Review by Frank Plowright
To begin with Heroes in Crisis again exemplifies why when he’s really firing, Tom King can bring something to a superhero comic that no other writer of his generation can. Here it’s one super powered character after another revealing their fears, insecurities and nightmares. Each is only allocated nine panels during the course of the larger story, but the insight is revelatory, and matched by Clay Mann’s precise art, the posture and expressions of the characters as important as what they say. In later chapters other artists pick up this process and run with it.
These sequences are recordings made in Sanctuary, a place where superheroes can unburden themselves in private, talking to a robot programmed with the ideal characteristics for this purpose from Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman’s personalities. Heroes in Crisis begins with Sanctuary invaded, the current occupants murdered, and someone sending the confidential therapy recordings to Lois Lane. Booster Gold’s uncertain whether he’s the guilty party, having been told he is by Harley Quinn, but she’s hardly known for integrity, or indeed sanity, so it might have been her. Or is it someone else entirely? As Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman attempt to get to the bottom of the matter, we take a tour of the DC universe learning about the heroes.
In some cases it’s straightforward, but in others King presumes background knowledge. In Batgirl’s case it’s nothing but a nice touch, yet without being up on his continuity much of Wally West’s dialogue will mean little, and that’s a hindrance as his are the most repeated unburdening sessions. It’s not until two-thirds of the way through before it’s clarified what his problem is, which is unsatisfactory.
Clay Mann is the sole artist credited on the cover, and he is the only artist to contribute to each chapter, but plenty of others help him out. All have a hyper-realistic style, although in the case of Lee Weeks it’s one he’s adopted, while the others just strut their natural stuff. It’s all good. Layouts, heroes and action all have a freshness, and Mann’s chapter title spreads are amazing, with the process pages drawing attention to just how important a part colourist Tomeu Morey plays.
Given Heroes in Crisis is about trauma, there needs to be trauma, and the revelations when they arrive aren’t going to please everyone. Two opposing views can be considered. The first is that DC’s heroes should forever be paragons of virtue, solving their own problems in a way we can look up to. It’s a dream some still cherish, but those heroes have all had feet of clay for decades now as they’ve become more rounded characters. The second is that for a story about the effects of trauma to have any weight that trauma has to affect a hero. Depending on how it was written King could have just about pulled off Blue Jay, Gnarkk, or Lagoon Boy cracking, and setting things in motion, but it’s considerably stronger for being someone we’re more familiar with. King builds a credible case for it, bolsters it well around a clever plot, and gives us nine entertaining chapters. Some, however, won’t ever forgive him for the culprit.