By Tom King, Clay Mann, Tomeu Morey, Clayton Cowles
Heroes in Crisis has been pitched as getting to the core of trauma for heroes, examining how they deal with their dirty conscious and showing their most vulnerable moments. Somehow, it lives up to all the hype and more. The cast sounds ludicrous: Booster Gold and Harley Quinn, wild on their own, come together as this issue’s main characters. It shouldn’t work, but damn it does.
Mann’s storytelling jives with King’s in every way. It’s an absolute pleasure to take in every page, from the character design all the way to the layouts. Yes, King uses his nine panel grid, but Mann really clearly does his own thing with the design throughout. Heroes in Crisis merges the rigid, beat by beat grid with a open spreads and feature images. During the issue’s climactic action, Mann turns a splash page into a deliberately slow moment. The page’s first read pushes back against what would normally be a snappy moment and turns it into a viscerally drawn out scene. What looks like two panels on a splash is just as effective as any nine panel grid.
Of course, King’s grids are always welcome, and they’re right up to snuff in this first issue. He’s reached into his classically satisfying bag of tricks that gives us a deep, moment to moment look at Heroes in Crisis’ lesser known characters. Its most effective usage comes from the writing and character notes themselves though. The meat of Heroes in Crisis, the pitch, has always been about heroes dealing with their inner demons—their regret. King uses the grid to dive into each characters’ mind and see what they’re dealing with. In one darkly comedic page, Blue Jay opens up about struggling with his powers. Harley Quinn can’t even hold her composure, and, somehow, it’s believable. King’s story breaks down the heroes and genuinely traumatizes them. He’s practically the Scarecrow for his characters.
Colors by Tomeu Morey frustratingly good. His shading, appropriately, pumps up the realism in the issue. Morey’s painted style is as dramatic as comics can go. He treats the story, and the characters, with the same respect as if they were real people.
Cowles’ lettering sneaks into the action scenes just long enough to add physicality. The ‘snnk’s and ‘bzzooo’s are gone before they’ve arrived. That connects the reader to the content beyond empathy for the characters.
None of this should make sense together. It’s bonkers that the word ‘bzzooo’ is used in the same book that its characters are dealing with intense trauma; it seems silly. That’s the same pitch for these characters, though. They shouldn’t be able to constantly push themselves beyond human limits. Superman, Wonder Woman, they live at a hundred and fifty percent. Until now, we, the fans have assumed they’re fine with that. Heroes in Crisis proves why we’ve been wrong. King’s plot, along with Mann, Morey and Cowles, reject superheroes’ indomitability and say here’s what you’ve been missing. Here is something you have never seen before.