CBR: The response to that book was tremendous. Every new issue was hotly debated, but I don't think it's anything compared to what we see on social media today. Do you feel the series was a precursor to how the discussion of superhero comics has evolved? And do you think the response to the book would be different now?
Brad Meltzer: The way we are today, the one secret creators whisper to each other when they're alone and no one is around to hear, is just how ruthless the readership has gotten. There's no pleasing anyone in any medium, and we all know that. Somewhere along the way, the culture got meaner. There was a beautiful article that came out the past couple of days ago in Esquire that was about how we owe Hootie and the Blowfish an apology. They put out this great album, and then their second album came out, and we tore them apart. And it's not because we didn't like them. It was because we thought that it wasn't cool to like them. We started making our consumption something for public consumption. Our taste was for public consumption. It's no surprise that reality TV gave birth to the Internet gave birth to Donald Trump. It's just this culture of judgement and hatred and venom.
I feel like that's the thing that gets lost. I remember when Identity Crisis came out, I never picked the title. I wrote the whole book, and then they decided to go with Identity Crisis because we wanted to make it feel like a big event. It was the first comic since Crisis On Infinite Earths with "Crisis" in the title. That was a choice.
I was texting with Tom King a little bit when Heroes In Crisis first came out, and I said, "Prepare yourself. You won't believe the passions you're going to find from everyone on their favorite character." I think that rather than being able to read and calmly judge and look at things, we turn everything in the superhero world into black and white. You're either the greatest writer of all time, or you're the worst. You're ever the hero to everyone who loves this character because you gave them a great moment or you're the worst thing to happen to writing since...insert whoever it was last month.
The biggest part of the response to Identity Crisis revolved around the female characters in the book. It was bookended by tragic events for Sue Dibny and Jean Loring, and that aspect of the series got a very polarizing response even back then. Now we're in a different place in society in terms of how we talk about issues like domestic abuse and so much of what informed your series. Would you write it differently today if you had the chance to do it again, or do you not play those mental exercises?
I think it's dangerous to take old work and try to rewrite it for whatever today's standards are supposed to be for a particular moment. If you do that, you're starting to write by focus group and by groupthink. No great story will ever come from that. I think that anyone who read the book knows there are really hard issues in that book. There are moments about people and about us – about rape and about violence. Even when I look back on it, it's a hard moment to read. It's designed to be.
I remember at the time, people were writing, "Rape has no place in a comic." To me, if you say in any medium that subjects are off limits? Well, I'll say it this way. I wish there was no rape in the universe. I wish that awful event never took place. But if we say that we can't discuss this as a culture, we're in an even worse place than just having it exist. It will always be uncomfortable, and that's what art always has to do. Our medium has to deal with those issues, and that's what it's always done. Whether it was Stan Lee's soapboxes, or Black Panther being introduced, or the Hard Traveling Heroes dealing with issues of the counterculture. Wherever it might have been, there have always been places where comics have taken on the hardest issues in society, and I hope it always will. It may not please everyone, but art is not always meant to please you. It's, at its best, meant to challenge you.
Do I think Identity Crisis would be treated differently today? Absolutely. But I can't change it. No artist should ever go back and rewrite their work if it made a couple of people upset. I think it's far more important if you're writing from a truthful place rather than a reactive place. And the sad truth is, that issue needs to be dealt with and talked about more than ever. It's the only way we're ever going to make any progress.
On a lighter note, the other big legacy of Identity Crisis that maybe no one expected is that it created a trope, and that is the phrase "mind wipe" as a piece of pop culture.
[Laughs] I know! It's so crazy. It's everywhere. I think I invented that term. Now someone will probably show up and say, "No, it was in issue #16 in 1963," but I had never heard it. It was a term I invented because I thought it was catchy, and now I see it in TV shows and movies, and I can't possibly give all the credit to Identity Crisis. But some things move through the culture in mysterious and fun ways, and if it's just coincidence, it just moved through geek culture just the same. I can't tell you how many times I get e-mails from people telling me it showed up in some new place.