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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
<i>Heroes In Crisis </i>ends by failing its characters, its readers, and its mental health story

Heroes In Crisis ends by failing its characters, its readers, and its mental health story

Heroes In Crisis #9 hits shelves this week, ending the series with more of a whimper than a bang—a whimper that lacks even some sort of closure. The book has included many of the foundations of an excellent Tom King story: nine panel pages, repetition of both words and imagery, and characters struggling with a sense of duty and disillusionment about their roles in the world. But despite having a lot in common with some of King’s most memorable and enjoyable work, the nine-issue miniseries has none of the grace or deftness King is capable of. The premise is an interesting one: superheroes are bombarded by violence and trauma far more frequently than average people, and a comic about their emotional and mental health has the potential to be powerful.

Clay Mann’s art is technically competent—his backgrounds are especially beautiful—but this issue highlights the unfortunate fact that Mann is incapable of drawing women. He’s more than able to draw sex objects and fantasies that are shaped like women, but this final issue is plagued by what feels like an obsession with drawing particular parts of the female body with unsettling attention. It’s an improvement over the up-skirt shot on a 14-year-old girl in Poison Ivy: Cycle Of Life And Death, but just barely. There is no humor or gentleness in the way that Mann draws these characters, which makes him a terrible fit for a book that is ostensibly about a mental health crisis. Part of what made Mister Miracle work so well was Mitch Gerads’ experimentation with shape and color, but Mann draws superheroes in unattainable physical condition, nearly identical to each other. There is no humanity or room for sympathy in the DC superhero house style, and Mann skews too close to that for this book to succeed.

If readers can ignore Mann’s bad habits, the backgrounds in this final issue are worth the cover price. The double-page spread that opens the issue is incredible, and the confessional pages are often a delight; any of them would make a great print or poster. A broad, dry prairie serves as the setting for the issue’s climax, and Mann makes it feel expansive and claustrophobic in turns, at once comforting and terrifying. It feels like a clumsy if apt nod to “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth, and it’s fitting to see heroes outside of their more familiar urban settings.

It would be a shame if Heroes In Crisis were let down solely by Mann’s art, but the storytelling is awkward and sometimes downright clumsy, too. The back half of this last issue reads like an epilogue rather than part of the story, throwing off the pacing. Confronted by his failures and his fears, Wally West delivers a speech that’s more early ’90s after-school very special episode than rousing call for mental health services. This would have been a prime opportunity for King to bolster the sometimes ham-fisted central message that you are not alone with an even more important addendum to seek help from a mental health professional, but the dialog instead leans hard into the idea that community and a sense of belonging are somehow all Wally needs to be cured.

There are other problems this final issue puts into stark relief, chief among them the fact that not a single member of the central cast isn’t white and the upsetting implication that people in mental health crises are violent and need to be imprisoned. But beyond these, Heroes In Crisis failed to tell a good story, in part because it couldn’t seem to figure out what kind of story it wanted to be. The book was marketed and began as a murder mystery, a plot that held center stage for far too long, particularly since the deaths were unnecessary to the story. There are too many threads that aren’t woven cogently together. Focus shifts from mental health to public perception of superheroes to the consequences of multiple continuities to the struggles of people who are trying to redefine themselves after trauma. The focus on Wally West and his loss is justified, but the mechanics of how the crisis is resolved and how it was created in the first place makes it feel like an episode of The Flash rather than the serious and introspective comic it should have been; it’s more a parody of Flashpoint than an indictment of it. King has explored a lot of these topics in other work, graciously and unflinchingly. Instead of picking up Heroes In Crisis, readers should try Sheriff Of Babylon or Omega Men, and let this particular continuity fade into history.