by Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
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.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?