Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Tom King
Artwork: Clay Mann
Colours: Tomeu Morey
Lettering: Clayton Cowles
Release Date: 29th May 2019
[CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR HEROES IN CRISIS 1-8]
Tom King’s Heroes In Crisis is getting a ridiculous amount of hatred online, and I get it. I really do. Readers develop a sense of loyalty to the characters they love over time, and seeing them doing something that appears to be fundamentally ‘out of character’ can trigger some fairly strong feelings.
To recap, it transpires that the mysterious deaths of a number of young superheroes at ‘The Sanctuary’ – a facility where superheroes can pour out their concerns, fears and insecurities anonymously to an A.I. counsellor – were caused by Wally West. Believing that the Sanctuary was wholly set up for him, Wally decided to hack into the erased data and witnessing the shared trauma of his peers, the impact of which caused him to have a minor breakdown and unleash the Speedforce in a destructive wave.
Now, while I definitely understand the online outrage (especially since, for a lot of people, Tom King’s goodwill was already used up with the highly controversial Batman #50), I also get Wally’s motivations. He made a mistake, lost control for a split-second, and people died. It’s the razor’s edge balancing act that goes hand-in-hand with being a hero. However, rather than handing himself in, rather than doing the quote-unquote “heroic” thing, he went on to frame Booster Gold and Harley Quinn to buy himself an extra five days. Five days to show the world the secrets of the Sanctuary, to show them that even superheroes struggle with their mental health from time to time, and then to kill himself and close the loop.
Is it the best plan of action? Absolutely not. Does it feel jarringly out-of-character for such an inspiring character like Wally? Most definitely. But it also kinda makes sense. King has drawn parallels between Wally’s actions and his own experiences – and the experiences of others – in the military. Upon returning home from overseas, soldiers are frequently viewed as conquering heroes, beacons of hope that are fighting to make the world a better place. The things and people they’ve lost personally and the trauma they may be going through is swept aside in favour of the accepted narrative, which is pretty much exactly what happened to Wally during DC’s Rebith. He’s back! Yay! Who cares if he lost his wife and children, because he’s the symbol of hope for the DC Universe! Yay! So yeah, while it’s definitely a shocking move, I can totally buy into the motivations.
On the visual side of things, this is a fairly subdued issue with a lot of talking and character development (peppered with King’s trademark nine panel grids showing some of the other heroes who have visited the Sanctuary – the four Robins providing a personal highlight), but Clay Mann does a great job nailing the emotional beats along the way. The characters are large and expressive, and Mann throws in a series of memorable, emotive splash pages along the way, with Tomeu Morey’s colours adding a real depth and richness to the proceedings which helps ensure that whatever you think of the story, there’s no denying that this one of the best looking books on the shelves today.
At the end of the day, it almost works. Sure, it’s a little on-the-nose and inelegant at times (not to mention the fact that time travel stories are inherently confusing and never really hold up to close scrutiny), but the core motivations feel real. The emotional resolution here is also sound, even if the tying up of the storyline loose ends is almost insultingly convoluted (seriously, I hate time travel stories.) Plus, in spite of what a lot of people will see as the ‘character assassination’ of Wally West, it’s worth pointing out that both Harley Quinn and Booster Gold come out of this really well in terms of depth and development.
So, while it feels like Heroes in Crisis is going to be a divisive comic for as long as people are still talking about it, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I’ve enjoyed the ride. The whole “superheroes struggle with mental health too” theme is well executed, the artwork is terrific throughout, and even though the “murder mystery” we were promised at the beginning ended up being a bit of a damp squib, I honestly can’t be too mad about the way things turned out. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how (or if?) the events of this series fold into the larger DC Universe. If nothing else, this series proves once again that even if Tom King certainly isn’t a writer who goes out of his way to make everyone happy, he definitely makes sure to get everyone talking.