Heroes In Crisis #9
Written by Tom King
Art by Clay Mann and Tomeu Morey
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
It’s not clear at the end of Heroes in Crisis #9 — which is also the end of Tom King’s much-discussed exploration of superhero trauma — what exactly the point was. Maybe that’s the point, that there’s never an end to having to work through the things you’ve done because of the things that have happened to you, but today’s finale feels so strangely weightless that it’s hard to trust any interpretation of King’s slogging script.
In certain ways, Heroes in Crisis feels like a riff on Watchmen, thanks to its focus on the disconnect between superhuman heroism and the frailties of the all-too-human psychology behind the mask - in some ways, one could see the time-traveling killer Wally West being posited as Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach and Ozymandias all at once. But where Watchmen ends with an uncertain future - of hope and further tragedy precariously balanced, leaving the reader to ponder the implications of both - Heroes in Crisis simply solves the murder mystery, and after some platitudes, decides to call it a wrap.
As has been the case with previous issues, Heroes in Crisis #9 is beautifully illustrated, this time by Clay Mann with Tomeu Morey on colors, and their work lends a Norman Rockwell quality to the issue - deceptively soft for the subject matter, with gentle colors and a painterly style that give the entire issue a pervasive sense of wistfulness and melancholy. But while the art did much of the heavy lifting in Heroes in Crisis #8, it feels off here somehow. It’s a beautifully done book, but the full issue feels disjointed as the story moves back and forth from the fate of the past and future Wallys to a series of portraits of various heroes, delivering one-line introductions to the problems they need addressed by an organization like Sanctuary.
These pages throw a wrench into what otherwise would be a fairly straightforward, if not particularly compelling, tying up of loose ends. The issue opens on the two Wallys - one presumably meant to kill the other - only for Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, and Harley Quinn to intervene. The issue closes on two Wallys, one left alone in a prison cell, while one presumably travels back in time to continue the paradoxical loop he created for himself, as the imprisoned Wally (presumably) monologues over a brief montage. If there’s supposed to be some hope here, Wally’s aimless monologue as he sits alone in the dark in his suit doesn’t do much to inspire it. A handful of characters get to move on, while Wally’s punishment is to keep doing what kicked off this tragic series of events in the first place - to sit, alone, and dwell on everything he’s lost, and who he’s supposed to be, and how he’s fallen short of that?
It’s this grim ending that makes Heroes in Crisis #9, and the full series, ring so hollow. The fleeting moments we spend with a number of other DC characters, including a few deep cuts, feel out of place. There are no real gripping revelations there, and there’s no follow-up, so in the end we’re left to just know that superheroes have problems, too, the same thing we were told when the series opened. “Older” Wally implores “Young” Wally to talk to people about what he’s dealing with, reassures him that he’s not alone, but in the end, alone is exactly what he is - it’s literally the last moment we spend with Wally, seeing the shadows of prison bars cast over his downtrodden figure, while Booster Gold and Blue Beetle laugh over beers and Harley and Ivy take a quiet walk through the woods.
Heroes in Crisis was billed explicitly as a book exploring a vital question: “How do superheroes handle PTSD?” The initial limited series was expanded by two issues, and even with the extra space, failed to really deliver on its central premise. To say Wally handles PTSD poorly is an understatement, and there’s not even a hint of an answer about how the rest of the central cast copes. What was the tragedy at the Sanctuary, or those deaths, or the whodunnit wild goose chase for, if our last shot of the series is a superhero sitting silently by himself in a prison cell, essentially talking to no one after being told to talk it out? Wally being Wally, there’s likely no timeline where he’ll ever feel he’s done enough to atone for the events of this series, and King doesn’t do enough in this issue to discuss ways another “crisis” like this can be prevented.
I recognize that even nine issues is a limited amount of space to explore complicated issues in a comic book, but Heroes in Crisis #9 ends on such a profoundly unsatisfying and hollow note that it makes the rest of the series feel pointless in retrospect as well. This series could have passed on the twists and turns of Wally evading capture by Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, and focused instead on what led him to lose control — or what can be done to provide our heroes the emotional support they need to make sure it never happens again. Instead, Heroes in Crisis doesn’t so much miss the mark, so much as it fails to land on anything substantial at all.