So most of the nerd farm’s favorite comics came out in the last couple of weeks: East of West, The Wicked + The Divine, Criminal, Redneck, Gideon Falls, A Walk Through Hell… It’s been a virtual smorgasbord of funnybook goodness! But I’m not gonna have time to write about those, because I took so damn long dissecting one that was less pleasing…
Heroes in Crisis 8
by Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Travis Moore
It almost worked.
Tom King almost made this thing make sense.
No, in the end, it just falls apart.
I mean, we’ve got one more issue to go here, so I suppose he could still pull off a surprise, but…
I don’t think that’s going to happen. It doesn’t have the feel of a last-issue swerve.
Which is a damn shame, because this was close to being a genuine classic.
Now. A word of warning: If you haven’t read this issue yet, and you don’t want to know… Just stop reading now. Because from here on out, this will be nothing but SPOILERS.
You heard me.
Go on! Git!
This issue, we get confirmation of what most readers had long since begun to suspect: Wally West is the Sanctuary Killer. We find out how he did it, and why, and… Dammit, it almost works! The motivation is exactly what you’d think it would be, from the glimpses we’ve gotten of his therapy sessions: he’s been given his life back, but lost everything that made it worth living.
That would be enough to break almost anybody. I mean… He’s not just dealing with the death of his family here. That would be bad enough. But this… It might be easier if they had died. His kids have ceased to exist, and he’s the only one who remembers them. Maybe even worse, his wife’s still there, but she doesn’t know him. It’s like they never even met. Because they didn’t! He doesn’t even have his memories to console him, really, because now they never happened, except in his mind.
How do you even begin to cope with that? Especially if you’re kind of introverted and stoic, and too heroic to complain because all your friends are telling you how much it means to them that you’re back, and you don’t want to let them down. And of course, your friends’ reactions only makes it worse. Because all your friends remember you, but your wife… the woman you love… the person you came back from complete non-existence for… Doesn’t. What does that say about your relationship? Did she not love you as much as you loved her? Did you mean less to her than you did to your old teenage super hero clubhouse buddies?
HOW DO YOU COPE WITH THAT?
I have no answer to that question, obviously, and neither does Wally. He’s kept it all bottled up inside, not wanting to upset the friends to whom he represents hope. And talking to the Sanctuary psychologist AI doesn’t help, because it’s not real. It can’t truly commiserate. So he can’t take the process entirely seriously, and the pressure just keeps on building. And on top of all that, he’s got his super powers to cope with.
He needs to escape. He goes outside to get some air and be alone. But then the alarms go off, and everybody else comes outside, too, and the pressure’s building, and he’s too far gone to stop it. And then…
Whoosh. It’s a freaking tragedy, is what it is, and it’s a perfect way to make Wally West the killer without completely disrespecting the character and his fans by just having him go postal from the strain. It’s a really great, really heartrending story. It says all sorts of interesting things about the pressures of heroism, and how sometimes, without even realizing we’re doing it, we put too much on those who have chosen to protect us. It’s sad, and it’s beautiful, and I love it.
Or I WOULD love it.
But unfortunately… King also has to service the meta-plot.
And that’s where everything falls apart.
Ugh. Where to begin? Well, to start with, we learn that Wally is the one who’s been sending the Sanctuary tapes to Lois Lane. The Sanctuary tapes that aren’t supposed to exist. But he has them because he asks the Sanctuary AI what happens to them, and the AI tells him that they get digitally shredded, broken up into tiny pieces that would take billions of years to reassemble.
Now… Considering Wally’s strained mental state at that point, I can see that being something he might do in a fit of boredom and desperation. Just to prove that he can. Just to do SOMEthing at a time when he feels helpless. That makes sense to me.
What doesn’t make sense is how he managed to do it. Not from a “getting a lot done in a short amount of time” perspective, but from a skills perspective. I don’t recall Kid Flash ever being any sort of computer hacker. But there he is, taking control of a sophisticated alien computer system, with security protocols put together by Batman (!), and forcing it to give up data that it’s specifically designed to protect and destroy.
Even if you’re inclined to believe that his super-speed means he can educate himself on computers even faster than he can reassemble the data… How does he learn it? We’re dealing with Kryptonian tech and Bat-Security here. I don’t think they make books for that. And if he learns it through super-speed trial and error… How? I don’t get more than five tries to type in my freaking email password! You’d think the Sanctuary system would simply stop accepting input and shut itself down before he ever got anywhere near that data. But even if I believe that he could get to it, I don’t believe that the computer itself could keep up with him while he did it. Hell, I’M too fast for my keyboard sometimes, and I am far from the Fastest Man Alive.
So I’m not buying that. It breaks my willing suspension of disbelief, and thus breaks the story.
Because those Sanctuary recordings that I don’t believe he could have retrieved are the real crux of the whole thing. They’re the actual reason he lost control of his powers. He saw all of it, everything we’ve been seeing in the interview and flashback sequences throughout the series, in an instant. Granted, I’m not real clear on how he got the computer to play all those recordings back to him so quickly, either. And that breaks the story even further. But nevertheless, that’s what actually caused his final breakdown. It was too much, too fast, and he couldn’t handle it all. And so he lost control.
Because the trauma that I found truly relatable… The trauma of fighting his way back from literal oblivion for a wife and family that no longer exist and don’t remember him, anyway… That wasn’t enough. His motivations had to be pushed just one little bit too far into bullshit. And it kills the story dead.
Now, maybe there are things about the Flash’s powers I don’t know. I’ve hated the Speed Force concept pretty much from day one, so I’ve avoided most stories that deal with it in any meaningful way. So I don’t know… Maybe it gives him the ability to move within electrical currents and do mystical magical bullshit things to computers. But if it does… That’s even worse.
The Flash has the amazing power of RUNS FAST, dammit! You don’t need to make up weird pseudo-science explanations to make that cool! HE. RUNS. REALLY. FAST. That’s enough!
I have to admit that I admire the insane convolutions of what comes next. Making a series of very hasty decisions, Wally manipulates the crime scene to cover his tracks. Not because he’s trying to escape justice, but because he wants to make things right as best he can, and needs to buy himself some time to do it. Also, he’s apparently decided that he needs to (wants to) die. So he travels five days into the future and kills his own future self.
Then he takes the body back five days, leaves it at the crime scene, and shifts everything around to throw suspicion off while he spends those five days going around trying to make amends.
That’s completely insane, and I kind of love it.
I mean, I do have to wonder why, if he was going to employ time travel in his plan, he didn’t just go back a few minutes to prevent himself from killing everyone in the first place. What was he afraid of? Too much paradox? Hell, his very existence is a paradox! You’d think he’d be used to that by now! But he’s moved far beyond rational thought at this point, so I’m good with him not taking that path.
The thing I don’t get is… Why did he frame Booster and Harley for the crime? His other manipulations of the crime scene would seem to be more than enough. I mean, HE LEFT HIS OWN DEAD BODY BEHIND. Surely that would throw suspicion off. Was it really necessary to confuse matters further? To create two different suspects as a red herring? I dunno. In the face of everything else he’s doing here, the frame job just seems pointless and cruel.
And it hinges on him having taken complete control of the Santuary computer systems. Which, again, I don’t buy at all. So that kind of annoys me, too. Also, somewhere in there, he somehow figures out how to disable Booster’s advanced 30th Century force field tech in a way that even Booster himself can’t fix. For… reasons I don’t entirely remember, and don’t care enough about to double-check.
Again, I come back to the argument I’ve been making about this book for months now: if it had been a quiet, self-contained story about super hero trauma and an impossible murder mystery, it could have been a classic. But everything done to make it into a big universe-spanning crossover thing has fallen flat, and robbed the good parts of their power.
I don’t hate it, understand. The good parts are very good indeed, and even after all this, I’m still looking forward to seeing what Wally’s been doing for the last five days. This thing could still end on a note of tragic redemption, and that’s kind of what I’m hoping for. There’s a bit in here about that odd graffiti left on the wall over the destroyed Sanctuary robots: “The Puddlers Are Dead.”
That seems to be the whole point of Wally’s crazy time travel scheme: He’s a puddler, and it’s killed him. But he’s trying to leave behind a world that’s beautiful and strong.
In a way, I wish this book wasn’t as good as it is. Then I could just dismiss it as more corporate comics bullshit, and not care. But it is as good as it is, and it should be better. So instead, I’m just left disappointed.