“I keep making it perfect. It’s stupid.”
How do we perceive our heroes to be? It’s a question that’s often posed and continuously debated amongst readers across the board. Are they pure ideals we aspire to? Or are they perhaps incredibly flawed individuals like most individuals? Whichever point of that wide, expansive spectrum one lies on and whatever belief one subscribes to, Tom King is a scribe who has, since day one, set out to challenge and re-examine the ideas of the superhero as we understand it. He’s certainly not the first and nor will he be the last, but his lens and dissection of the superhero is easily one of the most personal, relevant and emotional in the contemporary era of comics. It’s proven to not only be often intelligent but also deeply resonant. Heroes in Crisis #5 is a high point of the writer’s work and is in a lot of ways, a perfect summation for his vision of the superhero and what heroism is.Fittingly titled “Blood In The Way,” the new installment of the DC Comics event opens with a confession. The confession pages of Heroes in Crisis have now become a staple, consistently being interwoven through nearly each issue, informing and commenting on the nature of the story and its themes at play. Booster Gold, discussing his glass lens, fittingly frames the entire story at hand. Glass is meant to be spotless, absolutely clean, perfect and it looks as though it is, too, but in reality, there’s something to it that still obscures. It’s a bit that very much cuts to the nature of the superhero, who we tend to often see as clean and perfect. But there is that which is hidden, that which obscures and isn’t spotted right away, that which is built up from engaging in a lifetime of violence. And Heroes in Crisis is very much a book reconciling with that. Perception is a key element here, as it’s been through the majority of King’s work, and the creative team emphasizes that throughout.
From Booster’s confession, we jump to a gorgeous double page spread featuring Booster and Blue Beetle in a messy hide-out apartment. And pages like these are where Clay Mann gets to really dive in and showcase his style and skill-set. Utilizing careful composition and placement with meticulous attention to detail, Mann, alongside Tomeu Morey, crafts an astonishingly distinctive title and credits page that also serves to establish setting, mood and character. From the usage of bottles to spell out ‘in’ to the credits on the pizza box and other clever little flourishes, Mann is a master of crafting a powerful image packed full of not only detail but meaning. And it’s this strength that aids him most and carries this book when it’s at its best. The heroes feel not only larger than life but also distinctly human through subtle flourishes and attention to body language. It’s a huge part of why the confessions come out as effective as they are. Catching every little gesture or difference in emotion or expression is no easy task but Mann, at his best, makes it look easy.
The other artist on the issue is Travis Moore, who also does a fantastic job and blends in perfectly with the established look and aesthetic of series. Bringing a sensibility that almost evokes an early Ryan Sook, Moore is a great pick for the title. He understands the story at play and runs with the baton of the creative team effectively. Tomeu Morey’s color-work is a huge, essential piece of the puzzle that is Heroes in Crisis and he’s the glue that keeps the consistency from page to page with his color-work and unites the entire piece. His bright, textured heroes with a lovely sheen feel iconic and absolutely superhero and nothing less.
Getting into the actual story of the issue, it’s essentially broken up into three segments: The Batgirl/Harley plot, the Booster/Beetle plot and finally the Superman plot. And as one would expect, confessions are interspersed throughout, adding to the thematics at the heart of the issue. While Harley and Batgirl hold Skeetz hostage for information on Booster, Booster and Beetle are at work trying to crack the mystery utilizing data acquired from Barry Allen, The Flash. Both plots converge by the end as big hints are dropped, but the heart and essence of the issue is very much the Superman side of things.
With the secret outed to the public in the last issue, Superman and Wonder Woman hold a press conference to address things appropriately. Superman is anxious due to the fact that with the secrets out about Sanctuary and the heroes’ mental health, the people are afraid. But he persists, as Superman does, and in front of a large audience, he speaks. He begins by addressing the tragedies that occurred at Sanctuary but continues to discuss some of the stigma surrounding mental health and specifically PTSD and how it invokes fear in some. People are sometimes thought of as ‘broken’, but that is not the case. Should the idea that those who protect us also feel fear and have problems and their own scars and burdens be cause for fear? No it shouldn’t, it should do the opposite as Superman tells the audience. He informs the audience of the bravery he’s witnessed from so many of his peers, who’ve come from people of every walk of life, from every country and how they always rose to the occasion to be heroic, all the while knowing what the price was and how it would affect them. All the while understanding and facing the fear and anxieties that might get in the way. The blood in the way doesn’t have to be the mark of a madman but can be the wound of a warrior. A sign of their commitment to greater ideals, as they push through their hurdles and problems to help others in need.
It’s a powerful, inspiring speech that resonates. It’s a sequence that showcases the wide canvas of the DC Universe, from Ystin the Shining Knight, Adam Strange, Ray Palmer, Starfire, Swamp Thing to even Zatanna. It’s a humanizing moment that cuts through to the essence of heroism and empowers. Anyone can be a hero, they are not lesser for their struggles and mental health issues shouldn’t be stigmatized. Fear is not the answer and rather than choosing fear, Superman asks us to choose faith, faith in the people who help us, asking us to believe in them and be comforted by the fact that there’s a place that grants them some solace. Letterer extraordinaire Clayton Cowles delivers the entire speech with stunning skill, ensuring its potency is only ever enhanced and accentuated.
Arriving at the halfway mark, Heroes in Crisis has finally hit home its core message in a way no one can miss. It’s a resounding and much needed message that will speak to anyone who’s struggled themselves and it connects their heroes and icons to them, discussing the very nature of heroism and what it is and can be. Aside from that, the first really big teases for the mystery have dropped in the book, so things are ramping up well enough. If the book can keep up the momentum from this issue, it’ll keep striking with the same impact.