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: Louie goes rogue and likes Heroes in Crisis!
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.
Heroes in Crisis #9
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Clay Mann
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
And here we’ve come to the final issue of what is certainly one of 2019’s more challenging books to review. After all is said and done, did Heroes in Crisis live up to the hype? Let’s take a look.
You may recall that the launch of this book last year was pretty rocky. From the start, Heroes in Crisis had a serious marketing problem. We’re talking about a story about a mass killing with at least a dozen victims, and yet DC seemed strangely hellbent to frame this as a fun murder mystery story, putting out teaser ads that asked the reader to guess who would die. In a time of volatile mass shootings, the publisher’s kind of glib PR approach to a story of this emotional weight was questionable at best. It didn’t help that the book was saddled with the “Crisis” buzzword, which itself brings along decades of baggage and expectations and further confused the audience about the type and scope of the upcoming story. We saw Dan Didio and crew jokingly teasing at comic conventions that “you can’t have a Crisis without a dead Flash!” as if to stoke up the fan speculation engine a bit before turning the mic over to writer Tom King for a minute to remind us that this is, remember, a serious story about a very serious topic.
On top of readers not being able to decipher the mixed PR messages in preparation for the first issue, there was absolutely no in-story setup leading up to the event launch. This was the complete opposite of 2008’s Final Crisis, which had an entire year’s worth of groundwork in the form of the weekly Countdown to Final Crisis book that (supposedly) introduced the readers to the core concepts that would be explored in the main event. Instead, we were informed that Heroes in Crisis would focus around a significant new setting, the mental health facility Sanctuary, that for some reason had never been seen before. Having such a new concept be the centerpiece for the story was jarring. It would have been helpful to see a few scenes of the superhero trauma center working as designed within the context of the regular titles before exploring its sudden and gruesome undoing in this book. It was all so rushed and, again, confusing. Oh, you know that Sanctuary thing you’ve never heard about? Well it’s gone now.
Beyond even the myriad of marketing blunders, the first issue didn’t do itself any favors in bringing the reader up to speed (pun accidental, I promise). We jumped into this story after the massacre had already happened, but we didn’t get a lot of details about what actually…you know, happened. Superman stood in a field of bloody bodies, only a couple of which were identified. Batman, the world’s greatest detective, stood back from the crime scene spouting platitudes about vengeance instead of analyzing the evidence. There was no discussion of the types of injuries, or possible weapons used, or a list of suspects, or possible motives. Nothing. It’s incumbent on the creative team, including the editors, to make sure the readers are clued in on the important story parameters. Who were the victims? What clues do we have? WHAT IS SANCTUARY? I went into the first issue expecting a “whodunnit”, but finished it with a feeling of “whatdunhappened?” After months of hype and speculation, the collective reaction from the comic reading world was one of being unsettled and disconnected from the story in progress.
But you know what? None of that matters in the long run. Despite the ill-advised marketing campaign, and despite the lack of setup, and despite the rocky rollout, and despite whatever that weird San Diego boat spa thing was, this series accomplished something really important between its covers that will certainly read better after there’s some distance from all of the public relations missteps. I’m choosing to review this book with fresh eyes, ignoring the corporate spin that mismanaged my expectations and looking solely at the book itself and what it accomplished. And you know what? I think it was pretty damn good!
Was it perfect? That’s a stupid question. Even those things (and people) we love dearly aren’t perfect. Name a “perfect comic” out loud on the internet and then brace yourself for the reaction. Obviously there are some rough edges on this one, as outlined above. A better question is: did it make me think or feel something new? Did it approach the concept of superheroes from an angle of exploration and respect? Did this book add anything? Though I might find myself in the minority, even among reviewers on this site, after reading and re-reading this series I have to answer with a resounding ‘yes’. There’s a ton of good stuff in this book.
The sequence of events, once you wrap your head around it, is tight, consistent, and clever. It was a little bit confusing on first read, due to having two versions of Wally West present for the climactic moment. But the story does a great job of explaining Wally’s timeline for those who wish to sort it out. Here’s his throughline in a nutshell, as we learned in the previous issue: Wally loses control temporarily, killing nearly everyone at Sanctuary in an instant. Horrified by his act, he makes a short jump forward in time to find his future self, waiting. This future Wally has all of his memories, plus five painful days. The younger Flash kills this older, wiser Wally and then jumps back to live out those five days himself (which he uses to expose Sanctuary’s files and record his own confession, in an effort to show those who are hurting that they are not the only ones, that there are others going through the same thing and getting help). And then he waits in the field for the younger version of himself to come finish it once and for all. While this should have been the tragic end of the Flash, in this final issue we learn that the older version of Wally actually talked his younger self out of committing this strange form of delayed suicide. It all works with what we’ve seen in the story, it doesn’t break any obvious rules of time travel, and it leaves Wally in an interesting position at the end where he now has to answer for his crime.
This is the part where you complain that this comic “ruined” Wally West. I get it. We don’t really want our heroes to change. We don’t want our lives to change. Change is upsetting. I myself wrote about how great it was to have a hope-filled Wally back in the DCU after he was reintroduced in the post-Rebirth continuity. We love Wally and it’s a hard pill to swallow to see his story go in such a dark direction. But we’ll see what happens next, right? Drastic changes are completely un-stomachable if the new status quo doesn’t serve some greater storytelling purpose (see: Grayson, Ric). If Wally just rots in a jail cell off-panel and doesn’t get used again, then this book won’t age very well and we’ll all riot. But what if this opens up an exciting new avenue for telling stories about heroes who make mistakes? Or about having hope in a place where all hope seems lost? It’s uncomfortable to look at the darker side of the superhero life, but doesn’t it seem somewhat more realistic to think that they, even more than we, have some really low lows to deal with?
Whether that part of the story landed for you or not, don’t make the mistake of overlooking the other parts of the book. I’d argue that the time-hopping Flash meltdown was only of secondary importance. The real story was Booster and Beetle hanging out on the couch, drinking beer and taking their minds off the heavy stuff for a moment. The real story was Barbara finding Harley and convincing her to calm down and let her help. Despite whatever the DC Comics PR machine told us, this is actually a story about real life crisis. Where do you go when everything falls apart? Who is there to support you? How far would you go for a friend in need? The DCU is better for having these themes explored, and the presentation has been compelling and heartfelt and downright fun. Bros before heroes!
We also got a glimpse into the more personal thoughts of our favorite DC heroes & villains through the creative team’s use of the nine-panel confessionals, which helped to build the story’s emotional setting. Throughout the nine issues of this series, various characters shared their innermost demons and wounds that they had collected over the course of the adventuring life. It’s the type of characterization that wouldn’t fit neatly into any random story arc, with some heroes breaking down in tears mid-sentence and others barely concealing their emotions under a thin veneer of nervous humor. Roy Harper tells us about his road from pain pills to opiates. Batgirl shows us her physical scars while Solstice struggles to control the thing inside her that wants to come out. Appropriate to the theme here, the telepathic Martian Manhunter lets us in on a secret: “Underneath, everyone’s screaming.”
And that’s the point, isn’t it? Watching these confessionals and seeing the heroes relive those pivotal moments that consume their thoughts, we’re reminded that they are supposed to be stand-ins for us. We’re all screaming underneath in some fashion and we all know what it feels like to have a personal crisis. If we’re lucky, we also know what it feels like to have the support and love of close friends, and to be able to lean on others when all we want to do is fall apart. Heroes in Crisis isn’t a murder mystery and it’s not a fun superhero adventure where the good guys save the day. It’s a gut punch to the emotions, if you’ve got them.
Obviously this is a story about healing, but maybe it’s more about just moving forward with the pain. Wally had a moment of weakness and did something bad. Really bad. The book’s title, it turns out, is completely appropriate. But instead of dying in this Crisis, the Flash has to live. Which is really much harder. He has to live with his failure, unable to run away from it. That pain will always be there and hopefully his friends will be too.
If you’ve never felt this way, then Heroes in Crisis may not be the book for you. And that’s fine. There are plenty of other books out there. But come back to this one during the hard times and see if it resonates. If so, you’re not the only one. And you are not alone.
Verdict: Hard Buy
Miss any of our earlier reviews? Check out our full archive!