(w) Tom King (a) Clay Mann
Heroes In Crisis has provided plenty of lurid moments worthy of criticism thus far. These tangible details in each issue make for a laundry list of objections. The wanton violence and high-falutin language of the initial massacre brought about comparisons to Identity Crisis and a very real questioning as to why any of this was necessary. Heroes In Crisis #3, the fill-in issue, only compounded these questions with a constant cycle of stated traumas and subsequent murders seemingly without purpose. The fourth installment provided the most obvious details for critique thus far as it overtly sexualized every woman in its pages, including Batgirl in a moment of vulnerability as she displayed her bullet wounds and recounted a sexual assault. All of these elements make it easy to question a specific choice or plot point; Heroes In Crisis #5 does not offer anything quite so obvious. It dials back on sensationalism and sexiness, focusing instead on its core plotting and style in order to move the story forward. This also provides an opportunity for readers to set aside the most obvious objections and examine the craft behind this series. That sort of examination makes it clear that Heroes In Crisis is not simply plagued by a set of poor choices, it is poorly constructed at the most basic levels of craft and incapable of supporting any noteworthy narrative, no matter how well or poorly individual moments might be conceived.
The single page confessionals mark an obvious sign of a structural flaw. These continuing cut aways in each issue introduce readers to largely unrecognizable characters in a moment of vulnerability. In the first issue they helped point to the purpose of Sanctuary and an impending crisis involving the recordings. At this point, they simply interrupt the comic between distinct scenes. Even those that feature the key suspects, Harley Quinn and Booster Gold, offer little insight. One of the only patterns that emerges from these moments is how much they favor male superheroes. Men generally present bits of comedy and complete narratives in a nine-panel sequence. In Heroes In Crisis #5, the two women are reduced to long bouts of silence and screaming or a story of domestic abuse. This reductive slant builds upon a troubling trend both within this series and related works, one worthy of a longer meditation.
Between these interludes during the first two-thirds of Heroes In Crisis #5, there are a variety of scenes that all seek to push the core mystery forward. Booster Gold, Harley Quinn, and Superman all receive updates, each of which highlights the lack of tonal control present within this issue. It strives to capture the lowbrow comedic glee of Booster and Blue Beetle first discovered in the 80s and to present Batgirl as the most underestimated member of Batman’s “family” (while continuing to emphasize her thigh gap whenever given the opportunity). Moving between these individual scenes it’s easy to perceive how they move the story forward, even if in fits and starts, but there’s no coherent tone or connective tissue between the individual moments. Each feels as though it was written in a vacuum, before being pasted together in a single word document.
All of this leads to the issue’s climactic sequence in which Superman delivers a heartfelt address regarding the nature of Sanctuary as other events collide beneath the text of his monologue. Nowhere in the series is the lack of connection between events, words, and tone apparent than during these nine pages. The speech is highlighted against both the stories of Booster and Harley, as well as several pages of random heroes from across DC Comics. In every one of these three circumstances, Superman’s words bear no connection to the events occuring beside them. The ongoing plots of both key murder suspects makes for a distracting reading experience as their dialogue and the overriding monologue compete with one another. Even in montages of characters, including the unexpected appearances of Adam Strange, Swamp Thing, and Shining Knight, there is no apparent connection between the words and images on the page. In a medium where juxtaposition is the essence of language, there is no purpose in which characters, words, moments, and symbols are jumbled together on the page. It is the essence of carelessness.
What Superman actually has to say makes this entire endeavor all the more questionable. As the fifth issue of nine, his speech provides a climax for the story and it naturally follows that he speaks to the nature of heroism, trauma, and resiliency. Despite using so many words across so many pages, there is very little to actually be said. Superman’s moment focuses on the need for those who have been hurt to recover and the bravery required to overcome trauma. Both of these sentiments resonate in the broadest of ways; they are unobjectionable pablum. The inanity of this moment is further underscored when Superman makes a “bold” defense against those who would be scared of trauma. He behaves as if a majority of his audience might be frightened of a soldier or first responder who experiences PTSD. The overall statement is so broad and unobjectionable that it never risks challenging or offending its audience. If there is an objection to be made, it’s in the clear fetishization of suffering as it is tied to valor. Superman spends so much time droning on about the horrible suffering that heroes must endure that it seems to become their sole purpose in life. Taken in its most charitable form, this speech at the heart of Heroes In Crisis presents a poorly conceived narrative about service that any mental health professional would seek to quickly dispatch.
Heroes In Crisis #5 does provide its audience a certain gift though, and that is the gift of clarity. Moving past making Batgirl’s bullet wounds sexy or the heaps of bodies on a front lawn, this issue doesn’t offer anything to distract from the lack of storytelling ability upon display. Tone and pacing are poorly considered, if they were considered at all. The fundamental and unique elements of the comics medium are never utilized to any notable effect. Even the message of this series is clearly stated as something banal and forgettable. There is so little of interest in these pages that one might want to ask for the sensational details of earlier issues to return. It’s clear now that there’s nothing in the way of craft or meaning, messy or otherwise, worth examining in Heroes In Crisis.