Tom King’s Heroes In Crisis, and the Debate of Character Vs Talent
Heroes in Crisis has ended!
Tom King’s latest mini-series has indeed wrapped its nine issue run, and it has joined the ranks of Vision, Mr. Miracle, and Omega Men among the short-term works for which the writer has become known. Ultimately, Heroes in Crisis was the story of how post-traumatic stress disorder affects the very real human beings behind the colorful costumes and bombastic powers of the DC Universe. It took a look at dozens of both DC’s most popular and least known characters through a therapeutic lens and asked if the everyday citizens of a world where they exist should be afraid that these individuals face possible mental breaks due to stress… or if they should take heart that these characters are able to face their trauma head-on and build past it. A who’s who of the DC Universe was shown in clips of Sanctuary’s video files talking about what toll the life they lead has put them through, even as the heroes themselves struggled with whether society at large has any right to even know of Sanctuary’s existence. And who better than Tom King–ex-CIA Tom King, who has handled mental health issues so handily in other works–to tell this story?
But who am I kidding? Heroes in Crisis will be remembered for one thing and one thing only: turning Wally West into a broken murderer.
You remember Wally West, right? You might be forgiven at this point if not! The immensely popular and beloved DC comics hero who supplanted the Silver Age Flash and became the definitive version of the character. The character who had two legendary, near back-to-back runs by Mark Waid and Geoff Johns in the 1990’s and 2000’s. The hero whose specter haunted the New 52 reboot as he was missing for about five years, and who fans direly wanted to return. The speedster whose return launched the Rebirth era and brought joy to so many in having returned after such a long absence.
Yep! Within two years of finally making a comeback, DC tore his character down in a series that was beautifully drawn and lovingly told, but will now only be remembered as a character assassination along the lines of Emerald Twilight.
But… is that fair?
Honestly, I am of several minds in this regard. The first is that it obviously depends on where DC goes with Wally from here. Heroes in Crisis doesn’t exist in a bubble, and comics are a long-game, so now that West has been torn down, the story becomes… [how] will he be built back up? If DC moves forward in such a way that shows that the Wally the fans love is still in there, then… okay. This was just a building block.
My other thought process is that outside of his short tenure in Titans, I have not been enamored of Rebirth’s handling of Wally since his return. Both Flash and Heroes in Crisis have featured a character in the Wally West name only who has little in common with the established hero that readers love. So I’m not full of hope going forward is what I’m saying. DC under Dan Didio seems to take great glee in screwing over Wally West fans.
But let’s take a moment to talk about Tom King, Wally West, and a subject I brought up a few months ago on the podcast: when it comes to your comic book love (and, more importantly, your comic buying dollar), which is more important to you? The creative team? Or the characters?
Heroes in Crisis brought this issue back to the surface for me because it now seems to me that there are two Tom Kings as far as I am concerned. There is the Tom King who pens tales of characters I don’t care about and tells gorgeous stories that are some of the best I’ve ever read (Vision, Mr. Miracle). And there is the Tom King who creates stories based around heroes I love that leave me fuming over how badly out-of-character they are portrayed (Omega Men, Heroes in Crisis). I really WANT to like Tom King (I will say for transparency’s sake that I have not read a lick of his divisive Batman run just because I grew tired of Batman as a character years ago, so I can’t judge based on that at all), but he just isn’t consistent enough. But, to be fair, I can not really think of any writer that I love across the board. Even some writers who have told the stories I cherish more than any other have other stories that I thought were rubbish. Mark Waid, Chip Zdarsky, Brian Michael Bendis, and others… they have stories I adore and also some of which I thought very little.
Characters can also let me down, though! I mean, I love the X-Men, but ever since Onslaught–more than twenty years ago!–they have been much more “miss” than “hit”. Spider-Man had Dan Scott writing him for years, and those were some lean times as a Spidey fan. And, hell, sometimes the characters you love just up and disappear for ages at a time! DC recently restarted Young Justice, but many of those characters weren’t on the radar for years previous. Kyle Rayner pops in and out of relevance ever since DC brought Hal Jordan back. Jubilee, too, is sometimes around and sometimes not. And Wally West… well, we’ve covered him.
I will say that following CREATORS is probably more reliable than following characters. A creator’s bend will only flex so far in his or her range from good to bad, but a character can have any level of skill and craft applied to them based on who is writing, who is drawing, if they are on a team or a solo book; the degree of difference is much more vast. And yet… and yet…
Maybe it’s immature or nostalgic or rose-colored glasses or even just a flawed stance, but I got into comics because I loved the characters! I love Superman and Spider-Man and the X-Men; I never got into comics thinking about the writers or the artists. I have since grown to respect many of the talented people that produce the books that fascinate me, but at the end of the day… it’s the characters that keep me coming back. Is that wrong?
Let me put it this way: Marvel just published the first issue of a Black Cat ongoing series. I have no idea who the writer and artist are, but I bought it without hesitation because I like Felicia as a character. Meanwhile, when creators I trust come out with new books on characters in which I am not invested, I take a wait-and-see approach based on word of mouth. If I hear good things, I’ll take the plunge, but I require an impetus.
So what about you? What did you think of Heroes in Crisis? And do you consider the protagonists or the talent behind them to be the stars of a book? Let us know!