Sigh. You’ve seen the headline. You’ve likely looked at the score and gone over the bullet points. And you’re wondering, ‘why so low?’ What could this book possibly do that elicits such a response?! You have the gist, if you’ve scrolled down, but not the appropriate context. And if you haven’t scrolled down, you’re waiting for both. But for a moment, put aside all of that and join me. The only way to truly understand why is to be there, really. And that can be arranged, if you are willing. And so it must be asked again, join me, please. We’ve arrived here, #8, the big reveal issue. The one to recontextualize it all, answer it all, in order to make things click. Or maybe not click, because that’s how mysteries work, yeah? Either the big reveal fits so well it makes one go ‘right on, that’s fantastic!’ or it leaves one disappointed. Who is the Sanctuary Killer? Who is ‘The Puddler’? What really happened at Sanctuary? This is the issue where we find out.
Heroes In Crisis has been a bit of a bumpy ride. One issue may elicit an incredibly negative response, while the other may do the precise opposite. The rest follow that pattern or lie in between, to varying degrees. It’s a mixed book, but perhaps the big revelations can raise it a bit higher? That was meant to be this issue. Tragically, it does the precise opposite.
Following on from issue #7, the book reveals that Wally West was the true killer all along. He is ‘The Puddler’, the villain behind all of this. He sent Lois all the footage, he’s why Booster and Harley have contradicting memories. He’s why the crime scene is the way it is. And it’s all because of, well, him losing control of The Speed Force for a brief moment. Throughout the book had implied the antagonist was someone akin to Zoom, the killer had to be someone with a narrow, judgmental definition of what a hero could be and thus had done this. Perhaps someone who viewed their heroes as ‘perfect’ and did not approve of the heroes who had these struggles. But that isn’t the case. It is, firmly, Wally West, The Flash, The Fastest Man Alive. And suddenly, just like that, everything shifts. Wally West had been positioned as a literal red herring. Even the Ivy cover had his symbol inscribed on it and all the little bits here and there made it seem even more obviously not the case.
But, in the end, the red herring is the killer. It’s so painfully staring readers in the face that it being the case is the most disappointing reveal there. And that’s putting surprise or shock aside, as this revelation had been publicly leaked for months, before even being teased. On a fundamental level, it’s wrong. It’s off. And the creatives seem to understand that to an extent, which is why the deaths are revealed to be a momentary accident and loss of control. But at the same time, this notion is a last second rewriting of a nebulous plot device (The Speed Force) to get out of a corner. It’s not what it is and has not been presented as such prior and the revelation here feels like a story that’s been written into a corner using the only thing it has left to explain its mystery hook. It’s fairly poor mystery writing, at a base level. It is neither satisfying not truly surprising, simply baffling.But getting to Wally West himself, one encounters a great deal of problems. Here’s the ultimate legacy character. Here’s the one man who not only succeeded his flagship silver age icon of a mentor but surpassed him. And did so for 20 years. He built and defined so much of what we love about Flash that Barry, upon return, had to borrow a lot of elements from Wally’s period. Here’s the man who was on The Justice League, who grew from an awkward, lonely kid with nothing and no one but his distant aunt into a father, a husband, a hero, a son, a friend, a mentor and many more things. We witnessed it all, we watched it happen, much like we did with Peter Parker, for instance. Here’s the heart and soul of the DC Universe, the one that’s tied to every part and everyone in it, the one that binds it, is its living memory and heritage, the very spirit of legacy, the very best of what DC heroism and ideas represents. Here’s the man shaped by John Broome, Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino, William Messner-Loebs, Mark Waid, Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns. And here he is…as a murderer.
Putting that aside, because the murders are contextualized as an accident, let’s move to the moments right after. This is Wally West, what might he do? The man who grew up under the legendary hero icons, what would he do, really? The answer feels obvious. And yet, this hero’s first inclination, his first instinct, his instant response, is to mess with the very memories and perceptions of surviving victims and innocents, it’s to manipulate them and everyone else in the heroic community, it’s to plant false evidence and change the crime scene to incriminate two innocents, it’s to write blackmail warning messages and then send similar things to Lois Lane. This is how he responds to a mistake, by making patients of mental illness feel guilty about being murderers when they’re not, by making everyone else think they are, allowing them to suffer and be damned and hunted, full of fear. These are not the actions of a hero. This is not heroism. This is not Wally West. These are the actions of a cold, callous, cruel monster. These are the actions of a character that certainly is no incarnation of Wally West that has come prior in the last two decades. And it isn’t helped by the fact that Wally, early on the issue, speaks to his feelings that perhaps maybe others’ pain and suffering isn’t real and it’s all fake, a setup to trick him, which in the context of what has occurred, comes off very poorly. Ultimately, it takes five days for this man to even admit to the fact that he did all this at all. Whatever sympathy the reader might have for this character is instantly obliterated. He is a terrible person.Digging into things further, Heroes In Crisis is a story that fundamentally came to be due to the times we live in. It emerged from King’s own fears, as school shootings seem to happen more and more. It was the idea of these safe spaces being violated and that’s impossible to not see in Heroes In Crisis. But at the same time, with the reveal, Wally isn’t just a victim. He is the criminal. For an event that began with the death of a black youth and has featured the death of other young women, people of color and LGBTQ+ characters, the book following and being centered on the man who is responsible for their deaths and subsequent cover up? It is incredibly disturbing and is loaded with problematic implications. Wally West almost becomes the superhero universe equivalent of a safe space shooter, with ‘oh he lost control’ as an explanation for why anyone might do this. It may not be intended as such, but that reading is there and is incredibly problematic. Even the characters who died, via their confessions, only exist to draw sympathy for the story of Wally and the tragedy there in, while not having a story of their own, having no agency at all. Instead the story is about the troubled straight white man and his misdeeds, which is the most baffling role to grant to Wally West, the heart and soul of the DCU. It’s destructive, it’s uncomfortable and it does not look good in the slightest.
Many will inevitably compare this to 90’s Emerald Twilight featuring Hal Jordan and understandably so, but this might just be far, far more unsalvageable for the lead of Wally West in comparison. Hal had a space bug persona to blame and be absolved. Wally has nothing for his actions post-murder, even if he could be absolved for the killings. It’s all incredibly shocking, especially because Tom King and Mitch Gerads are huge Flash fans and most importantly, massive Wally West fans. They love this character, they adore him. King has referenced things from Wally’s tenure numerous times, being a huge fan of the Messner-Loebs era. Wally is huge to Gerads, to the point that he named his kid after him. These are diehard Flash fans, just like any of us, just like the best of us. They love Wally as much as anyone and they get him. For Tom King, Wally West is DC’s Spider-Man, that’s how vital he is. (For a moment, consider a Marvel event where in Peter does any of this and if the very idea feels wrong and repugnant, a similar issue applies here). And it’s why it’s so baffling and heartbreaking to read this issue, especially as a fan of the creators, their body of work and their wealth of passion. The character is placed on this path, in this context, in ways that feel so utterly out of character, with little reasoning being evident. All one sees is a character being bent until they’re broken to serve an event comic’s plot. And that’s part of the problem. Heroes in Crisis feels like a poor mystery plot that stifles all else, especially an examination of mental health. And what purpose or point does a ‘mental health patient ends up a killer and then does terrible things’ narrative serve in this? How does it help anyone or prove productive? It only perpetuates bad surface level notions which culture has long fed us and isn’t useful.Heroes In Crisis #8 is hollow. It breaks your heart, because these are incredible creatives, it’s a great team and they have great characters at their disposal. They’re huge fans, too and they know and love these characters. And yet…yet, this is the book that’s out. It’s not terribly engaging on an emotional level. Its central character is damned for good, the dead characters feel wasted and it all feels pointless. The mystery does not hold up and is flimsy, with ‘because speed force’, a poor joke, reductively summing up the origin of the entire narrative’s conflicts. And when that’s the case, it does not look good. Some issues uplift all that came before via re-contextualization, but this one almost breaks all that came prior and almost tanks things, which is truly sad.
Ultimately, the problem with Heroes In Crisis is not that it isn’t what was expected or hoped for, it’s very much that what it actually is instead is deeply problematic and flawed. And it’s heartbreaking to look at it and say that due to how great the team is, how much excellent work they’ve produced in the past and how the book should be able to work better but just…doesn’t. One may feel anger and disappointment at first after reading the book, but in the end, all that’s left is hollow dissatisfaction, with a desire to read something else entirely to make up for that emptiness and be entertained by something more engaging and true. And it’s a shame, since the love of the creators, characters, the base conceit of exploring mental health is all there, but it’s just not clicking.