“I can call him. That’s all. When it’s really hard…he picks up.”
Heroes In Crisis, by Tom King, Clay Mann, Clayton Cowles and Tomeu Morey, has been an interesting event to follow. Framed as an intimate drama rather than an explosive universe-shattering cosmic saga, it’s a project that’s distinctly Tom King and in a lot of ways feels like the culmination of all his work up to this point. Aided by other creators in the form of Lee Weeks and Mitch Gerads, the series looks to explore costumed crusaders’ struggles with PTSD and their process of therapy via the the superhero hospital Sanctuary. But beyond that bare bones concept is a murder mystery that cuts to the heart of heroism, mental health and perception regarding the relationship between the two things.
It’s an incredibly intimate work for King, with him writing about his own personal fears for his kids. Conceived after another horrific school shooting, the story is one of safe places being violated and how we deal with that and perhaps even come back from that to find some measure of hope. It’s a timely tale that speaks to our modern world and the struggles we face in it, much like the rest of King’s oeuvre. The universal emotions and pains are mythologized into a tale which showcases our own heroes, the best of us, our great icons dealing with the same core issues we deal with. And through them and their struggles, which mirror so many of our own in their emotional veracity and potency, we feel less alone.
The first two issues setup the core mystery and the deaths, with the previous issue delivering some much needed context and backstory for the victims involved. This issue is really where things pick up and the ball gets rolling, as the pieces start to come into play, all the players start moving as more players enter the field and big secrets come out in the light. The issue avoids the struggles of its predecessors by toning down the decompression and juggling various elements together, setting up a great build to the upcoming mid-point.
The story begins with Donna Troy and a drunk Garth and from there we cut through Batman and Flash contemplating the mystery, Booster’s sit-down with Wonder Woman, Superman and Lois in their bedroom and even Batgirl and Harley Quinn’s meeting. The opening is a rather striking one, with an incredibly stylish double page spread greeting the reader. The credits of the issue are etched into a giant wall in the form of graffiti, as imagery of the classic Titans adorns the same wall, being the central image. Donna walks past the wall without hesitation, bearing Garth on her back. It’s a great opener and one that immediately separates Heroes In Crisis from other big flagship tales, imbuing it with a different, stylish flair that reminds one of more smaller, creator-owned work rather than a big Crisis story. Brought to life by Clay Mann’s gorgeous pencils and Tomeu Morey’s lush colorwork, it’s perhaps the best page that the team have crafted to date in certain ways. Filled with perfect lighting and shade work and meticulous detail from the aeshtetic consistencies and variations on the graffiti to the tattered parts of the wall and the worn out street below, there’s a lived in texture to every element of the world the team crafts. Beyond that, the issue also features a long-awaited and much anticipated and teased Blue and Gold reunion with the arrival of Blue Beetle to the book. Green Arrow and Black Canary also make their debut here, adding another great hero duo the narrative at hand.
Following the pattern of the series, we’re also granted confessions of certain characters. Donna Troy, Ted Kord, Barbara Gordon and Dinah Lance all have their confessions in this chapter and they’re a fascinating display of the book’s thematics and the core of the characters themselves. Donna speaks on the divide between mythology and history, discussing how the two matter so much and yet might not gel together. Speculating as to the nature of Troy and so much that surrounds it, Donna concludes by saying that perhaps it was merely an error, a mistake amongst storytellers and questions the very reality of it. This is a remarkably clever piece of storytelling, with Mann’s lovely, nuanced characterization bursting through every panel, as letterer extraordinaire Clayton Cowles delivers every bit of the rhythmic dialogue that’s so specific to King perfectly. On one level, it’s obvious meta-textual commentary addressing the nature and history of Donna Troy’s complex and convoluted history, which began with an error amongst storytellers. But looking beyond that, the confession is addressing the nature of reality and is speaking on perception, two key aspects of King’s work across the board, but especially here. Mister Miracle dealt with these ideas most directly and most recently, but they’re firmly at play here as well, given how the event is a thematic progression from Mister Miracle and synthesizes a lot of King’s sensibilities as a scribe into one big package. It all fits perfectly, given how even Booster and Harley are struggling with their own realities and perception of events and when he was alive, so did Wally West, unable to comprehend a reality where his kids and family did not exist.Barbara and Dinah’s confessions, by contrast, are rather short. The former merely showcases the spots where she was shot in the infamous Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. Meanwhile, the latter merely shakes her head and walks off, uttering the words ‘$%@# This’, which become the title for this issue. Ted Kord, meanwhile, has a lot to say and has what is perhaps a more traditional confession when compared with the rest. Cutting through to the core struggle of superheroism, engaging in violence and being at the forefront of so much of it, Ted talks about how difficult it is and can be to do what he does. Ted can’t speak to how everyone may handle their problems, because as he says, everybody has their own way and thus he can only talk about the one way he knows and has. Addressing Booster’s often mocked nature of being easy to dismiss and forgettable, Ted conveys the depth of their great connection, painting Booster as his rock, the guy who’s always there for him and when he needs to talk, he listens. When Ted calls, Booster picks up and that’s something he really needs. It’s a really touching and beautiful moment for the character that once again echoes the core themes and struggles of the story King, Mann, Morey and Cowles are telling and beyond that pays respectful tribute to an age old comic bond and friendship.
And in regards to friendships, Barbara and Harley share a moment of solace together in a moment where Batgirl finds Harley in an old hall of mirrors. Halting Harley’s blow, Batgirl embraces Harley and speaks to being survivors of trauma, specifically trauma caused by the same man, the Joker. She also addresses the nature of perception and how people who’ve been through something are viewed and thought about and in a moment of reflection, the pages, set in the hall of mirrors, showcase multiple reflections of the core image across every tier of panels. It’s a fun bit of storytelling that the team employs to emphasize the content nicely.
Moving past that, the story sees Clark and Lois together, where Lois speaks to her responsibility to release the information she has in an appropriate way, lest someone else do it, which could, in the current journalistic climate, go very poorly. The scene is well written but features an incredibly out of place splash page of Lois in a T-shirt and underwear, posed as if out of a pin up, which really does not belong in a book about mental health, PTSD and the effects of violence. It serves no purpose and is jarring, more than anything, pulling the reader out instantly and serving no real purpose. From there, the issue moves to the Trinity in the cave, where they discuss Ted and Booster’s reunion, finding out the former has helped the latter flee. Superman reveals to his peers what the readers already know: someone under the codename ‘Puddler’ has been leaking Sanctuary footage and information to Lois. Batman is outraged upon finding out, with it compounding when the big penultimate page reveal of the issue hits — Lois’s exclusive piece on Sanctuary has just gone up as they were speaking. In a cheeky reference to Watchmen, the book has Superman say ‘She sent it 35 seconds ago’ and we’re given a small look of the article. From there, we see Batgirl and Harley seeing the news, with the former exclaiming that the world might change, as the latter yells ‘Good. &$@@ the world. It needs changing.’
Heroes In Crisis #4 is easily the best and most meaty issue of the event thus far. The intrigue of a villain who judges and looks down upon heroes who ask for help and struggle with real issues is solid and it’s a concept with a lot of mileage. Things are finally heating up as the secret of Sanctuary is out for the entire public of the DC Universe and this is where perception and reality may truly take center stage, even more so than before, in the event as the master themes of the saga. The heroes have to be viewed differently after these events and we’ll be seeing how that plays out in the issues ahead.