by Josh Smith & r & Identity Crisis by Brian Meltzer & r & What many people find off-putting about superheroes (besides all the lycra and improbable physiology) is how inhuman they quickly become, spouting cheap moralistic trash while hurling buses and the like. Which is why the best stories involving the tights squad show them in such a way as to make them vulnerable. What makes them even better is new blood from outside the genre to show us something we've never seen or thought much about. Brian Meltzer, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Millionaires and The First Counsel, brings his murder-mystery sensibilities to bear in this tale of murder and secrets among the freakishly gifted.

Superheroes, in order to protect their identities, their families and loved ones, live lives shrouded in mystery. Who are they, really? What sort of person does it take to be a vigilante in a world of remarkably powerful villains and criminals? What secrets will they keep from one each other?

With the murder of the wife of Elongated Man, one of the few supes without a secret identity, the secrets of a select few heroes start to unravel. Meltzer builds his story around a group of minor DC Comics characters (the Green Arrow, the magician Zatanna, the Black Canary, the Flash and others), turning them into a select group who because of their shared dark secret have a supposed insight into the case. As the story builds and the heroes eliminate one suspect after another, they also become more human, operating in a morally ambiguous world where the responsibilities of great power are not so clear-cut.

As a graphic novel, the book holds up reasonably well. While the art serves the story, adding to the true-crime feel of Meltzer's script, there is nothing particularly innovative or interesting about it -- Meltzer fails to take advantage of the visual aspect of the graphic-novel medium.

But where Meltzer really lets the reader down by delivering a mystery-novel ending that's just a mystery-novel cliche. Despite an interesting premise, the conclusion of Identity Crisis, unfortunately, is about as predictable as having a superhero wear tights.

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