Heroes in Crisis #4
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Clay Mann
Colors: Tomeu Morey
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Cover artists: Trevor Hairsine (regular)/Ryan Sook (variant)
Editor: Jamie S. Rich
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US
While Tom King’s scripting and pacing continues to obfuscate the plot purposefully, this stands out as the most interesting chapter of this event book thus far, exploring emotionally poignant and ethically challenging ideas. However, this also stands out as the most irksome and disappointing issue in the limited series due to a couple of visual choices that objectify strong female characters. This struck me as a major step backward in a genre that’s slowly been evolving, in general, toward a more progressive approach. The most egregious instance of gratuitous sexualization in this issue threatens to blind the reader from the more nuanced and mature notions that King examines here, and it completely detracted from my overall enjoyment of the story and characterization. I felt completely let down by the creators here.
The Justice League has two suspects in the Sanctuary massacre: Booster Gold, who’s in custody, and Harley Quinn, who remains at large. Two heroes confront these disparate figures over the allegations against them, offering assistance rather than recriminations. Meanwhile, Lois Lane has put it off for as long as she can: the leaked Sanctuary videos of broken heroes in their most vulnerable moments will come to light, which puts her husband and his allies at an incredible disadvantage.
Clay Mann’s profile in mainstream American comics has risen considerably as of late, due in part to the boost in visibility of his work by pairing with top writer Tom King. However, he’s earned that elevated reputation as well, as his art has been haunting and effective. There’s evidence of that in this issue, but it’s marred by a couple of choices made by the storytellers here. The full-page splash of Lois Lane in a T-shirt and panties, asking her husband “What do you want me to do?” with a seemingly come-hither look was ill-advised, to say the least. The context of the scene is a serious and important one. I get that King and Mann are trying to touch upon how intimate this discussion is for the couple. They’re dealing with a great weight, one that has profound personal and professional implications — both for them and for others. But sexualizing the moment from a visual perspective was definitely the wrong move. It took me out of the story completely and focused my attention on other matters. And it bothered me. What should have been a quietly powerful moment was presented as a cheap one. Adding to the problem was the subsequent depiction of a female character exposing her physical scars as she discussed her emotional ones. Again, it felt as though there should have been a way to convey that moment that seems so objectifying and objectionable.
It’s a shame these decisions to sexualize female characters were made, because there are some stunning visuals found elsewhere in this issue. The two-page splash at the outset of the issue, incorporating the artwork of Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), was stunning, and overall, I remain impressed with how Mann depicts the body language of the heroes during their Sanctuary interviews. I also love the widescreen look of several pages, such as Batman and Flash’s discussion in the field outside Sanctuary, or the “Trinity’s” discussion in the Batcave.
Booster’s scene with his best friend, Blue Beetle, is one that will appeal to readers such as me, someone who devoured the humor-era Justice League comics of the 1980s. King delves into this friendship, and it’s a convincing look at that relationship, even for newer readers. But the phrase “bros before heroes” is unfortunate, given the afore-mentioned mistreatment of female characters here. The fist-bump phrase here is, obviously, a spin on “bros before hos,” and in the larger context of this issue, I found its use to be distracting and unfortunate.
I’m surprised that four issues in, it’s still not at all clear what happened at Sanctuary in the opening issue. Sure, I get this is something of a murder mystery, but even some of what appears to be established plot points are hazy. The problem is that the reader knows that Wally West isn’t dead — there are clearly big plans for the character in Flash — which calls into question all of the other costumed corpses. The achronological approach to plotting and pacing is challenge, and I enjoy a challenge, but King should have at least offered the promise of bringing things into focus by now. The story is unfolding at a glacial pace, which feels more pronounced when it’s been more than a month since the last issue.
Despite my misgivings about various aspects of the issue, there were some shining moments. Of particular interest is King’s exploration of Lois’ conundrum over the Sanctuary leaks in her possession. A journalistic responsibility to share that material to the public — no matter how damaging it is to her husband and his friends — absolutely exists, and she wisely points out that if she doesn’t do anything with it, the material will eventually end up in the hands of another reporter. I also appreciated how Superman — or to be more precise, Clark — handles his knowledge of Lois’ scoop. 4/10