Sanctuary’s fall is just the beginning.
Reviewing comic book series on an issue-by-issue basis isn’t always ideal. You’re only getting a small chunk of a larger story, and sometimes it’s tough to judge that story without examining the entire package. That’s very much the case with Heroes in Crisis. This is a well-executed, emotionally charged story, but one that raises some significant concerns about the way in which specific characters are being handled. The ending is clearly going to make or break this story.
Issue #2 explores the ongoing fallout of the tragic mass-killing at Sanctuary. For one thing, writer Tom King and artist Clay Mann reveal that the death toll is even greater than what was indicated last month, resulting in a reveal that will no doubt rankle many readers. That’s where many of the concerns surrounding the direction of the series crop up. The abrupt, casual way Heroes in Crisis kills off fan-favorite characters is upsetting. That seems to be the intent. King and Mann frame the cycle of violence in this book as being as senseless, random and unsparing as mass-killings in the real world.
But still, to have another truly iconic DC character eliminated completely off-panel is frustrating, to say the least. It doesn’t help that the more major characters are killed off in Heroes in Crisis, the more readers are forced to question how much of this story will actually stick when all is said and done. That’s a definite concern when one of the main protagonists is a time-traveler. The worst thing King and Mann can do with this book is unleash a swath of death and suffering in the DCU and then wipe the board clean in the end.
Again, that’s why it’s impossible to fully judge Heroes in Crisis without knowing the endpoint of this journey. For now, the rock-solid storytelling ensures that the book accomplishes what it sets out to do. These first two issues do an excellent job of showcasing the darker side of being a costumed hero – the emotional and physical toll the job takes on even the best and brightest. King paints Harley Quinn and Booster Gold as two flawed but identifiable protagonists at the end of their psychological rope. I’ve had issues with the darker spin King has put on Booster in the past year, but this issue is more satisfying in that regard. King writes Booster as someone just deluded and self-destructive enough to think he can hero his way out of this particular jam.
This script is equally successful when it comes to the core trinity of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Each of these three characters are featured in their own video confessional segments, with King delving a little deeper into the traumas driving them and the different identity crises they face even as established heroes. This issue also touches on some of the darker undercurrents of their relationship, particularly Batman’s inability to trust others and be open. That’s a fairly well-worn Justice League trope at this point, but effective nonetheless.
The combination of Mann’s gorgeous artwork and Tomeu Morey’s equally gorgeous colors would make this book worth reading regardless of story quality. Mann’s elegant, chiseled figures are always a feast for the eyes. Yet there’s far more than just good looks driving his storytelling. This issue is a real showcase for his use of body language. King is generally able to step back and let Mann handle the heavy lifting when it comes to conveying emotional turmoil. There are a lot of subtle touches to take in, like the way Harley’s hair pokes haphazardly out of her classic jester suit, suggesting that she isn’t quite in the right frame of mind.
Morey’s colors give the book a striking, vibrant quality that is often almost wholly at odds with the tone of the story. That’s not a complaint, mind you, but merely an example of how the creative team are striving to juxtapose the dark subject matter with the warm, idyllic promises Sanctuary once offered.
It is a bit disappointing to see this issue relying on fill-in art when the series is still so young. The good news is that Travis Moore’s three pages fit in very seamlessly. Moreover, Moore’s rendition of a Barry Allen plagued by super-speed rage makes for a truly eye-popping moment.