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’.
The 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.