Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Okay, so, I’m way behind in DC Comics. I’m just finishing up 52 now and getting to Countdown and all that stuff. I’m still kind of reeling from Ralph Dibny’s death. Albeit, he went out in a somewhat gutsy, spectacular fashion. But of all of the characters featured in DC over the last few years, Ralph had very quickly won my award for “Character I cared/knew the least about and now am totally fascinated with.” See, I’m a big Identity Crisis fan. And by extension, I’m actually a big Infinite Crisis fan- I think that series was extremely under-rated, although I grant you it required vast sums of comic lore to fully enjoy. But still, Identity Crisis- one of my favorites. I’ll start by saying that I think Sue Dibny’s death was an example of what some might call “woman in the refrigerator” syndrome. That is to say often, supporting female characters serve little purpose in many comics other than to be brutally butchered by one or some other nemesis of the hero, so as to fully enrage the hero and make sure everyone knows that the villain is EEEVIILLL with a capital “EEE.” The term was coined after a particularly gruesome issue of Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner, in this case) returned to his home to find that his girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, had been murdered by Major Force, chopped into little pieces, and stuffed into the man’s refrigerator. It was a really tasteless end (although it’s definitely Major Force’s brutal M.O.) to a character that had barely been explored in that comic. So yeah. “Women in Refrigerators.” On a side note, I’ve heard that Alexandra returned during a Green Lantern story named “Circle of Fire,” in which Kyle summoned a host of alternate Green Lanterns from different realities. One of them was DeWitt. Haven’t read it, although I hear it’s good. But I digress. Sue’s death shocked me. There are only a few truly happy couples in comic books. Given that everyone else is in this constant state of tension and neverending romantic sorrow, so as to keep all the drama alive and well, I normally find messing with the status quo of said couples something of a cardinal sin. See, a happy relationship makes characters “older,” in a sense. And in most cases, the writers don’t like that- because there’s this weird thing going on in comics, where, no matter how long a comic has been being written (like say, seventy years or so), the issue you are reading is always written as though the hero and characters haven’t been around that long. It’s like somehow always perpetually only one to five years after a character’s origin story has taken place, despite numerous published stories accumulating and adding to that character’s lore. Now I’m not criticizing that “feel” per se- it’s a necessary evil. Otherwise, Batman would already be a ninety year old man. Of course, if you’re into that, you can read Batman: Year One Hundred (totally weird). All I’m saying is, there are only a handful of healthy relationships out there in comics. Lois and Clark, Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance (even before they were married), Susan and Reed Richards, Barry Allen (Flash I) and Iris West, Wally West (Flash II, Iris’ nephew) and Linda Park…I can’t even put Peter Parker and Mary-Jane Watson, or Scott Summers and Jean Grey on this list. And I’m not going to include Carter Hall (Hawkman) and Shiera Saunders (Hawkwoman) on here, who are being reincarnated and falling in love only to be killed over and over again? Or something? In fact, I think they merged into a single person, a new Hawkman. I don’t even know. I’ve lost track. So when you disrupt a happy couple in comics, it’s like destroying priceless art. DC often went out of their way to show you how great Sue really was too. She really was Ralph’s partner in every way, even when it came to crimefighting and superheroics. That is to say, she helped her husband-sometimes the entire Justice League-solve mysteries and resolve problems. So they really were in an equal, worthwhile partnership- they depended on each other, helped each other, all that stuff (sniff, I must have something in my eye). What allowed me to ultimately overlook the demise of this under-appreciated, overlooked, unique character was the realism of the event. Okay, shrinking yourself down to travel through soundwaves is not what I mean by realism. It’s just- Ralph doesn’t go on some raging rampage against his archnemesis following Sue’s death. Well, okay, he tries to- but mostly, he is just devastated. This death doesn’t fuel the hero- it breaks the hero. Ralph can barely function, and even in 52, you really see that he is struggling to make sense of what is left of his life without her. And Jean Loring- all I have to say is, people don’t kill each other because of some vast, conspiratorial plot to take down superheroes. People kill each other for stupid reasons, and often by mistake. And that, to me, is what made Identity Crisis so great, what made it actually make sense- that it didn’t actually make much sense. If you’ve read it, you know what I mean by that, no matter how ridiculous it sounds in print. I really love seeing Ralph all hardcore in 52. He’s been pushed to his breaking point. It’s a little bit scary sometimes. And his best asset? Detective work. It always seemed like some kind of throwaway joke, this idea that Ralph Dibny was a detective (like who, compared to Batman, is really a worthwhile detective?). But Ralph is the man in 52, and really shows what he’s made of. At the same time however, he has been through a lot of pain and, unlike the traditional “now I am inured to all feelings of compassion” routine that usually happens to comic book characters, I think he’s more sensitive to pain in other people than ever. Even to his wife’s killer. I look back over this column and see a strange combination of outright spoilers and vague statements. I won’t end with a description of Ralph’s death, although I found it shocking and a little out of place. Still, he’s gutsy all the way up to the end and that’s what I learned to love about him. So yeah, 52. Worth the read. I’ll end instead on this happy (strange) note- Sue and Ralph have apparently been reunited in the afterlife. If you’ve been reading Batman and the Outsiders, you’ve seen the couple return in Deadman-esque fashion to help the crew fight crime. Not exactly growing old together with children. But hey- it works.