DC Comics is trying something new. In the wake of their Rebirth initiative, the publisher has rapidly expanded its content to include diverse new imprints such as Young Animal, Wildstorm, Jinxworld, Wonder Comics, Black Label, Ink, and Zoom. As their lineup expands, it can be hard to figure out what to pick up each week. That’s what our team is here to help with, every Wednesday, with the DC Round-Up!
THIS WEEK: Everything hurts and I’m sad.
Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Tom King
Artists: Mitch Gerads and Travis Moore
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
With only an issue left, Heroes in Crisis has been an uncomfortable comic. Its central conceit, we learn in this eighth issue, is that the Wally West Flash—a character so regularly played for optimism that he headlined a 2016 company-wide relaunch centered on hope—has snapped, murdering a dozen patients at a rehabilitation facility for superheroes. Unless something changes in the finale, this book turned Wally into a mass murderer, one who blames past traumas for horrors he has committed. I don’t like any of that, and, to be fair, I’m probably not supposed to. The preview for the first issue of this series asked, “How does a superhero handle PTSD?” This week we get the answer: horrifically. This was never going to be an easy read, or, for that matter, an easy book to review. But here it goes…
This issue of Heroes in Crisis (HiC) brims with more plot than any that have come before it. It opens with Wally in Sanctuary (the aforementioned rehab center) in a confessional looking at the reader, a narrative device used throughout HiC. “My name is Wally West,” he says. “I’m the fastest man alive. This is my confession.” There is blood splattered on the wall behind him. It’s awful. Wally starts to confess, words playing over scenes of characters we saw murdered earlier in this story.
The artwork is stunning, as it has largely been throughout. Travis Moore draws the montage of murdered heroes, some of whom are depicted at Sanctuary, others before their arrivals, and still others as they bid farewell to loved ones. We get four pages from Moore. The rest of the story is drawn by Mitch Gerads, who has collaborated with HiC writer Tom King on his most critically-acclaimed stories, including Mister Miracle, which I’ll remind you now that I really liked. The art in this issue is, unsurprisingly, top tier and gorgeous, with letterer Clayton Cowles doing the wonderful unsung work of leading the eye through the revelations in the panels.Anyway, in this issue Wally describes how he snapped for one moment, his super speed giving him the time and power to kill roughly a dozen heroes. Booster Gold and Harley Quinn were in Sanctuary away from the violence, so Wally subsequently manipulated their perceptions to make each think the other did it. He also planted false leads to distract Batman and Flash, using Booster’s tech to go five days in the future, kill himself, and put the body at the crime scene. All of this gave him five more days (I think) to regroup and tape the confession we’re seeing in this issue, which he has apparently sent to Lois Lane. For all of this, he blames past traumas, specifically how multiversal shenanigans erased his family and pushed him to watch countless hours of other heroes sharing pain so he wouldn’t feel alone.
This all makes me feel awful. How awful? I am not a drinker, but this is the heaviest superhero comic I’ve ever read and holy hell I could use a whiskey, or a rainbow snow cone, or just a long afternoon in a sunny park browsing happier stories about Wally West from bygone times. There are plenty of those. Wally is, after all, one of DC’s happiest characters. He’s frequently the comic relief in the seminal animated series Justice League Unlimited. He’s a rare sidekick who first served as a cipher for readers before beating the odds and growing into an adult hero. Part of the problem here is that Wally is at the center of something so bleak. It was going to be tough to make him believable and sympathetic in this context, and I don’t think there’s any sympathy engendered by his actions in this issue. It’s just too heavy a lift.
To make sure, I went back this week and read earlier HiC issues, wondering if taking the story holistically might change my reaction. I was primarily interested in whether the disorienting use of perspective in this book—bouncing between the false memories of Booster Gold and Harley Quinn, while making stops with the Trinity, Lois Lane, obscure Teen Titan Lagoon Boy, etc.—really served the emotional arc of Wally West.
I found right away that knowing everything from the start made for a more coherent reading. No longer was I expending the bulk of my mental energy trying to parse what had happened. I was better able to get lost in the story. As a result, I found myself moved by the relationships between Harley Quinn and Batgirl, and Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. The book certainly has something to say about just being there for injured friends. I also liked basically every scene with Superman in it, but I’m partial to Lois and Clark, so that’s unsurprising. All that aside, even on a second reading, the Wally West arc left me cold. Wally’s justification is a sad one, but it’s way too dependent upon utterly goofy and convoluted sci-fi shenanigans (themselves a result of a little loved DC reboot) for his experience to resonant in any deeply poignant way.
Instead of building a powerful emotional arc for Wally, one that culminates in him opening up about his pain, HiC has a scattered interest in different characters experiencing trauma in different ways, topped with this horrific incident of mass murder, surely meant to evoke our current national epidemic of such incidents. This is a choice, the idea presumably being to emphasize the effects of ignoring the plight of individuals within a traumatized whole. Maybe. Whatever the intent, I could only find Wally’s actions to be absolutely senseless, making this first and foremost for me a prolonged story about one of the most charismatic characters in the long history of DC being broken, tainted, evil. That’s bleak and cynical, to be sure, and perhaps a bit too far past the conflict needed to drive reader interest. There are moments of beauty and deep sensitivity in this issue, but is it possible there is also simply too much pain in these pages, too much suffering? I still don’t know, and I suppose to find out we’ll need the last issue.
In the end, my own confession is I’m still not sure how I feel about HiC, other than bad right now today. This comic is trying something, and it’s complex. I’d like to see it in full before calling it a failure. I also haven’t entirely processed why this story makes me feel so awful. It could be the wrong character or characters are involved, or the disorientation at the start muddied my emotional investment, or simply that mass murder is inherently awful, regardless of its context. Whether this book succeeds, King remains one of superhero comics’ most interesting writers. Mister Miracle and Omega Men are classics, and his Batman run continues to hit some of the wildest highs in the history of the character. So, I’m going to hedge on this week’s verdict, look forward to the final issue, and hope badly that there’s one more twist coming, one that might undo some of this awful feeling and clear a way to redemption.
- In happier Flash business…hey, how about that? The upcoming Flash Year One storyline is speeding (heh) right out of this book’s current plot. I like that. I guess I thought we’d just open on Barry getting his powers as a non-sequitur, presumably to stall until the book can use Wally and the rest of the Flash Family again (hopefully) soon.
- In The Wild Storm #22, meanwhile, it becomes ever more apparent that this series from its start has been an elaborate new origin story for a version of The Authority. There’s nothing announced yet—and, really, few rumors to suggest a continuation—but I hope a new Authority comic launches soon after this one concludes in June. Warren Ellis, with an assist from Davis-Hunt and Buccellato, has been at the absolute top of his game. To not build on that would be a serious missed opportunity.
- Action Comics #1010 is also a blast. I don’t have much more to say about this series that I haven’t already said in the past, other than holy wow will I be sad to see Steve Epting go when his time is done on this title. If anyone needs me, I’ll be ogling the Alex Maleev artwork from the upcoming Event Leviathan…
- In other good news, The Terrifics made the transition from writer Jeff Lemire to Gene Luen Yang seamlessly. It helped that Yang wrote The Terrifics Annual #1 way back whenever, which allows him here to pick up on some of the plot points. He’s also not in that obvious of a hurry to undo the developments from Lemire’s last arc. It’s all very encouraging.
- Freedom Fighters is such an odd book, not quite serious enough to be evaluated that way but not quite campy enough to be all in good fun.
- Finally, G. Willow Wilson’s run on Wonder Woman continues to grow on me. You can feel her getting more comfortable with her ideas as she settles into a unique voice and tone. I suspect it will keep getting better from here, which is exciting.
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