Gratuitous Violence and Wasted Potential in Heroes in Crisis 1

by Spencer Irwin

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

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What is Heroes in Crisis actually about? The answer drastically changes my reading of this issue. See, as a murder mystery it works quite well — it doesn’t alleviate all my criticisms (which we’ll get into in a bit, believe me), but there’s interesting hooks in the form of which of the two prime suspects is the murderer, why they did it, and how the Trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman will react. As a murder mystery, Heroes in Crisis 1 is an enjoyable, if flawed, comic. But Heroes in Crisis has primarily been advertised and solicited as a more low-key, nuanced look at how superheroes handle trauma, and when judged by that metric, it’s far less successful.

Either Booster Gold or Harley Quinn has murdered both the staff and the handful of heroes living at the “Sanctuary,” a superhero mental health treatment facility built by the Trinity. The Sanctuary being destroyed before Heroes in Crisis 1 even begins is its first misstep — not only is it hard to care about the destruction of a facility I’ve never seen before and know nothing about, but the Sanctuary itself is an intriguing concept I’d like to see explored further, highlighting the frustrating lost potential of this decision.

The massacre — and particularly how Tom King and Clay Mann handle it — is the second misstep. Each victim is a named character, several of them rather high profile, yet their deaths have nothing to do with them; they serve as a crime for Booster and Harley to run from, and as a tragedy for the Trinity to avenge.

King and Mann do devote a handful of pages to interviews with the victims. Ostensibly this should remind readers that each character was a living, breathing person; they should feel tragic, but they largely come across as emotionally manipulative and perfunctory. If Superman of all people can barely care about any of these characters as people rather than a statistic, why should we? Each of these victims came to Sanctuary as survivors of trauma, seeking refuge and help, and rather than exploring the rich potential of that premise, King simply victimizes them further, sometimes in particularly cruel, mean-spirited ways.

I really did not need to see crows feeding on poor Blue Jay’s corpse, alright? It doesn’t make his death feel any more tragic, it just feels like either King and Mann really reaching for poignancy (and not succeeding), or like they’re reveling in the violence of his death. Neither option is appealing.

So much of this issue feels like it’s feeding into some of superhero comics’ worst excesses, such as their obsession with pointlessly grotesque violence and gore and their penchant for using mass murder (often of minority or cult favorite characters) to motivate their biggest stars. This feels like a comic from 2008, not 2018. Even if future issues turn around and start exploring trauma in compelling ways, this premiere will still have left a bad taste in my mouth, and that feeling is likely even stronger in any readers who may have specifically picked this issue up because they were interested in the idea of exploring trauma in a superhero comic. Actually, since some of those readers are likely trauma survivors themselves, it’s possible this issue could even have triggered some of them instead. That’s a dangerous misuse of this series’ considerable potential.

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The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

7 comments on “Gratuitous Violence and Wasted Potential in Heroes in Crisis 1

  1. I wouldn’t say Superman barely cared, he was so shocked he could barely finish a sentence. It’s often he is depicted so non plussed..
    As Booster Gold is a time travelling character I predict everyone will be alive again by the end of this series.

    • That’s fair. Hot Spot isn’t the best example in the issue, but I also didn’t articulate myself as much as I’d like, so sorry for both. Here’s my full thoughts on that particular scene and why I chose to highlight it:

      I do like that King and Mann took the time to show Superman mourn Hot Spot, and I don’t even necessarily mind that Superman couldn’t remember his catch phrase; it’s a very human moment. I think my issue, again, is that it makes Hot Spot’s death, not about Hot Spot, but about Superman and his guilt over not being able to remember perhaps the most significant fact about this kid he entrusted to Sanctuary.

      The victims are ultimately interchangeable. Hot Spot is the only one the Trinity really seem to acknowledge as a person instead of a statistic on any level. Wally West is the best friend of Batman’s oldest son, but you’d never know it; his corpse could have been anyone’s and it wouldn’t have changed the scene. The identities of the victims at Sanctuary don’t have any bearing on the plot or story so far — you could sub out Roy or Wally or Blue Jay or whoever and it wouldn’t change the issue, or the Trinity’s reaction to the massacre, a single iota. And to me that makes the deaths feel inconsequential, and makes King and Mann’s attempts to get closer to the victims in their testimonials feel emotionally manipulative.

  2. I have the gut reaction of being pissed off at the casual deaths of Roy and Wally – and I recognize that that can veer into bad fandom outrage territory – but…WTF? There has been the argument that by killing Wally King has killed the hope that needed to return to the DCU in Rebirth. Now I understand that Rebirth is not King’s story, but to casually kill off Wally just seems cruel. Booster Gold is around, so there is a time travel element but still. Not too happy with this thus far.

    • Wally being one of the victims is what makes me think at least some of these deaths will end up undone by the end of the story, but his is also the most pathetic; at least the other victims get a testimonial page, but Wally, the most significant and highest profile victim by far, gets absolutely nothing. I’m a huge fan of Wally West, but even if I wasn’t, it feels disrespectful.

      (Also, Harley or Booster being able to kill Wally is completely laughable. This is the man who felt a bullet start to hit the back of his neck, and it triggered his speed and let him walk out of the way without taking a scratch.)

    • Honestly, the fact that Minstrel Flash is dead is a good thing. Let’s hope that there is no time travel. White Wally West is nothing but a racist symbol and killing him off is the first legitimate improvement that DC is sorting itself out in forever. Let it be a start of a trend.

      And hey, maybe this means hope can actually return. Minstrel Flash’s return coincided with hope exiting the DCU. Everything hopeful in DC was cancelled, and replaced with the dreary, darker and edgier bullshit we have now. Maybe instead of going on about how dark and edgy they are in books like Doomsday Clock, anything Tom King writes, anything to do with Batman and the how many books whose message is ‘the supposedly hopeful premise is doomed to failure and explode because we are dark and edgy’, DC can return to hope, imagination and strong storytelling fundamentals. Though considering they are still threatening a Batman who Laughs miniseries, I don’t think it is going to be just yet. Hell, Heroes in Crisis, just being more Rebirth as usual is proof we aren’t getting hope back any time soon

      But Heroes in Crisis was quite clearly not going to work from the announcement. Even when Tom King was good, his best work was with inhuman psychology. You didn’t read books like Omega Men and the Vision for his great displays of humanity, but his ability to write characters whose had essential parts of their humanity lacking. Current Tom King? There was no chance in hell you could trust him to handle the delicate handling of humanity that a book about a superhero crisis centre requires. Him trying to describe Sanctuary just demonstrated what an inhuman facility he was making and what an inhuman idea he had of who two thirds of the Trinity were (especially Batman, but I think that we are used to King completely fucking up Batman).
      And then there was the premise itself. Just further proof of how unsuited King was for the premise by choosing the worst possible premise. The very genre itself was going to render any attempt at having a meaningful look at PTSD farcical. Instead, it was just a question about how brutish and uggly it was going to be.

      The answer appears to be very.

      Somehow, DC has made a comic killing off one of the most racist acts in modern comics not good news

      • I think you asked too much for hope and optimism to return again. You need to remember that both big two always pushing nostalgia first and others later…

        • I mean, DC had hope and optimism, before Rebirth. It was a massive part of DC YOU. And Marvel has hope and optimism. Nothing is stopping DC from having hope.

          DC YOU was a fantastic balance. Had a little of everything. Hope, darkness, imagination, creativity, character, nostalgia. It is possible. It is possible.

          And yeah, Marvel fuck up a lot. But for all their mistakes, there is also imagination, character and hope everywhere. Take a long look at Marvel’s top characters, and compare them with DC’s. Not every top Marvel book works (Spencer’s Spider-man or Aaron’s Avengers, for example), but we have Aaron’s Thor, Coates’ Captain America and Black Panther, Slott’s Iron Man. And DC have none of that.

          The Big Two have problems that will always be a problem. But DC can be doing much, much better than they are

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