Heroes in Crisis is finally here, and with its arrival, DC effectively kills the heart of what made Rebirth a success.
For months, we’ve been teased by Heroes in Crisis. Originally titled Sanctuary, I would say that most of us were looking forward to the book. Tom King was reaching a high with Batman, he had mentioned that Sanctuary would focus on characters who have endured emotional trauma and needed support, and he’d delivered wonderful stories in Grayson, Omega Men, Vision, and most recently Mister Miracle. Sanctuary felt like it would be a character focus that mirrored the horror that the men and women of our military struggle with every day. Hell, King was basically saying he was going to make a superhero version of Sheriff of Babylon – my favorite book of his – by examining the unseen, secret side effects of being a hero.
All of this was exciting! King made a name for himself by deconstructing “minor” characters, and he’d just announced that he was about to do the same with this book. But instead of focusing on one character at a time, he was going to feature many. Still, the buzz and excitement remained. But then… Things started to change. King made some poor decisions in his Batman run, and some of the characters he used felt far removed from who we knew them to be. Then there was the wedding fiasco. And with the wedding fiasco came people’s anger and refusal to read his books moving forward (and some abandoned DC altogether).
With a name change from Sanctuary to Heroes in Crisis, the title desperately needed some positive momentum, something that DC probably thought the new name would bring, but that didn’t necessarily happen. Immediately, people started panicking because of the Crisis title and a rumor that DC would reboot their line. Fans were happy with Rebirth, so this is not what they wanted to hear. The relaunch rumors ended up being false (kind of… depending on how you view recent events), but the more DC teased Heroes in Crisis, the more disgust I noticed building in fans. While we suspected a number of “minor” characters would be deconstructed, King/ DC started teasing the deconstruction of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman… And all of the deconstruction was awful. King has been missing the mark with his attempts to do this in Batman, and some of the “Sanctuary files” written about Superman are infuriating. Then, on top of all of this, DC started teasing that a major character would die… In fact, two would die! And this information was not received well. A serious, deserving story appeared to be shaping up as a sales gimmick…
Now, finally, we’re here. We have the release of Heroes in Crisis, and you have the choice to read the book or not. But before we discuss the book, it’s important that we remember a few things. First off, the teases, conversations, and events that have led up to this point are separate from this book. Heroes in Crisis is not a gimmick. It deserves to be received and judged on its own merit. Beyond that, there will be many things that occur in the book that you may not like… I understand being angry when a beloved character dies, and I’ll touch on this later, but that feeling doesn’t necessarily mean that the book isn’t written or executed well. So, why am I saying this? Because Heroes in Crisis is an excellent book that pisses me off to no end!
The first aspect I want to discuss is the art. This is, easily, one of the most beautifully drawn books I’ve ever read! Clay Mann is one of the God-sends that has gifted the comics industry with his talent, and not only are we lucky to have him in the industry, but his work alone is worth way more than the price of this book. From the character designs to the landscapes that are featured, the book looks like a masterpiece. But as incredible as his pencils are, that’s not what moves me. Instead, it’s the emotions and tones he’s able to emote through his characters and scenery. You don’t need King’s script to tell you how the characters are feeling. You see it in their faces and postures. From Booster and Harley’s depression, to the Trinity’s shock as they come to terms with the reality of their discovery… Every beat of the story is as present in the art as it is in the words on the page. Even the way Mann frames his panels are incredible. The tone of the book shifts from serene, to morbid, to heavy, to a sense of desperation, and so on with complete ease. Every single page and panel is carefully thought, carefully crafted, and deserves a 10/10, especially when you factor in Tomeu Morey’s colors. I could spend my entire review gushing on Clay Mann’s art, and it would only serve as a minor fraction of the praise that it deserves.
The debut is broken down into three arcs: The Trinity. Booster Gold and Harley Quinn. And Sanctuary interview footage. Each plays a large role in laying the groundwork for the book, but the connections don’t necessarily fall into place until the end. Keep that in mind while you’re reading the because things that may seem awkward during your first read-through, but will read much better the second time around as you’ll understand motivation and context by this point.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, Sanctuary is a retreat that heroes go to, to receive help. Their individual need for help ranges drastically. We see video interviews for Harley Quinn, Booster Gold, Arsenal, Blue Jay, Hot Spot, and more. The interviews give us insight into how Sanctuary helps heroes, the services it provides, and the darker side of heroics we never think about or take for granted. From depression, to PTSD, to addiction, every character is dealing with illnesses that plague thousands, millions of people across the globe… And it’s incredibly sad. Yes, it’s clear that Tom King is projecting here – maybe not his own struggles, but definitely some experiences he’s witnessed, assisted with, or endured in other ways.
Despite the good that Sanctuary is doing, they’ve been attacked, and dozens of people have been slaughtered. Many employees and a handful of heroes have all fallen victim to a massacre that is bloody and brutal. Yes, you read that correctly, many heroes. More than one. Superman is the first of the Trinity to arrive on the scene, and his portrayal is perfect. His hesitation, dread, regret… It’s all over his face. Witnessing Clark fully assess the situation as he accounts for everybody is gut-wrenching. You literally feel his pain as he comments on one of the young heroes whose life ended too soon. There’s a suspense and disgust and melancholy that begins to wash over you, as Superman discovers body after boday, and all you want to do is console him. You want to tell him you’re sorry because all you can see is the innocence, the purity in him, trying to cope with what he’s witnessing.
Batman and Wonder Woman arrive shortly after Clark and help to assess the situation. They cope in their own way, but it’s still effective, and it shows just how different these three characters are, but also why they are so close to one another. It’s the characterization of these three that worried me the most coming into Heroes in Crisis, and each of them are handled beautifully by King. So, if you were concerned about characterization, don’t be.
The third plot in the story is shared between Harley Quinn and Booster Gold. Although the story starts with these two in a diner, their arc picks up in the aftermath of the massacre. Both Harley and Booster were at Sanctuary and they’re two of the characters that survived the massacre, but they both appear stunted. Booster is eating a meal like it’s a normal day, and Harley joins him for dessert. It’s that switch that flips on in your brain when you experience something traumatic where you don’t know how to react, so you try to do something that is routine or normal. Both of these characters are in this mindset before they break into a visceral fight.
During the fight Booster pulls out all of the standard heroics, trying to protect the innocent people surrounding him, as well as Harley herself. King pits Harley as the villain, and Booster is over it. He’s done with her antics and psychotic breaks, and he’s stopping her now… But as the fight moves on, we learn much more about what has or hasn’t taken place prior to their encounter in the diner. It’s here that a mystery is presented. I don’t want to give anything away in my main article, but I will discuss it below in the spoiler tag.
Booster Gold and Harley Quinn are fighting in the diner, and initially, we don’t know why. One would assume it’s just because Harley is crazy, and Booster is doing what any hero would do… But as the fight progresses, Booster reveals that Harley is responsible for killing everyone at Sanctuary… Only for Harley to then accuse him – seriously – of killing the people at Sanctuary. Now, one could easily write Harley off as being delusional (which could be the case), but there’s something about her approach, attack, and belief that makes me think she really does think Booster killed the heroes and staff at Sanctuary. Perhaps one of these two did murder their allies, and they’re mentally broken to a degree that they just don’t remember. Maybe one of them has dissociative identity disorder. Maybe someone put a whammy on them and altered their mind to create the allusion that they witnessed the other carry out the massacre. Or maybe, just maybe, someone or something working within Sanctuary was plotting against our heroes, and used perception as a weapon. There are a number of possibilities, and any of them would be interesting.
Now, for the elephant in the room… Who dies? Well, there are some lesser-known heroes such as Blue Jay, Hot Spot, and Commander Steel. Then there are the two heavy hitters. Arsenal and Flash. Which Flash? Wally West. Ladies and gentlemen, Rebirth is dead. Much in the way that Geoff Johns had Pandora slaughtered by Dr. Manhattan to visually signal the end of the New 52, Dan Didio fired back by killing Wally West… And it’s a shame. If I have one complaint about the book, it’s the choice of who dies – something I won’t necessarily blame King for. DC made a huge point to bring Wally West back and established his need and significance within the universe. Then Didio got control again and decided he didn’t like the character, so he took him out… Honestly, this doesn’t feel like it’s here for the sake of story. This death feels petty. It comes off as an middle finger to Geoff Johns more than anything, and it’s a shame that it comes at the reader’s expense.
As for Arsenal, there will be some who are disappointed. Since King is telling a story that deals heavily with emotional trauma, Roy would have – and should have – been the perfect character to use concerning an inability to cope. That’s not to say that Roy can’t handle what’s going on around him, merely that he is plagued by many demons and doesn’t make the best decisions when he’s down on his luck. Drug abuse, and potentially suicide, could’ve been explored perfectly here, and unfortunately that won’t happen. That doesn’t mean that we can’t explore these concepts with another character, but I think many people would’ve hoped, desperately, for Roy to make the right choices and it would’ve been heartbreaking to see him choose otherwise.
I do think there are valid questions we should ask concering the original sidekicks. I think it’s fair to say that DC doesn’t know what to do with these characters. On top of Wally and Roy here, look at what they’ve done to Nightwing and Donna Troy. It’s almost as if DC is approaching their characters with the mindset of, “We can’t get rid of our core heroes, but we can’t risk their former sidekicks overshadowing them, and we can tell new, fresh stories if we have new sidekicks… So… Let’s just kill off the origianl sidekicks, or take them out of commission at the very least, so we don’t have to figure this out.” I’m not saying that is DC’s mindset… But it definitely comes across this way.
I think we can be honest and admit that Tom King has shown his hand, and plays into his “strengths” a little too frequently at this point, but the mystery in this story, as well as the range of characters, help make this book feel different. He does his best when his narratives have a limited run, and that remains true here. He’s in full “Tom King” mode, and I mean that in the most positive way possible.
By the end of the book, I felt uncertain. I knew I liked it, but I was also angry concerning non-story elements. Heroes in Crisis isn’t a book that you just pick up, read, and set back down. It’s a book that serves you better to read it more than once. This is a story that sticks with you throughout the day. It lingers in the back of your mind as you mull through the vast complexities of emotions. The themes here mirror situations that many of us, or people we know, struggle with. This is a heavy, dark, story that isn’t for everyone, but it deserves a shot because it is executed incredibly well on all fronts, and it’s clear that this is just the beginning.
- Tom King and Clay Mann
- You’re a fan of stories that deconstruct characters well.
- You enjoy exploring the darker, more emotional aspects of heroics.
- Did I mention Tom King and Clay Mann?
Overall: Tom King and Clay Mann deliver. Yes, Heroes in Crisis is just a comic book, but it’s an important one. The themes touched on here are unbearably relevant, and King has set himself up so that he can take his time to tell this story. While we’ve barely scratched the surface, I can’t complain about anything other than some political pandering within DC that pops up in the narrative. Whether it holds up over time will be the real question, but for now, it’s an excellent beginning that asks the right questions.