This article contains Heroes in Crisis spoilers.
For the last two years, DC has wisely kept their “event” schedule pretty light. Dark Nights: Metal was the first post-Rebirth DC Universe event story, and even that managed to be relatively self-contained (there were some non-essential crossovers to fill issues across the line), and its impact, while far-reaching, is still primarily being felt over in the Justice League books. Nobody’s buying habits were disrupted, and the “nothing will ever be the same” mindset that drives most comics events was instead focused more on the nature of reality in the DCU, rather than piling up a body count.
But Metal was Metal, and Heroes in Crisis is, well, a Crisis. And with a DC Crisis comes a pile of character deaths. Specifically, any time you put the word “Crisis” in a title, it probably spells bad news for a Flash. In this case, bad news comes for the elder Wally West, only back in DC Universe continuity since 2016, found dead next to his Titans teammate, Roy “Arsenal” Harper. Both were killed during an apparent mass shooting by an unknown perpetrator. Whoever is responsible was able to take out a farmhouse full of metahumans including a Flash (in full costume no less) and apparently did it so quickly that Wally didn’t have time to exit a cozy living room.
While minor heroes like Hot Spot, Blue Jay, and Lagoon Boy are expected cannon fodder in events like this, adding Wally West and Roy Harper to the list of off-panel deaths is a curious storytelling choice. Wally was the central force behind the DC Universe’s 2016 Rebirth, a symbol of all the “legacy” characters who were lost to time in the New 52. Since then, however, Wally has been adrift in a world that only half remembers him, and perhaps directionless in a publishing line that is already committed to a different, younger Wally West entirely. Wally’s frustrations came to the fore in the pages of Flash War, which ended with his seeking help at Sanctuary.
Whether this issue reveals the true fate of Wally West and Roy Harper remains to be seen. The identity of their murderer will likely be the central mystery of the book, with this issue pointing a finger at Booster Gold and Harley Quinn for the horrific crime. This “the killer could be anyone…even you” yarn almost recalls the Armageddon 2001 days, when the identity of the villainous Monarch drove a multi-part story that drove DC fans crazy over the course of a summer.
Heroes in Crisis is meant to spotlight Sanctuary, a technological retreat for the heroes of the DC Universe who need a place to process the trauma of their constant battles. But Sanctuary itself is such a new concept that I’m not sure how dramatic its fall is supposed to be here. Of course, these questions will be answered in future issues. Tom King is too talented a writer to dangle issues like this without a satisfying solution at the ready, but it’s an off-putting opening chapter (although a gorgeous one: Clay Mann’s art and Tomeu Morey’s colors are enthralling, and the warm, September afternoon feeling of the book only adds to the overall sense of dread).
As other fans have pointed out, Heroes in Crisis feels like the kind of Crisis prelude we’ve seen before. Notably, 2005’s Identity Crisis, a wrongheaded exercise in “mature” superhero comics that fridged one superhero spouse after the rape of another, all in the name of an unfolding murder mystery and a “grounded” Justice League story. Its implications were all meant to lay the groundwork for the bigger, cosmic Crisis waiting in the wings (that was Infinite Crisis). While DC hasn’t officially confirmed that there’s another cosmic Crisis coming, recent events in The Flash and Justice League sure point to something brewing, and whatever burdens our heroes have to carry in the wake of the tragic events of Heroes in Crisis will surely carry over into this mystery event.
DC has been on a spectacular hot streak in recent years, producing book after book that gets the essence of their characters right at a frequency and with a consistency that I haven’t seen in a decade or more. King has been a key factor, with his ongoing Batman series drawing critical acclaim (and headlines) and producing (with artist Mitch Gerards) a genuinely groundbreaking comics masterpiece with Mister Miracle. But there’s something missing from this first chapter of Heroes in Crisis, as well as an unwelcome familiarity from years past. King, his body of work, and the sincerity with which he wants to approach the issues that would make Sanctuary necessary in the DC Universe, all deserve both our attention and the benefit of the doubt, but Heroes in Crisis is off to a perplexing start.