Updated: Jan 25, 2020
HEROES IN CRISIS Writer: Tom King Artists: Clay Mann, Lee Weeks, Mitch Gerads, Travis Moore, Jorge Fornes Colorist: Tomeu Morey Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher DC Comics
The always polarizing Tom King sets out to write a grand, moving story about trauma, depression, PTSD, and other mental health issues superheroes would deal with from their "job". I was immensely curious about this book. I had read MISTER MIRACLE, now a multiple Eisner winner, where it so beautifully captured working through depression. As someone who lives with a mental illness, that story moved me in ways that to this day, I cannot completely articulate. It was powerful, hopeful, and heartbreaking. If there was any writer at DC to discuss the nuances of character trauma, I would have thought it would have been King. I was not one of those people reading this as it was coming out. With smaller series, I tend to collect the single issues and then binge-read when it's final issue hits shelves. With HiC, every issue that came out, fan uproar riddled the internet. There were multitudes of people voicing that this story was the worst book DC was putting out; There were die-hard fans of certain characters yelling that Tom King was assassinating their favorite; There were people who were praising it as a great look into trauma. With all of these conflicting ideas, I did not know what to expect. I thought I was either going to love it or hate it.
We get most of the story told through two characters, Booster Gold and Harley Quinn. They were at a location called Sanctuary alongside a slew of mid to c-list heroes (many I wasn't particularly familiar with). Sanctuary is where heroes go to discuss and deal with their mental health via a system the Justice League created. It features AI robots programmed with the will of Batman, the compassion of Wonder Woman, and the honor of Superman. Theoretically, how it would work is that a hero would go in and give a confessional, stylized through the use of 9-panel pages, and then create their headspace to work through their issues at their own pace and will. We soon discover that all but Gold and Quinn were killed while staying. The Justice League comes in to try to solve the, "Who Dun it?" question. Harley believes Booster is at fault and attempts to kill him, and Booster (as per usual) doesn't know what's going on at all. In between those character interactions, we get these parallel snippets of confessions from other heroes. I think this is where this falls apart for me. These one-panel insights don't do enough to propel the story forward or to characterize the extent to which these characters are feeling. What I mean by this is perfectly illustrated in issue 9 where we have a single
panel of Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) saying, "Let's be honest, right, I don't even know what the hell ‘will' is. Do you?" Rightfully so, this suggests that nuance was not considered when writing a lot of these character confessionals. Hal is a man so willful that he was able to craft and control his ring because of it. Do I believe that Tom is suggesting that will is something he thinks Hal doesn't have? No. Because if an editor had added the words, "I don't even know what the hell 'will' is right now”. The context and emotional depth of Hal's mental state are declared in just two extra words. That's all it would have taken to suggest a bigger meaning to why Hal would even go to Sanctuary. And That's the biggest problem with HEROES IN CRISIS. It falls flat because it seems like King was reaching for emotion or theme and he just missed the mark.
Nothing illustrates that more than the case of Wally West. I have never heard the words character assassination be thrown around so quickly. Character assassination would suggest that King purposefully went out of his way to strip all the good faith we had in Wally as a character. I don't think Tom was trying to do that. Do I
think he was mischaracterized? Absolutely. On one hand, we see a very vulnerable Wally discussing how it's been incredibly tough on
him being in continuity without the family he's created for himself. He describes how his wife Iris was his best friend, his confidant, his love eternal and that having her and their kids were always what got him
through the day. He's a beacon of hope for so many. The Flash I'm most familiar with is Wally. I do not doubt in my mind that Wally does feel isolation and depression from not being able to connect and feel like he belongs in a world where his family is gone. I think Tom captured that well. He's alone, or at least he feels like that. Issue 8 shows us that to escape this isolation, Wally hacks into the Sanctuary files to try to piece together everyone's confessionals. Being the fastest man alive, he absorbs all these heroes trauma's too quickly at a magnitude he wasn't emotionally equipped to handle. The one moment he feels the need to be alone is when all those residing at Sanctuary come out to see what's wrong because Wally tripped of its security alarms. In a moment of uncontrolled power, he accidentally harms and kills these heroes. It's believable. I empathize with his outburst, not to that degree, but fully understanding that we, as people, experience breaking points.
However, the reason issues 8 and 9 don't work is that we're supposed to believe that Wally not only killed these people, but he was attempting to frame Booster and Harley as the culprits; Then, he would kill himself. That part I just didn't have enough of a suspension of disbelief to get behind it. It
falls flat, doesn't stick it's landing and saddens me. Wally is much too honorable of a man to frame others for murder. If that wasn't enough, Booster and Harley save him and bring him to the Justice League through the means of time travel shenanigans. The League offers words of suggestion that Wally is never truly alone. They are all family. They all love Wally. Wally is their beacon of hope… as he sits in, essentially, jail with the sentiment that Wally will keep on running. The ironic juxtaposition of his colleagues telling him he's not alone as he sits in isolation is… upsetting. The conclusion doesn't justify the means. The conclusion leaves me wanting more resolution. HEROES IN CRISIS isn't just its flaws though. There are so many moments that did shine. In issue 5, we saw Superman deliver a moving speech on what it means to be a hero by stating to the general public that heroes are aware of the cost of protecting the world and its people. It takes incredible strength to endure the nightmares that come with the job but they
wouldn't have it any other way. He convinces the public that it is not scary that heroes experience mental health issues. It shows that they are just like us regular folk. That's why Supes suggests that Sanctuary is that haven for heroes to regather their strength to fight the good fight. It was my favorite part of the entire series.
My second favorite part was all of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy's relationship moments. Through Harley's interactions, we as readers get insight into the abuse she has endured at the hands of the Joker. We hear her describe how she felt stupid and worthless being nothing but an enabler to his violence both against her and to others. She talks about how Ivy has helped her realize she isn't entirely bad and deserves a good partner. Harley is very vocal about her admiration for Ivy. To be honest, it made me incredibly happy to see that.
My third favorite aspect is Clay Mann's art. It's expressive and realistic. Filled with movement and gorgeous coloring from Morey, this could easily be one of the biggest selling points of this book
Somehow, these pages are filled with poignancy we never really feel from the writer. The landscapes and backgrounds are dreamy and ethereal.
HEROES IN CRISIS is an experiment in my eyes. A noble and solid attempt to tell the story of heroes working through their issues. It gets muddled with its message. However, it's got so many people discussing and coming together to rally behind characters. It's brought to the table the idea that we need to talk to others that love and care for us. That is not a complete failure. The fact that it is so polarizing means it's got us critically thinking about the media we are consuming and getting proper representation about mental health. That's incredible. Albeit a misguided step, Tom King opened the door to other writers to try and improve on the groundwork he's established. Fans may be outraged and upset over completely valid criticisms but I do not think that warrants death threats to him over this book. It's so easy to hate; it takes strength to be gentle and kind. With that, I feel like HiC reminds us that there is strength in our hope and need to read stories that resonate emotionally and bring together a community of fans. While this wasn't my favorite read, there are many great ideas this
narrative presents. Maybe, this will inspire writers to write the story they wish it could have been for them.