In the words of Mark from Spectrum Pulse… this is a big one, folks. To prep for the end of Tom King’s controversial, divisive mini-series, I reread all of Heroes In Crisis. What I found was a series with some serious ambition in trying to tackle trauma and superheroes marred by bad pacing, irritating main characters, and distracting storytelling choices. So, no. The finale does not turn things around. In fact, it compounds problems that reveal the very concept as a fraudulent attempt to be gritty.
Before I get into specifics, let’s look at the broad picture. Inherently, the concept for this series doesn’t work. King’s gimmick for this series is that superheroes, if they were real people, would suffer PTSD like soldiers, cops, or other people in intense professions.
But the fantasy for us readers is that these heroes face evil with gumption and a drive to protect the little people (us). We paradoxically want to be these heroes but crave peace and a lack of conflict. Trying to put heroes in the “real world” doesn’t work because, well, comics aren’t real life. Granted, “traumatized heroes” could be an interesting Else Worlds piece if done better. But, sorry Tom King and Zack Snyder, heroes aren’t real and trying to put them in a real world is a clumsy paradox. We’d all do better to think of superheroes as Grant Morrison does, as: “magnificent bullshit.”
As far as I know, this story is in continuity. So apparently while Superman is zipping around, protecting humanity with a smile in Brian Michael Bendis’s wonderful comics, he’s stewing inside like the rest of us. That shatters the fantasy these comics allow. Instead of inspiring, Heroes In Crisis insists these fantasy beings are just as miserable as the rest of us. There are some brilliant gritty DC comics, but those are almost always out of continuity and therefore function on their own terms, i.e, The Dark Knight Returns.
SPOILERS for Heroes in Crisis #8, but the killer is Wally West. Devastated by his actions, past Wally West is confronted by the future version, who extends a helping hand. Meanwhile, Booster Gold and company stand by, forgive Flash, and help him “fix” his mistake. Grossly, the heroes dismiss Flash’s mass murder as, “Oh well. We all slip sometimes, right? Bros before heroes!” This mentality is incredibly disturbing if you replace heroes with soldiers or cops. If this series were rewritten so Flash’s actions actually happened too quickly, it might work. But he took his sweet time covering the evidence and didn’t turn himself in only to say, “it all happened so fast.” Yeah right, murderer.
I don’t want to dismiss trauma or say people that have done bad things can’t redeem themselves or be good. But if King wanted Flash to represent people with trauma…he’s the one who should be worried about dismissing people in pain, because Flash and the forgiving heroes come across as despicable.
On that note–what does anybody learn? Flash learns to forgive himself despite his hideous crimes, but what did Booster and Harley and Bat Girl get out of this? The Trinity would have been far more interesting protagonists, but the last few issues cycled them out. I suppose if you’re invested in Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy you might find their reunion cute…but once again, nobody learns anything or changes. Even if you strip away all the other problems, Heroes In Crisis doesn’t even work as a basic story with interesting characters or a cohesive narrative.
To make it worse, this sorrowful predicament is “fixed” by some convoluted time travel plan awkwardly explained by Booster Gold. Heroes In Crisis, most of all, is a tonal trainwreck, and the finale is the worst example.
So, a beloved hero just mass murdered a truckload of heroes in a story about PTSD written by a former FBI agent who served in Iraq–but he’s able to fix it by going into the 25th century with Booster Gold before Harley Quinn knees him in the crotch. King has been shooting himself in the foot since #1 by having Booster Gold and Harley Quinn as the main characters, but now they exemplify the grating tonal problems. King tries to go 100% in both whimsical super antics AND depressing trauma drama; and by doing so, both are failed, especially when propped up against each other.
While it’s nice to have somebody with the structural formalism of Tom King, all too often his adherence to structures stifles, like the 9 panel grid confessions, which cram in lame pop psychology about every hero he can think of. These snippets rarely transcend beyond the level of a 12 year old “truth bombing” that Batman would be crazy in “real life.” On top of that, these intermissions act like speed bumps that keep taking us out of the narrative.
Most of this issue consists of people standing around spewing overwritten excuses, which leaves Booster’s complicated plan only two pages (count ’em) to happen, relayed by voice-over. King has always struggled with pacing in the comic medium, but I don’t think I’ve read such a rushed conclusion even from him.
Clay Mann can draw some beautiful art…but he’s not exactly given the best material. Most of this issue consists of people standing around in a desolate field. Luckily, there are some splash pages where Mann can show off his acute understanding of anatomy.