Heroes in Crisis #1
Written by Tom King
Art by Clay Mann and Tomeu Morey
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Think about the idea of a masquerade ball, where you can be yourself, a distinct someone, who is simultaneously anyone. All thanks to a mask, which is equally an opportunity to hide your true self away and put a face out there at the same time. A means of protection. There’s no shortage of those wearing masks in the DC Universe, whether they’re the ones that produce chaos and disorder or the ones willing to put themselves in harm’s way to save those caught in the middle of this battle of good and evil. The ones that, at first glance, seem entirely human.
This is something that’s been part of superhero comic books for as long as secret identities have, and the reason for this line of thinking right now is spurred by seeing what appears to be the Psycho-Pirate’s mask on the cover of this first issue, front and center in Superman’s hands. Within Heroes in Crisis, the idea is intended to be considered in a sadder respect. That those underneath the masks, hiding themselves away, can be hurting in distinctly human ways as well. And so, what good is a mask if it’s incapable of protecting those underneath them?
For a setting which has been previously teased and referenced in-universe, what’s most interesting about this series’ launching point is that it does not begin by welcoming the audience into Sanctuary, giving them an overview and then upending it all by way of a horrific event. Tom King’s script instead picks up after a brutal killing has already occurred, starting with Booster Gold sitting at a diner counter as Harley Quinn walks in. Their subsequent encounter is crosscut with nine-panel grids that depict therapy sessions held at Sanctuary for a number of superheroes, and a sequence that sees Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman starting to uncover what tragedy unfolded in a place designed for healing.
All of these narrative threads are bound together by Clay Mann and Tomeu Morey’s artwork. The pair acquit themselves well by threading a rather delicate needle. The surface sheen of their house-style approach is a respectful enough look for the book. They capture some grisly imagery that avoids grotesqueness, having gravity without falling prey to an oppressively heavy tone. An early page suggests the collective weight on the shoulders of the Trinity, despite them being in different locations. As they come together, there’s no perverse voyeurism to be found in what they uncover.
As suggested by the use of 'Crisis' in the book’s title, in addition to the issue’s look and texture, this is a major one for DC - one they intend for many to read - though not in the vein of Crisis on Infinite Earths; but more akin to how Identity Crisis was pushed. Fear not, though, this issue is not so brazen in its efforts to dirty up its heroes and villains under the guise of “mature storytelling” that’s transparently gritty for the sake of being so. It's not to say that the book is void of this type of material - there are a couple of awkward lines and turns of phrase that are too belabored in their darkness, like one from Harley about pudding - but King’s imperfect approach makes an attempt to be tactful.
By way of picking up in the aftermath of tragedy, the audience is not being asked to situate themselves within Sanctuary as characters are cut down before their eyes - at least, not as of this issue - Heroes in Crisis instead opts to place them within a specific mood. One of helplessness, where you can only ask how it happened and why wasn’t it prevented. The muted sense of gravitas towards these deaths is appreciated - any shock that comes from seeing those affected is overtaken by the somber stillness of where they lay - without erring into a casual offing of characters and is a far better attempt at selling these deaths as serious incidents than that would be, even if when you see who is killed, it’s harder to expect some of them will stay that way, whether it’s part of the story to come or not.
Mann and Morey’s unifying of the narrative threads ensures less tonal whiplash as the issue bounces back and forth. The Booster and Harley portion is more bombastic and dynamically rendered. It’s also a sequence where Harley riffs on Old MacDonald, but with stabbing. Many of their pair’s pages are unshackled from traditional panelling, attempting to use splashes with accompanying inserts, where the grand, main image can tell as much story as possible.
Where the idea is most successfully integrated is in how the art team portrays Superman surveying a scene from high above. The page is both hyper-detailed and broadly sketched all at once. Acutely rendered muscles and an intense microscope-type zoom clash with the scratchier and more thinly-sketched rest of the page, revealing how the supplementary panels in the layouts like this actually are doing the heavy lifting in how much visual storytelling they convey.
This is a sharp contrast to the therapy sessions, and their formal presentation in the grids - the aspect of the issue which makes it most apparent that this issue is a King-written one. The characters being listened to within them monologue directly to camera in a muted fashion about subject matter which will be especially familiar to Mister Miracle readers, even if it’s not as engaging nor as insightful as that series’ emotionally affecting understanding of them. It’s these pages which are the most impressive from the art team, tracking the minutiae of expression across nine panels, as the mood steadily but surely changes, assisted by the pacing of the grid and Clayton Cowles.
The issue’s title is “I’m Just Warming Up,” a turn of phrase taken from Hot Spot’s dialogue later in the issue. Within his speech, it comes attached with a sadness, when considered for the larger issue, is representative of a series where the first issue is just a tease for what appears to be coming. To return to looking at the cover image again, take note off where Sanctuary is positioned, off in the distance. For all the in-universe references, let alone interviews and promotional material, the issue only provides glimpses at the location. A result of this first installment’s deliberate structuring, which offers just a peek at the series’ true self and so it remains to be seen if Heroes in Crisis is up to handling this concept and the accompanying ideas with as much respect and care as they require.