Heroes in therapy. That’s what we get as the third issue of Tom King and Clay Mann’s limited series opens. Lagoon Boy, The Flash, Booster Gold, reeling off name, tagline and how long they’ve been at Sanctuary, the treatment centre for emotionally battered super-people.
Turn the page and there’s a shocking image.
Is this the end of the teenage hero?
Elsewhere in an issue that flits between characters and days, Booster Gold is welcomed by robot versions of Ma and Pa Kent and Lana Lang, before being taken to his room. (A double negative from that Pa robot? Jonathan Kent was a country guy, but he knew his grammar!)
Wally West is using Sanctuary’s Kryptonian tech to spend time with his wife and children, lost to him during a reality shift.
The issue ends with a shocking moment of violence that sheds light on the question of just who killed all those heroes in the first issue, including Lagoon Boy, Wally and Speedy.
I always liked Lagoon Boy, introduced by Erik Larsen during his underrated Aquaman run and later added to the Teen Titans. He was a fun character, but he’s spent most of his existence in comics limbo. Does that make it OK for King to eviscerate him to build stakes in his story? King goes the classic route of giving a character about to be killed the best characterisation they’ve had in years, to make their death more affecting.
Wally doesn’t need this treatment, he’s beloved by many more people than Lagoon Boy, whose entire fan club could meet on my settee. It’s depressing to see him, not exactly wallowing (Wallying?), but retreating to a world of memories and might-have-beens rather than trying to repair reality like the man of action he is.
As for Booster Gold, he doesn’t verbalise it, but seems to instinctively realise this whole Sanctuary set-up, with unseen AI therapist and anonymity guaranteed by creepy, cultish robes and masks, is a crock of crap.
Once again, the craft of Heroes in Crisis is undeniable: King’s story is very readable, with moments that are undeniably compelling. Lee Weeks draws all but the bookend pages and his work is as gorgeous as ever, with clever, subtle touches such as fingerprints in the composition of a Booster Gold page. Clay Mann’s opening and closing therapy nine-panel grids do the trick. As for the colours of Tomeu Morey and letters of Clayton Cowles, they’re outstanding.
But the whole thing once more left me feeling flat. I really liked Vision and Omega Men, but after Mr Miracle and Batman, I’m beginning to think King’s simply no longer my thing. More and more his thing is PTSD, a subject undeniably worth a tale or two, but the pervading mood of misery leaves me feeling flat. The joy of seeing a whole bunch of little-used DC types on the final page is immediately lost with the realisation that under the colourful costumes are red shirts – they’re here to die. And of course I know I’m reading a comic set in a superhero multiverse in which people regularly return to life, or pop up again as slightly tweaked versions of themselves… but seeing the likes of Nemesis and Solstice and the beyond obscure Protector all at Sanctuary has me wishing they’d form a super-team, not a mass burial. Such wasted potential.
The fundamental ‘buys’ behind the series, that a) Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are so full of themselves that they’d set up a care home for lesser heroes and b) they’d staff it with robots and outfit it like a cult are things I can’t accept. The DCU is full of wise women and men who could be trusted to listen to lost souls who wanted to refer themselves to them. Maybe the arrogance and stupidity of the ‘Trinity’ is going to be a story point, but for now, it’s a stumbling block.
So what did you think?