Uh oh. DC is getting grim again. Tom King and Clay Mann’s Heroes in Crisis #1, out this week, is a powerful opener to an intense murder mystery. The scene of the crime is a secluded rural safehouse, Sanctuary, that had been set up as a kind of therapeutic retreat for superheroes dealing with the kind of trauma that, well, comes with the job. The crime scene is a grisly litter of bodies, with several heroes — some of note, even — victims of a mass murder. And the two suspects appear to be, at least at the onset, Harley Quinn and Booster Gold.
Cut between the interactions of Booster and Harley, neither of whom seems particularly clear on the details of what had transpired on the farm, is the preliminary investigation by DC’s Holy Trinity. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman take in the scene with all the weight and seriousness that the event deserves, devoid of the typical technicolor melodrama that often serves as an appropriate separation between the superheroic fictional world and our own sobering reality. It’s the same kind of dark, arresting narrative that we saw from Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales in 2004’s Identity Crisis, and, as such, one can’t help but look back on how that singular event affected the DC Universe that we know — both in print and on the screen — today.
A quick digression: this blog is, and always has been, just that. A blog. We don’t review comics necessarily, even though some of the articles certainly come across as more objective than others, and are crafted to read as reviews of certain books or series. We’ve always thought of these as more like reactions to comics — the results of conversations among the Idlers or, in some cases, the start of a conversation (look! Comments feature enabled!)
So when I got it into my head that I wanted to write a reaction to Heroes in Crisis, I realized how little this was turning into a review of the book, and how much it was, instead, an open-ended rumination on my thoughts regarding the issue. So. Just wanted to clear that up. Oh, also: spoilers ahead.
This shit was shocking. For real. And not just the panel of Blue Jay’s tiny corpse getting torn into by a crow. Roy Harper is dead? Wally West? What happened to the glorious fanfare and jubilation surrounding the Rebirth and West’s return to the DCU? Is this a sign that the publisher is going all-in with the dark, moody rendition of its superhero universe? I circle back to Identity Crisis. Like Heroes, that book was very well written, beautifully illustrated, and viscerally serious. I can draw a straight line from Meltzer’s book through Johns’s Green Lantern, Rucka’s Wonder Woman, the New 52, and Zack Snyder’s cinematic universe. Each stepping stone darker and more disturbing than the last.
And maybe that’s the point. I don’t have the data to back this up (reaction, remember, not a well-researched review), but how much money have the Arkham and Injustice video games made for Warner Bros. compared to the comics? To the DCEU movies, even? I’ll wager the game empire earnings dwarf the income from the other media. The DC heroes, perhaps, have developed for a different market. Hell, I’ll bet there are people who love Dawn of Justice (I haven’t met any, but I’m sure they’re out there) for its grit and savagery and think Thor: Ragnarok is a farcical waste of time. Marvel kills off heroes and villains all the time; maybe even more often than DC. But those deaths are never anything more than fairy tale endings. We know the stories will start again, and we look forward to the new interpretations and re-spun yarns.
When DC kills off a character, they fucking mean it.
It doesn’t bother me that DC has a more grim tone than the Marvel books, so long as the darkest chapters in that continuum are handled by creators that I trust. This Tom King and Clay Mann series for example. King, maybe more than anyone, has the ability to channel the impact that real-world mass killings and brutality have have had on our society’s psyche. There’s a chilling panel early in this issue when Harley, about to take a bite of diner peach pie, remarks, “Mmm. This is perfect. Smells like… America.” Sadly, so does the cycle of shock, outrage, and resignation that is fed, far too often, by national headlines.