Tom Russo
June 18, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

In comics, as in Hollywood, ”event” projects often fall far short of expectations, as the action gets amped up to eyeball-glazing extremes while character development goes out the window. DC’s new would-be mega-series, which just kicked off its seven-issue run, appears to be trying a different approach. Thriller novelist Brad Meltzer (”The Zero Game”), who previously moonlighted in comics on ”Green Arrow”, is tackling Superman, Batman, and the rest of the Justice League, but he casts them as players in a murder mystery rather than some cosmic slugfest. Moreover, Meltzer trains his spotlight on such C-listers as the Elongated Man, who totes zero iconic baggage and whose wife’s brutal slaying sets the story in motion. (Artist Rags Morales’ wrenching two-panel illustration of the crime’s aftermath is a standout in the otherwise straightforwardly drawn book.)

The effect is to underscore that these are very human characters engaged in a very risky business. Even third-rate villains don’t always miss. And as the Elongated Man prophetically muses, ”Anyone who puts on a [superhero] costume paints a bull’s-eye on his family’s chests.”

Unlike some other name writers dabbling in comics, Meltzer seems quite willing to resist the temptation to have big, loud, pointless fun with the legends at his disposal. If he continues to deliver something different, ”Identity Crisis” may have a shot at living up to the superhype.

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