We’re five issues into Heroes in Crisis and we finally get something that should’ve taken place in issue three… Plot progression.
Much to the chagrin of many readers, I’ve been rather positive towards Heroes in Crisis – at least more so than the general public would probably like me to be due to the various controversies surrounding this book. While there are certainly complete misses with characterization and judgment at times (Booster Gold, Harley beating the Trinity, deaths for shock value), there’ve also been some incredibly deep, impactful character moments as well. It’s a tale of two stories. One of which is a character study that is delivering profoundly by exploring the psychological toll a person endures by serving as a hero or vigilante, and the other is a murder mystery that still hasn’t completely found its footing. Thankfully, this issue continues the former, and provides some progression for the latter.
I want to start by focusing on what works with Heroes in Crisis – the exploration of trauma, anxiety, depression, and loss. These have primarily been explored through nine-panel grids as heroes discuss their struggles in a confessional-type setting, and they’ve all been executed spectacularly. The best thing about these pages is that they’re typically just that, a page. King and Mann provide themselves the perfect amount of space to edit down their scene without it being too on-the-nose or overwritten. The characters aren’t trying to convince anyone of anything, they’re just sharing their pain and experiences as they experience(d) them. They aren’t here to serve anyone except themselves. The scenes are subtle, casual even, but almost all of them have carried a weight. And yet, none of them feel overbearing because they’re not necessarily crucial to the plot, they’re just the theme of the book. This issue continues that trend by featuring confessionals of heroes such as Commander Steel, Solstice, and The Protector.
I’ve found that readers tend to either want Heroes in Crisis to focus on nothing but trauma, or they don’t want it all because they want their comics to serve as an escape rather than a reminder of the struggles we face every day. I understand both sides of this argument, but also disagree with both sides. On one hand, yes, the focus on trauma is my favorite part of Heroes In Crisis, but mostly because of how it’s executed. There are other plots and character threads occurring around these confessionals, and that allows the reader a chance to “breathe.” Whether you enjoy the plot of this book (the murder mystery) or not isn’t the point here, I’m merely commenting on the technical approach King is using, and how it allows him to explore these themes with maximum effect – predominately how far-reaching trauma is. The ability to allow each confessional to stand out without requiring readers to wallow in that character’s trauma wouldn’t be possible if there wasn’t something else going on. So, rather than deeply exploring a single trauma, we get a broad reach of characters and traumas all at once, allowing each one to serve as a quick, swift jab to the gut. It’s honestly brilliant.
That being said, I also understand why people don’t want dark, depressing stories; however, exploring this from time to time isn’t a bad thing. I’ve always leaned towards heavier or darker narratives, but I believe there is a time and place for everything. I even think that certain characters are more prone to these types of stories (Constantine, Red Hood, Huntress, Catwoman), while others should mostly exist in a more positive and uplifting environment (Superman, Wonder Woman, Nightwing). But taking these characters to a darker place for an event book or an arc can have great impacts as it rounds them out and provides more substance. That’s what we get to experience here, and we get to do so without necessarily deconstructing core characters in embarrassingly bad ways (I’m looking at you Batman). Instead, we simply see these characters acknowledging something that has happened to them and shaped their life or mindset. This exploration isn’t meant to drag readers down, but to hopefully help them appreciate the length our heroes go to, to persevere. Despite the subject matter being heavy, it can also prove to be incredibly inspirational.
Earlier, I mentioned that the confessionals are handled with a subtle touch. What I mean by that is that we don’t need long, drawn out explanations. We haven’t had a single moment yet where a character has felt the need to defend what they struggle with… until this issue when Superman, following the reveal of Sanctuary to the public, addresses the fears of citizens after learning that, at times, their heroes aren’t ok. The scene is executed beautifully by King and spans across most of the issue. It’s a powerful message, and Superman’s words hit home. His stance is reassuring, but in some ways also shames society for fearing that people have emotions or falter. He does what he can to silence that stigma and defend his peers for continuing to protect and serve despite their traumas.
Which brings me to the “second tale” of this story – the main plot – the murder mystery. Now, I praised this aspect above because it makes the themes of trauma more impactful – but there’s still a lot of room for improvement concerning the plot itself. Many fans have complained about story structure, pacing, and the controversial approach used for telling this story. While I’ve been championing the notion of “just wait, we don’t really know anything yet” and “there are hints and clues that nothing is as it seems,” I still have to admit that the pacing has been awful. In fact, calling this a slow burn would be kind of insulting. Even the “hints” I reference are so subtle that I can’t be certain that they’re actually hints… I’m just giving the creative team the benefit of the doubt because I feel they deserve that until proven otherwise.
Thankfully, this issue, finally, starts bringing multiple threads together while also providing real, substantial hints pertaining to what’s going on and what’s to come. We can finally see the direction and path that each of our characters are on, and for the first time since issue two, there’s a sense of urgency from our heroes to solve the mystery of the massacre. Having Superman’s speech illustrated with a backdrop of heroes such as Blue Devil, Adam Strange, Mister Terrific, Swamp Thing and more, – all of whom are dealing with their own traumas – almost feels like a call to arms, and I can’t help but wonder of this is the first sign of the book shifting away from a thematic focus, to race the plot to the finish line.
While it still isn’t perfect, the book takes a number of steps in the right direction, but there’s no reason this couldn’t have occurred within the first three issues. Now the real question is, can we actually trust what Booster discovers here, especially since he admits in his opening confessional that he can’t “see” clearly? Now if we can get some information concerning the puddlers and start setting up actual suspects for the murder, we’ll be golden.
On the character front, there are still some scenes between Batgirl and Harley that I question, but they’re not as drastic as the previous issue. I can’t say the same about the exchange between Batman and Batgirl though. That one is…. weird. Booster and Ted, however, are a blast, and a ton of fun to read. The real winner here is Superman though. Superman makes this issue worthwhile, and the themes presented here solidify what this book is really about. This isn’t a story about a murder mystery, this is a story about the cost of living a heroic life. There are varying limits and degrees of what it means to be a hero, and they all come with their own cost. Despite that cost, despite those nightmares, our heroes still wake up each day to encounter these challenges to help make the world a better place.
The Art: Clay Mann handles the art with assistance from Travis Moore, and as expected, the work is top notch. The detail that both artists provide not only to the characters, but the environments around them, is superb. Something also needs to be said about Tomeu Morey’s use of colors. When King and Mann/ Moore aren’t delivering tone through the script or “acting,” Morey does so with his colors. Each scene looks and feels distinctly different than the others. It’s an element that could easily go unnoticed from an untrained eye, but ultimately serves the same function as a well-written score for a film. Even when the script falters, the art more than makes up for the cost of the book.
- You enjoy character studies.
- You want to see Superman give one hell of a speech.
- Tom King finally has a brilliantly good (and heartbreaking) moment with Harley.
Overall: Heroes in Crisis isn’t a perfect book by any means, but it does many things incredibly well. The themes presented here are some of the best in comics today, and this issue really drives home what this book is about. While some of the character work is questionable, and the plot needs some improvements, this chapter provides some hope that we could be in for some good advancements as we move into the back half of this title.