make Superman seem more like Superman.

Brainiac takes a look inside Chas--at why he has seizures and sees his abusive and distant parents and Superman on the TV. Chas escaped into Superman. While Brainiac is lost in Chas' mind, Chas is able to switch everyone back to normal. Superman and Brainiac duke it out real quick before Chas figures out how to reverse Brainiac's plan and sends all the information into Brainiac rendering him the smartest being in the known universe and just as helpless.

In the epilogue, Superman deduces that since Chas wasn't having seizures when he was in Superman's body, then they must be due to a chemical imbalance. Chas is wheeled into surgery and everyone lives happily ever after.

This would be Brainiac's last appearance for nearly three years. He would return in Superman: The Doomsday Wars having gotten Doomsday's body from the end of time but he was defeated trapped in another body, Brainiac 2.5. This story also takes place when Clark and Lois have separated and are no longer engaged. We never see Chas again but all-in-all it's a decent story and if you are able to, worth a purchase if you find them in the back issue bin.

This story was originally published in The Adventures of Superman #536, Action Comics #723, Superman: The Man of Steel #58, and Superman #114. Published and copyright 1996 DC Comics.