Heroes In Crisis
Written by: Tom King
lllustrated by: Clay Mann
Reviewed by: Joe Bones
Trade Paperback releases on October 1st, 2019
I’ve got to start out by saying that Heroes in Crisis isn’t for everyone. It is at its core a character study that examines PTSD through the lens of superheroes. People like to poke fun at comic books because the deaths are often meaningless. A deceased character will be back as soon as the next reboot or continuity-shifting crisis/event. What most people don’t think about, and what most comic book writers often only explore for a few filler issues before moving on to the next big event, is the effect the deaths of the characters within a comic book series would have on the other characters in that title. Especially in the DC Universe where all the titles and heroes are strongly connected through continuity, the effects of such deaths would be widespread. Add to those traumas the tension from constantly being in life-or-death situations, the dread caused by the fate of the entire universe resting on an individual’s decisions, the cognitive dissonance that stems from trying to live two lives, and the pressure to live up to the ideals of justice. Once taking all of those factors into account, you begin to ask yourself what all that emotional baggage does to a hero?
This question is the thesis that author Tom King explores in this nine-issue mini-series. The comic also gives voice to the real-life struggles many real people are suffering due to PTSD. Superhero comics that try to raise awareness of real-life social issues tend to be hit or miss. Stories of this type can come off as pandering or as attempts to sell books by taking advantage of problems making headlines in the real world. King shines light on the issues that stem from PTSD in a very thoughtful and genuine way while simultaneously telling a story intimately tied to the heroes of the DCU.
The events in HIC are centered around Sanctuary. Set up by the Trinity (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman), Sanctuary is a secret retreat where heroes can go to rehabilitate from their injuries and work through their personal traumas. The story opens just after an attack on Sanctuary that has left everyone inside massacred. Everyone that is, except Booster Gold and Harley Quinn; each of whom believes the other to be responsible. From there the story follows these two fan favorites as they each try to prove their own innocence while trying to process the atrocity that occurred at Sanctuary.
As the story progresses across the nine issues it is interspersed with flashbacks of various DC heroes giving testimonials on why they’ve come to Sanctuary and sharing anecdotes about the traumas from which they are hoping to heal. King employs a nine-panel grid for these sections of the story and Mann takes full advantage. The grid set-up gives Mann a chance to really showcase the emotions that the heroes are going through as they tell their stories. King draws deeply from the well of DC characters and we see the testimonials of heroes who have not been featured since before the New 52. Although this is a story that can be enjoyed by casual readers or those unfamiliar with much of DC’s history, the appearances of these rather obscure characters add a deeper layer of enjoyment for long-time followers of the publisher’s titles.
For the most part the art in HIC is done in DC’s “house style” and the majority of the issues have the standard layout. Yet it wouldn’t be a King/Mann work if there weren’t some surprises and this is especially true for how the Mann’s art works with King’s script. Mann gets many chances to really show what he’s capable of as an artist. The title page of each issue is a two page spread in which the main title, issue title, and credits are woven into the background or scenery depicted on the page. The art really helps make every issue in this mini-series visually engaging. Just when the reader’s eyes get used to the standard layout, the next page switches to a nine panel grid. Then every so often the reader turns the page and is greeted by a beautiful splash page. Mann also uses a more muted color palette than is normal from the often brightly-colored DC comic books. His color choices both accentuate his artwork and give a feel of realism to every page.
It’s important to go into this book with the correct mindset. Ongoing single issues of this title were panned by critics and readers alike, not because the story was bad but because DC did not do a good job of managing expectations via its marketing of this comic. In fact HIC is a prime example of the disconnect that seems to exist between the Marketing and Editorial departments at DC comics. Before its release HIC was marketed as a Crisis. So readers expected a line-wide event with universal consequences. That’s not what they got. This story is very much rooted on Earth and the stakes, while personal, are not cosmic or even global in scale. Next, after the first few issues had been released, they added two issues to the comic’s run (bringing it from seven to nine issues total) and began to market it as a mystery. As a result readers expected that the narrative would give them clues and would focus on the Trinity trying to solve who was behind the massacre. Although King does a great job of keeping the reader guessing as to the identity of the perpetrator of the massacre, this is more through his own style of prose and not because HIC is a mystery story. Although there is intrigue and the characters do some investigating, this story is and always has been about the characters on an emotional level. Their own emotional journeys that brought them to Sanctuary and the detours those journeys take after the massacre.
Overall I think Heroes in Crisis will be much more engaging in trade paperback. It’s a story that has something for everyone. Even though it is a mini-series about superheroes it rarely feels like a normal superhero story. It’s very much an ensemble piece but unlike most DC team-ups and events the developments in the story are human in scale. For me, this made HIC a breath of fresh air in a world where most ensemble super hero comics focus on the fate of the universe and the heroes overcoming colossal enemies and overwhelming odds.
HIC also has a lot of amazing character moments, both fun and emotional. I really enjoyed King’s spin on Booster Gold and Blue Beetle’s friendship. There are also surprising reveals and team-ups. The combo of Batgirl and Harley Quinn was my favorite thing about this mini-series. King also showcases the human side of some of the more God-like heroes of the DCU. This is another nice change of pace compared to other superhero stories. Most importantly, HIC deals with the important issue of PTSD and does so with compassion. Even if you find fault with aspects of this mini-series, its message is one that will inspire hope in all those who read it.