Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Tom King’s exploration of superhero trauma, Heroes in Crisis, has come to an end. To say that it has not been without controversy is a bit of an understatement. Most of that controversy involves King’s handling of a beloved character in DC Comics history, Wally West. Newer readers don’t necessarily see the problem with what King has done, while those that have read the stories by Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, and others see this as complete character assassination. This is sadly nothing new for DC, having put readers through a similar dog-and-pony show 15 years ago with the polarizing miniseries Identity Crisis.
For those unfamiliar with it, Identity Crisis was an event framed around a murder-mystery. This time, the victim was Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man. Though never the most prominent character in the DC lexicon, Elongated Man (aka Ralph Dibny) and Sue were beloved by both the superhero community and comics readers. Throughout that miniseries we see many DC heroes acting out of character. It is also revealed that Sue had been raped by the villain Doctor Light. The idea was to show that heroes are not infallible, but in the end only showed a core misunderstanding of the appeal of DC’s heroes.
My own personal experience with Identity Crisis is similar to many readers. It was one of the first books recommended to me when I was first getting back into comics. At the time, I didn’t have much understanding of who these characters were; this is especially true of the “minor” ones that play a big role in that story. I didn’t care about the Elongated Man, or The Atom, or even Green Arrow for that matter. As a gateway into modern comics, Identity Crisis did the trick. However, it also lead me down the path of reading up on these characters. I learned more about Elongated Man, The Atom, and Green Arrow. I understood what made them tick, and why they had 50-plus year publication histories. I developed my own history with them.
Needless to say, upon revisiting Identity Crisis I found the story revolting. How could they do that to Ralph and Sue? Why’d they turn Jean Loring into a sociopath? How ridiculously stupid is that Deathstroke fight sequence? It became very easy to poke holes in a story I originally thought was air-tight. I ended up dropping my copy into a book-drop donation box, hoping that it might get someone else into comics before they discard it. In the end, Identity Crisis was nothing more than an attempt to boost sales through scare-tactics, and to that end it worked. This same cycle is currently playing out with regards to Heroes in Crisis.
Personally, I’ve despised every issue of Heroes in Crisis, but kept reading it in the hopes that King would pull off a miracle at the end. After all, he seems to excel in the miniseries format as evidenced by Omega Men, Mister Miracle, and Vision. Instead, I found it to only get worse and worse as the series progressed. However, I’ve seen (or in the case of podcasts, heard) people voicing positive takes on the series. Upon a deeper dive, most of these are either huge Tom King apologists who will defend his writing to the ends of the Earth or those without extensive knowledge of these characters – especially Wally West. It is that latter group of readers that makes me hopeful for the legacy of Heroes in Crisis.
If we look at Wally West’s history by only going as far back as DC Rebirth #1, the events of Heroes in Crisis can make sense. Wally was largely forgotten from history, with his relationship with Linda Park – including his children – seemingly erased from the timeline. Even though he rekindled his friendships with members of the Titans, things were far from perfect. Even the events that lead him to the Sanctuary do sort of make sense. Granted, the idea of a mental health facility set up in part by Batman is laughable, but that detail aside I could get behind it. Hell, even the idea of losing control of the Speed Force and accidentally killing everyone makes sense because… it’s the Speed Force. But to then cover up the deaths and frame others for the crime? That’s not Wally West. That’s a writer or editorial forcing a character into their narrative.
Hopefully, Heroes in Crisis inspires people to seek out past Wally West stories. It’s certainly easier that those of us trying to seek out Elongated Man stories following Identity Crisis. DC has been releasing wonderful paperback collections of Mark Waid’s run, as well as that by Geoff Johns. There’s also a trade of the brief but fantastic Grant Morrison/Mark Millar collaboration. Like Identity Crisis before it, Heroes in Crisis is likely to be viewed as a good entry point for the uninitiated, but reviled once they develop a history with the characters it butchers for the sake of shock.