The tragedy of Sanctuary has only just begun.
Heroes in Crisis makes one of the strongest arguments yet for why DC Rebirth needed to happen. This is a story that plays very directly on the long history of DC’s superhuman community and the many friendships and rivalries that have developed over the years. Much like with his Batman run, Tom King writes this story as though all of that history still exists and wasn’t wiped out by Doctor Manhattan’s clinical, all-powerful hand. This issue in particular draws on classics like the original Teen Titans, Justice League International and The Killing Joke as it delves deeper into the many characters impacted by the tragedy at Sanctuary. That long sense of history gives this story the emotional weight it needs as the narrative slowly but surely moves forward.
That narrative grows more complicated in this issue. Even as both Harley and Booster set out on their respective journeys to find the true killer, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman grapple with the revelation that Sanctuary’s secret confessionals are no longer so secret. The act of mass murder was clearly just phase one in a larger plot to torment DC’s already troubled heroes.
This latest revelation adds some fascinating new wrinkles to the familiar Trinity dynamic. The stereotype in these sorts of stories is that Batman’s paranoia and mistrust of his comrades is the Justice League’s undoing. But in this case, Superman is painted as the antagonist. His rigid code of journalistic ethics and his loyalty to his wife wind up putting him at odds with Bruce and Diana as Lois begins leaking this confidential material to the public. It’s a difficult dilemma, and one where King’s script ensures readers are able to see both sides. Is the truth important above all else, even when airing that truth may jeopardize innocent lives?
This issue also thrives in its exploration of two other character dynamics, one very familiar to DC fans and the other a very novel pairing. King celebrates the Booster Gold/Blue Beetle dynamic in a way we’ve so rarely seen in this post-Infinite Crisis era. The phrase “Bros before heroes” is an amusing pun, but one that also speaks directly to the powerful friendship that defines these two heroes and makes them better characters than they could ever be individually. And given all the concerns about the long-term damage Heroes in Crisis could potentially do to Booster, it’s heartening to see the character behaving more like his usual self for a change.
On the flip side, King makes surprisingly strong use of Batgirl and Harley Quinn as “The Dynamicker Duo.” These two tend to be on opposite sides of any given conflict. But here, King’s script very eloquently spells out the similarities between Harley and Barbara and the way they both exist as women constantly doubted and underestimated by those around them. As fun as it tends to be seeing Harley yucking it up with the likes of Power Girl and Wonder Woman, this particular team-up has the potential to explore some pretty profound ideas.
Regular artist Clay Mann and colorist Tomeu Morey are back for this issue. Needless to say, it’s easy to see why they won our Best Art Team of 2018 award. This book is flat-out gorgeous, from the sleek, statuesque figures to the lush colors to the often haunting displays of emotion and pathos. Mann’ and Morey’s sweeping, idyllic portrayal of Sanctuary itself creates a fascinating tonal contrast with the grim nature of the story. they also create a a very visually dynamic take on the Harley/Batgirl encounter, using the funhouse mirror environment to full effect. And through it all, the constant shift in page structure creates a much more varied and dynamic feel than we often see in King’s grid-focused work.
Visually, the only complaint to be found with this issue is that Mann chooses a few weird moments to include some cheesecake-y visuals. Lois Lane has rarely looked as stunning as she does in one particular splash image, but that image comes at a strangely inappropriate, somber moment. The same can be said for a couple of Batgirl-centric pages. Mann renders some of the most beautiful heroes in comics, but that talent can sometimes become a curse in the wrong context.