Writer Tom King tends to utilize a slow burn. He has a knack for narrative twists and turns, obviously, but sometimes struggles with pacing. As evidenced by his current arc in BATMAN, King sometimes falters when getting from point A to B. We see this a bit in HEROES IN CRISIS #5.

The fifth installment of the HEROES IN CRISIS series officially puts us over the middle point of the story. However, not much has happened since the beginning. It seems like these characters are spinning their wheels, attempting to solve a mystery with little evidence. And yet, there’s an emotional core to HEROES IN CRISIS #5 that cannot be denied. The issue lives, breathes, and dies by a statement from Superman. But is it enough to save the story?

Warning, potential spoilers for HEROES IN CRISIS #5 are below!

HEROES IN CRISIS #5 Gets Stuck

The issue starts with a testimonial from Booster Gold which summarizes some aspects of anxiety and trauma very well. The action, though, really starts with that page — the one we’ve all seen on social media. Booster Gold and Blue Beetle sitting on a couch, their bodies and the objects in the scene spelling out “HEROES IN CRISIS.” Even though we’ve seen it, it’s still the artistic high point for HEROES IN CRISIS #5.

HEROES IN CRISIS #5
HEROES IN CRISIS #5 pages 2 & 3. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The two friends hatch a plan to break into Flash’s lab and find the clues. That way they can attempt to solve the murder themselves. This is obviously a dumb plan that Booster has already tried, but he says that’s the genius of it. Shockingly, it actually works. Booster discovers that there’s something wrong with the bodies in the crime scene. One of them is five days too old.

Meanwhile, Batgirl convinces Batman to let her interrogate Skeets in order to locate Booster. Harley is more than willing to help persuade the robot to give up his friend. The two barge in on Booster and Blue Beetle in Flash’s lab.

Meanwhile, the Trinity is hard at work preparing a statement for the public about Sanctuary. Bruce doesn’t attend this speech (apparently Batman doesn’t do press), but Superman addresses a crowd as Wonder Woman stands by his side. This moment could be the highlight of HEROES IN CRISIS #5.

The Testimonials Shine

While the plot barely takes a step forward — it poses more questions than it even attempts to answer — HEROES IN CRISIS #5 does make some points about mental health that are very important.

The issue opens with Booster’s testimonial. He explains that he can see blood on his goggles. This is residue from a particularly traumatic event; an alternate-reality Batman died by suicide right in front of him. Booster explains that he knows the blood isn’t there, but he can still see it.

HEROES IN CRISIS #5
HEROES IN CRISIS #5 page 1. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Now, this is most definitely a part of his PTSD. But I also relate to it as someone who deals with anxiety. For me, anxiety manifests in many ways. The core of it is that my brain doesn’t believe itself. For example, even though I know I’ve turned my hair straightener off before I’ve left the house, I worry about it. Even if I check before I leave, I’ve had to turn back and check again. Booster knowing that the blood isn’t on his goggles but still seeing it anyway reminds me of that experience (even though it is, admittedly, entirely different).  Normalizing this kind of mental health issue is important, as it furthers a much-needed conversation.

The other testimonial that stands out bookends HEROES IN CRISIS #5. Harley Quinn recounts an instance of the Joker’s abuse. It’s difficult, it’s emotional, and it’s made all the better by the phenomenal art team on this book.

The Speech That Saved HEROES IN CRISIS #5?

Even though these testimonials are time and again the high point to the series, they wouldn’t be able to save HEROES IN CRISIS #5 from being a slight rehash of the last one with a single additional plot point. Superman’s speech, however, is.

Superman explains what Sanctuary was, and that he understands that it raises questions. “If we acknowledge that those who fight are also vulnerable, are sometimes afraid,” he says, “does that then mean that you who may not have fought are also vulnerable? Does that mean you, all of you, should always be afraid?”

What Superman is really talking about here is the universal fear our community tends to feel in response to mental health. People tend to react strongly when we hear someone may struggle with mental illness because of the way media tends to portray these people. They’re often dangerous villains. Sometimes they simply have no control. Yet the truth is that people with mental health challenges are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than commit them. The stigma is the danger here.

HEROES IN CRISIS #5
HEROES IN CRISIS #5 page 4. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Superman then goes on to answer this question he’s posed: “[Sanctuary] should not scare you. On the contrary, it should comfort you. This suffering. This need for healing. It is not the mark of a madman. It is the wound of a warrior.”

Problems With the Message

While the spirit of this message — that mental health should be treated and there’s no shame in getting help — the verbiage is mildly problematic. Using “madman” as a negative in your discussion of trauma isn’t great. You’re still stigmatizing personality disorders. Maybe in the world of the Joker, it’s important to make that distinction. Yet then maybe the very existence of the Joker as a villain is problematic.

Also, why doesn’t Wonder Woman get a single word in this address to the public? She doesn’t have a single line in HEROES IN CRISIS #5. Her one role is to per her hand on Clark’s shoulder when he gets upset. I’m all for a good Superman speech, but why does he get every ounce of dialogue? She’s merely standing by like a dutiful partner as the politician addresses a crowd. It’s not the dynamic I expect from these two at all.

So all in all, HEROES IN CRISIS #5 is a miss, with some promising moments. Hopefully, it goes up from here and King can deliver a story that matches the quality of the art on the page. He’s certainly more than capable of it, and I’d love to see his talents shine with such important subject matter.

HEROES IN CRISIS #5 by Tom King, Clay Mann, Tomeu Morey, and Clayton Cowles
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
Even though there are shining moments in HEROES IN CRISIS #5, they aren't enough to save it. The plot is tired and adds very little to the overarching story. At the halfway point, we've made little to no progress. The testimonials are wonderful character moments, but they're isolated and have diminishing returns. The art is phenomenal, but the content doesn't match.
78 %
A Heartfelt Miss

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