Writer Tom King Tests DC’s Brightest in Controversial “Heroes In Crisis”

Here is what has drawn readers to the superhero comic book since Superman made his public debut back in 1938 in Action Comics: These larger than life figures dressed gaudily in their capes and spandex and body armor represent us at our best and shiniest, all spit-polished and brimming with sunny side up optimism. In their various guises – Batman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Starman, The Red Bee, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel and ad infinitum – they act as we would like to see ourselves in our wildest fantasies act. They laugh at whatever world shaking crisis is threatening their universe this particular month and they charge into action with the conviction of the righteous when there are days we are doing good to even slip on our shoes. In short, the superhero is us at our best, merrily swinging from one adventure to the next without ever breaking stride.

But what happens to our heroes when the stride is broken, when the bright carnival on a hot summer day smile turns ever so slightly into a grimace, when rushing into adventure is no longer an option because, well, their entire family has been systematically erased from continuity and they’re left standing alone after the last congratulatory bulb from a newsman’s camera has gone off? What becomes of our bright and shiny and gaudy four colored gods when they break?

 Eisner award winning writer Tom King and artist extraordinaire Clay Mann has asked these very questions and structured a nine issue whodunit style mystery called Heroes In Crisis to attempt to answer this sticky conundrum.

The Backstory:

 Once upon a time there was a boy named Wally West who became the protégé of the Silver Age Flash. He went by the moniker of Kid Flash until his mentor sacrificed his life to save the DC multiverse. Wally then segued into the heady role of the Flash. And the Flash he would be for over twenty years in his own monthly comic book. During those years, Wally grew and matured as he fought one villain after another. In time, he got married and had a family. But the comic book industry is a slippery sort of thing: What sells reasonably well and is on top one day might the next be yesterday’s news. The Silver Age Barry Allen Flash returned from the Great Beyond in only the way a comic book character can and quickly usurped Wally as the DC premiere speedster. With Barry Allen back and looking pretty good for a character who had just done a twenty year plus dirt nap, Wally and his family and all of his many and varied exploits seemed suddenly…redundant. A companywide reboot of all of DC’s titles quickly expunged Wally West from current day continuity. Despite all of the many times over he had saved the world and the cosmos, it was decided by the Powers That Be that the former Kid Flash would be written out. And not just “He moved to a small town in the middle of nowhere and has retired” written out, but “The cat never even existed and there has only been one Flash and it ain’t him” written out. It seemed like Wally West’s race was over.

Resultado de imagen para heroes in crisis

But it wasn’t. DC’s plan to clear the decks of all of their old continuity and start over from square one was initially a big success. Until it wasn’t. It seemed that fans wanted their Wally West back from the same limbo that housed other neglected and discarded characters that at one point had made people smile and cheer. And so a new initiative was launched that folded back into the DC Universe proper the things most fans missed: The sense of history, of legacy returned with Wally West acting as a de facto rallying point for all that had been good in the comic book world and all that could be good again.

 So Wally West came back. Except…Except. As an exile from a continuity that barely anyone recalled, Wally returned to fight the good fight sans his wife and two children. The very energy that had swallowed him whole had spit him back up while erasing his family. The joy of rebirth alternately was a curse for a man who had loved and fought for his family time and again. Only he could ever remember his old history and his family. The slate had been erased and the background for the former Flash no longer existed and nothing could seem to correct the cruelty of his.

 Enter Tom King and Heroes In Crisis. King picked up the story of Wally and dropped him into the middle of something called Sanctuary; a top-secret retreat for superheroes experiencing their own version of PTSD that had been established by the DC Trinity: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. As the story opens, the Big Three are responding to an emergency call originating from their Sanctuary. They arrive just in time to find that a massacre has occurred there: Every patient attending the facility has been brutally murdered, including Wally West. What happened? What went wrong? Who could have perpetrated such a cruel and violent end to a group of superheroes who were only at Sanctuary to work through their own grief and despair?

 The story when it really begins to cook follows Booster Gold, a time-travelling hero from the future and Harley Quinn, a sort of, could be reformed criminal who both were attending Sanctuary when the killing spree began. Both of them survive but with differing memories of just what happened. Booster swears he witnessed Harley slaughter their fellow brotherhood of capes. For her part, Harley is convinced she saw Booster do the killing. Who is lying and who is telling the truth?

 That’s all setup and it is presented on stage as the first issue begins as a murder mystery. Tom King, an accomplished writer who has plied his trade in such diverse comics as Batman, Mister Terrific and The Vision, has something to say in his vast, sprawling and yet intimate story about grief and how we do – or don’t – handle it. It’s a writer working at the top of his game in an industry – comic books – that don’t always get the respect and thought out nuance that it deserves. Heroes In Crisis is not so much a murder mystery then as it is an examination of human foible and how one can take something bad and survive it and ultimately flourish. King also muses on whether there is such a thing as being too broken or too irredeemable. Heady stuff for a monthly comic book.

 The victims of the massacre at Sanctuary as written by King are not simply faceless victims, and perhaps that is the point and the parallel between this story and what is tragically unfolding at a frightening rate in our real world where gun violence captures the headlines at a dizzying rate. We always seem to fixate first on the perpetrator, but what about the innocent people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time? Heroes In Crisis takes preexisting superheroes as its victims and presents them to us, the readers, as real and genuine people. For the most part, the patients at Sanctuary aren’t the A-List heroes of the Justice League: They’re fringe characters that have populated the background of the DC Universe for years, maybe decades and, for whatever reason, never quite caught on with readership as a whole. Tom King pulls off a neat trick by introducing us to the victims in flashbacks throughout the series presented as videotaped confessionals/therapy sessions. Through the words of the heroes killed we get to know them and through the knowing comes a realization that none of these characters are “throwaway” or Z-Grade has-beens, but rather – in the hands of a gifted writer such as King – interesting and compelling people who we might not mind following in their own solo title, or at least in a one-shot special. Who would have ever thought that the character of Gnarrk could be so brilliant in his simplicity as he quotes Keats or Commander Steel so captivating in his history of trauma (“I woke up this last time. Alive again.  Don’t know if it’ll stick or anything… No, it…I doubt it’ll stick. I really do.”)? Well, a talented writer like Tom King believes in these characters and reminds the reader just why they are so special and what it is we’re mourning with their loss.

 And Wally. Wally West. It always comes back around to this amiable character who, in Heroes In Crisis, wants nothing more than to have his family back. “I didn’t want to be alone,” the one-time Blue Valley resident mourns aloud, cradling the body of a fallen friend in his arms as he wonders where it all went so very wrong. Wally has a role to play in this quiet epic, and it might not be one some people would suspect or even welcome. Here, with Tom King’s deft and sure hand, we have a character that has not been written this good and this believably since his initial return to the DC Universe in the Rebirth one-shot of several years ago. Yes, the scenes with Wally are some of the more excruciating of the series. But, if you subscribe to the school of stripping a character down to their most vulnerable and exposed in order to build them up even bigger and better than they were before, then welcome to Wally West’s version of The Heroes Journey. Heroes In Crisis serves as one of the first steps in reinterpreting him for a new age of adventures and also serves as a reminder to readers as to why Wally West represents the theme of hope: Because even in the darkest of hours, mistakes or not, he is a hero.

Heroes In Crisis is one of the best comic books of 2019.

About Ryan Vandergriff

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