THIS REVIEW OF ‘HEROES IN CRISIS’ #2 CONTAINS SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. How steadfast is your faith? In writer Tom King, in a Crisis story that was pitched and promoted to be unlike any Crisis before? A Crisis of initially personal, not cosmic, proportions? With Heroes in Crisis #2 our faith is put to the test, sussing out what it all means, how characters respond to both superheroic therapeutic sessions for PTSD and to the death of many characters who were undergoing this treatment. Determining whether we’re buying into the premise and accepting the execution.
Two issues out of nine isn’t a lot to bank faith on. King has a reputation as a writer of the first order and his talent for humanizing iconic DC heroes certainly elevates our hopes. The Clay Mann and Travis Moore art enhances King’s keen insights to what being a super, hero or villain, does to mortal beings. Given myriad possibilities as the story progresses, readers can imagine many twisting elements and surprises that may affirm their trust. The style is evident in profound flashback dialogues by patients living and dead to the automaton therapists manning Sanctuary complex before its destruction. In the expressive posturing and mien of those investigating the massacre and those fleeing from it. But is there sufficient substance to float our hopes underneath that impressive glamour?
An art instructor of mine used to relate the story of Picasso and the cow. Picasso is walking past a lovely green meadow one day and spies a cow grazing beside the fence. As the master draws near, the cow says, “Mmm, this grass sure is good.” To which Picasso replies, “Yes. But is it art?” On many levels, both issues of Heroes in Crisis are good (see the excellent review of #1 by DoomRocket’s Brendan Hodgdon here), but does the second installment elevate the exactingly constructed framework?
More deaths as a result of the Sanctuary attack are revealed in #2, with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman in pursuit of answers. This leads them to one of the two primary persons of interest, hiding out with the help of a fellow Gotham crime figure. A confrontation between the Trinity and Harley Quinn ensues, with the suspect making her escape. Meanwhile the other hypothetical killer, Booster Gold, begins his own investigation by leaving himself on the suspect list. Hampered by an impaired reasoning capacity and malfunctioning tech, he seeks the CSI skills of Barry Allen. After assessing the crime scene as the Flash, Barry attacks Booster which indicates that the speedster at least is convinced regarding who the killer is. The mysterious Puddlers are again referenced, and we discover apparent leaks in the Sanctuary anonymity protocols when it comes to patient interviews. Interspersed throughout are recorded therapeutic sessions with Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman.
Without yet knowing if the body count is real (or as permanent as any comic book casualty), or a portion of a patient’s treatment, there are debatable elements comprising this latest chapter. Many of the apparently deceased are prominent, long-established DC characters with their own loyal followings. This makes an artificial therapy protocol feel possible. Matrix-y holodecks with those undergoing treatment unaware this is their own version of The Running Man, the events merely part of a personalized program. We can hope this is the case, or that a form of it comes into play. Otherwise the plot is relying on already overworked tropes, insightful utterances laboring oh so hard for profundity, and character manipulations contoured to fit the moment rather than remain true to established portrayals. Also, a New 52 déjà vu despite the declared intentions of Rebirth.
Because taking Batman to task, again, for being that team member who makes contingency plans using his allies’ weaknesses against them should they be compromised seems at this juncture a component in a simulation. As DC’s primary threesome conduct their inquiries, this contention arises regarding the likelihood Bruce worked a back door into the Sanctuary system. A covert way to learn about the patient thought processes which someone else then exploited. And whether Batman carries Kryptonite in his utility belt. In an actual working relationship, would Clark and Diana not have accepted that Bruce is the strategist who plans, not because he doesn’t trust them, but because he doesn’t trust the impossibility they could be controlled?
The Trinity versus Harley action sequence may also be better as a part of an imagined milieu. Yes, Harley is not to be underestimated. Her time with the Suicide Squad shows she’s not only unpredictable, but also capable of fighting outside her weight division. But her outmaneuvering of the three most powerful and resourceful heroes in the DC universe using a subterfuge Wonder Woman didn’t foresee whips my suspension of disbelief to a Tacoma Narrows Bridge minuet. An adversary unexpectedly, creatively, overcoming more powerful opponents can be a comic book thing of beauty. Here, it’s forced, predictable (these heroes and Harley have all met, they should know better), and manages to make the trio look foolish, especially Wonder Woman. Approaching Quinn, now possibly the killer of several powerful individuals, and leaving their guard down does not serve their images as heroic icons well. Even with the ruse successful, how could any of the three not close the distance with a fleeing Harley to reacquire her?
The final factor in this main conflict is the aftermath. Superman and Batman pursuing a “Harley’s your combat equal” exchange doesn’t humanize them as much as it makes them peevish and petty. Belittled further when it requires Diana’s mediation to get them back on mission. It’s a fleeting moment, but not one of the book’s finest.
We aren’t certain of Booster’s mental state, but clearly he is having issues beyond any normal level of lucidity. Skeets confirms this is so, and it does afford the creative team opportunity to show the hero’s less serious side. True to character, but against the backdrop of tragedy and considering Booster’s possible role in it, effectively unnerving.
With only the dual portions available to weigh right now, Heroes in Crisis is still a promise unfulfilled. It’s delivered some of the goods, and it’s looked beautiful doing it. The artistry of colorists Tomeu Morey and Arif Prianto serve the issue well, as does Clayton Cowles’ lettering. Visually, it’s truly Crisis-worthy packaging.
But it has also meandered into questionable character moments for major players and strained credibility. It continues dealing out the ‘death of your favorite characters’ hand to galvanize interest and investment. Frankly, at this point, it’s not easy to care whether the fatalities are actual or counterfeit; this well-trod avenue just feels tired and temporary. In its styling, the series is golden. Whether it manages to rise above the surface it’s treading, and in the artful manner it should, is still in question. That’s where the faith comes in.
Written by Tom King.
Art by Clay Mann and Travis Moore.
Colors by Tomeu Morey and Arif Prianto.
Letters by Clayton Cowles.
6 out of 10