Heroes in Crisis #1 review

A hero walks into a coffee shop. A villain follows. The villain orders dessert. The villain attacks the hero. A vicious fight takes them away from the coffee shop and out into the American heartland.

Meanwhile, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, who have set up a facility to give heroes a place away from the horrors of their daily lives, learn that the safe space wasn’t safe after all.

Heroes in Crisis may as well be called Heroes in Coffins, because despite writer Tom King’s stated aim to give us a realistic look at the PTSD bound to affect the metahumans of the DC Universe, gleefully arranged corpses are the main takeaway from this first issue of his big maxi-series.

Sure, there are some interesting character moments – nine-panel grid cutaways of Arsenal, Bluejay, Hotspot, Booster and Harley in therapy – but it’s all so grim. When the likes of Hotspot from Dan Jurgens’ underrated Teen Titans run, and sweet, minor Justice Leaguer Blue Jay are given moments that make you feel for them, you know they’re not long for this world. It’s so very predictable and depressing.

As nastiness goes, it’s well done, King knows how to craft an intriguing scene, and the art by illustrator Clay Mann and colourist Tomeu Morey is a feast for the eyes, with everything from a slice of peach pie on up rendered with skill and care. A cornfield splash page, for example, is as gorgeous as it is simple. But Mann and Morey give the storm as much detail as the calm – the fight between Booster and Harley is especially unpleasant, with blades and blood to the fore. And this is obviously intended, to foreground the intense violence the characters encounter daily. Seriously, if you’ve always wanted a superhero/slasher movie mash-up, (Black) Christmas has come early.

What purpose the series will ultimately serve, I don’t know. I expect entertaining moments. I anticipate unpleasantness aplenty. And it’s likely we’ll get some insights informed by former CIA man King’s own experiences.

But no matter what direction this series goes in, my abiding memory is likely going to be a pile of heroes smeared across the Kansas countryside (what happens to Blue Jay will be a special treat for fans of Marvel’s Ultimates). And if it’s not real people, it’s robots made to look like lovely old Ma and Pa Kent.

Even after the big names declared dead – Arsenal, Wally West – return via some shenanigans or other, whether it be robots or reboots – I’ll have watched these heroes being used in the type of story for which they were never intended. And yes, I understand it’s 80 years since the debuts of the original icons, but perhaps their creators got it right, perhaps they should be left as power fantasies. By all means humanise them, but showing them as ultimately helpless basket cases… who wants that? I don’t want the real world. I live here and it could use a bit of colour and hope. Don’t expect that in Heroes in Crisis.

The death of Wally West is a massive u-turn by DC, the post-Crisis Flash having embodied the joyful spirit of DC Rebirth. Whether DC are now saying, Rebirth architect Geoff Johns having left his position of power, that the violence and misery of the New 52 is officially back, or whether they’re ‘just’ teasing us, it’s not cool.

Questions. What’s up with someone as unstable as Harley even being allowed near a superhero rehab facility? Why doesn’t Booster use his force field to protect himself, or his time travel ability, to get away from Harley? What happens to all the people in the diner, why does Booster not get Harley outside the second she walks through the door? Booster appeared in King’s Batman series recently, and was as incompetent there as he is here, with the character development from numerous other stories ignored.

A more fundamental question – what expertise do Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman have that allows them to open a care home for bruised heroes?  Yes, they’re DC’s Big Three characters (I hate that ‘Trinity’ tag, they’re not God), but in-world, what really makes them looked up to over, say, Martian Manhunter or the Atom or the Huntress or Bobo the Ruddy Detective Chimp? They’re not doctors, or therapists, or social workers; all three have been possessed/had breakdowns numerous times? They’re as much of a mess as anyone

Maybe this will be addressed in future issues. I shouldn’t support this series, and hope I won’t, but I’m a weak fanboy rubbernecker – I want to know what’s being done to my heroes in the name of ‘realism’.

6DA40084-50BA-41A9-9F47-B973EA9F8D4C.jpegThe main cover, by Mann and Morey, is very well crafted, and captures the tone of the book well, with the Sanctuary facility – it’s apparently also the name of the main cyber-therapist – nothing but a teasing background detail. Of the various variants, my favourite is the one by JG Jones and Paul Mann… I’ve never seen Harley Quinn look so scary.

Never wanted to, mind.

26 thoughts on “Heroes in Crisis #1 review

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I didn’t like this at all. It’s just so cold and callous.

    Inappropriately? I kept thinking about those reality shows where people talk to the camera and then they are edited so that you know who is going to be voted off the island as it were. Or in this case? Killed.

    The dialogue in the diner read as trying too hard to be deep and meaningful. I really liked King’s Mister Miracle. I’ve been left underwhelmed by everything else.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder if anyone is enjoying this, everything I’ve seen on social media is unhappy with it. I’m sure King could make his points about PTSD without a mass refrigerated of a first issue.

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  2. Yep. You nailed it. I couldn’t agree more about this first issue. Dreary and depressing and not at all what I’m lookkng for.
    I’d like to hope that because Booster is involved there will be some kind of time travel shenanigans that reverse the deaths we’ve seen this issue.
    But between this issue and a Doomsday Clock this was one downer of a week from DC.

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      1. It’s equally dark. Month after month it’s blood and gore and darkness. Although, to be fair, Geoff Johns isn’t maiming or decspitating anyone so I guess he’s showing some restraint. 🙂
        It’s just soooo off-tone to the rest of the DCU. All the negativity towards heroes and all the rest of the stuff going on in the background that isn’t reflected in any of the other DC titles (and won’t be now that Johns is out).
        Rebirth had so much hope and Doomsday Clock is just so hopeless. Also I’m pretty tired on the JSA and Legion reveals getting dragged out with no forward movement. It’s been 8 issues and we’ve learned next to nothing about what’s supposed to be going on.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hm. I’m withholding judgment. I admire the craft, and am unhappy about the story developments. I’m eager to see where it goes. I suspect it will be a story worth telling, but I already don’t like the price of telling it.

    I do suspect, however, that in a story about trauma, having some of our nearest and dearest characters ripped from us unexpectedly is part of the point. We get no death scenes; no chance to say goodbye. It’s a cruel point, and when it’s all over, we can all judge for ourselves whether it was worth making.

    I trust Tom King. He’s a careful, thoughtful writer. And I can’t argue that this book isn’t about shock value. But I don’t think the shock is gratuitous. I think it’s calculated, and in service to the story.

    At least I hope that it is.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I recoiled at that too, at first… but I actually warmed up to it, after the shock of it wore off. It makes emotional sense to me that Bruce would build himself up only after hitting a place that close to rock bottom.

        So King has pretty much a better batting average for me than almost anyone at DC. Although “Smells like… America” is making me cringe in the worst way.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I hate, hate, HATE how Tom King writes Booster Gold. He doesn’t get the character at all. That guest-stint in Batman was a WTF instance. No way Booster would behave like that. King’s getting more like Bendis in the sense that he throws everything about a character out the window just to fit the narrative.

    On the flipside, Clay Mann’s art looks tighter and slicker here, not as sketchy as it was before. I guess Tomeu Morey’s colors helped a lot with that, too.

    Waiting for the trade on this one. Or the back issue bins.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Could it be that King actually hasn’t read anything by Bwaa-Ha-Ha Booster? And, like Bendis, the editing he gets is non-existent? There’s really no excuse for such a one-dimensional Booster.

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  5. King’s Booster HAS to be an imposter or mind-controlled….
    Or all of this happens in the head of a protagonist, maybe as a part of a therapy session.
    Wally West is shown mourning on the cover, but killed in the story, WTF?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. One of my theories — based on no evidence, but just a hunch — is that this IS a fake-out. That the computer therapists of Sanctuary have taken on a mind of their own, and decided to teach the big three (who had the hubris the leave this very human challenge to an artificial intelligence) a lesson about grief and trauma.

      I don’t think that’s likely, necessarily — no evidence is pointing that way yet — but when you leave robots in charge of things, things tend to go haywire. That’s pretty much the first meta-law of Robotics stories.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s a fair theory, Rob, but would they dare give us nine issues or whatever and then make it, ‘…but it was ALL a dream’. He’s already teasing us with that idea elsewhere right now.

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      2. I don’t mean to imply that I think it’s going to come down to it being all a dream, Mart. I don’t think it’s going to go that way. (And despite Booster’s presence, I don’t think time travel will undo this, either..) But I’m willing to entertain the idea that some of the things we’ve seen, and will see, and some of the things we’re being told from Harley and Booster’s perspectives, might not be on the level.

        Here’s something to think about: With all these character deaths, we infer that the “therapy sessions” we see are set before the issue begins. But then there’s Harley’s — which seems to take place after it, or at least seems to refer to the killing we see the aftermath of in this issue. So when does Booster’s take place? Is there a reason his page isn’t labeled “Booster Gold” when all the other ones are captioned with the name of the character? That’s probably just an editorial oversight (or an inconsistency they allowed because they thought the caption would disrupt the flow of the final page) — but maybe it’s not. We just don’t know yet.

        BTW, you read Justice League of America, where Blue Jay last appeared, right? Do you know what he’s referring to with Silver Sorceress and an arrow? I assume she was killed by one, but when and how?

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  6. I agree with much that you say and am debating writing something like this myself.

    As you say, I got into reading comics to read the exploits of heroes and be inspired to do more. Yes, even then they had human problems – love, finances, fatigue – but they always rose above. Now the trend is to make them relatable, give them not only feet of clay but whole bodies of the stuff.

    I read this dispassionately. Heroes dead by the dozen. One eaten by a bird. The personification of a movement towards hope in the DCU dead. A humor character reduced to an insane assassin. A goofy Bwa-ha-ha hero now a mass murderer.

    I should have been sad. Or angry.

    Instead I was bored. And disappointed. I don’t think these were the emotions Dan Didio or Tom King were hoping to invoke.

    I think the only thing that shocked me is that it comes from King. Even at it’s bloodiest and most depressing, Mister Miracle has had some undercurrent of hope and love. I could feel that Miracle was heading in the right direction. I don’t think this one is.

    I’m not DC’s target audience anymore, I know that. But a line wide reversal to New 52 gore seems like a mistake.

    Thanks for great interview.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great Review.I think I’m in the wait and see camp. With Booster Gold,a time traveler, as a lead and what would be complete waste of Wally West, I believe that there is more than meets the eye when comes to these deaths.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I agree with you, Martin! But on second reading, I felt that the writing was so good and the art looked so great that I enjoyed the work here, but not the tone or the over-reliance on death as shock value to try to get people to buy it. I am conflicted by liking the art of this, Tom King really is a great writer, and yet not liking how this starts. I feel confused. LOL

    There’s more to this than meets the eye, of course. and I think it’s something that will lead to some kind of multiversal cleansing. I don’t know why, but I can’t help but think that someone is trying to cleanse Earth Prime of the people who aren’t supposed to be there.

    Maybe the fact that Power Girl is on the cover image. She shouldn’t be, but she is.

    Liked by 1 person

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