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Friday, March 01, 2019 

The Ringer's tedious take on Heroes in Crisis

The Ringer website wrote about Tom King's insulting miniseries wherein he exploits established fictional characters to channel his idea of how to tell a story about traumas and centers for the same, and interviewed him too. They admit it's angered fans, but ultimately wind up defending the horrible story nonetheless. Starting with this:
Most comic book fans would admit that their favored genre is filled with wacked-out dude-bros chosen at random to possess powers the rest of us could only dream of. In fact, comics are actually a lot like the real world: Their heroes suffer a physical and psychic toll as a result of cyclical violence. The best comic book writers and artists unravel the turmoil that follows those responsible for holding up an entire galaxy with deft, style, and consideration. That friction is the main theme of DC Comics’ Heroes in Crisis, the latest endeavor from writer Tom King and artist Clay Mann. An early example of this friction appears in the premiere issue, in which King cleverly turns the struggle of Blue Jay—a Justice League rotational player beginning to lose grasp on his shrinking power—into a genuine testimony on the ways depression breeds stasis: “I go to sleep,” said the hero. “And wake up small … I’ll be drowning in my own bed.”
It sounds like we have here a source that won't acknowledge fantasy does not have to adhere to their laughable standards, because, while it's not like superheroes haven't suffered through sad moments in life, they still manage to get over their misfortunes well enough in the best of stories. If Spider-Man were characterized the way they allude to, Peter Parker would be spending years in trauma centers and unable to serve as the dedicated crime fighter he became. Their twisted vision of what makes a superhero comic fantastic is exactly what led to Hal Jordan becoming Parallax in 1994. Clearly, such idiots were never against it for artistic reasons, that's for sure.
Heroes in Crisis is set at the Sanctuary, a futuristic, super-secret psychiatric hospital in the desert. Its powerful patients are reeling after a mass murder of heroes at the facility including B-listers like Hot Spot and major players like Wally West, a.k.a. the Flash. Despite the comic’s somewhat ham-fisted promotion as being “ripped from real-world headlines,” Heroes in Crisis writer King understands acts of violence and the scars they leave on costumed heroes better than most. He interned at both Marvel and DC before becoming a CIA officer for seven years. His inspiration for Heroes in Crisis stems from his own war experience: “We have this generation, my generation, cycle through the Middle East and back and I think that experience is driving us a little crazy,” the 40-year-old told me. “And I think we need to talk about that—talk about the honor of that service and how the honor of serving is incurring a little damage along the way.”
If he wants to draw from his experiences, that's okay, but it should be in a story of his own making with his own characters, not those of other people with more respectable resumes than he's got. No matter what's been going on in the book so far, and whether or not they want to get rid of Wally West and Hot Spot altogether, what is clear is that the story is otherwise an insult to the intellect, and practically exploits the serial format of pamphlets to irritate the audience into wondering what gross elements will come next or not.

What's more, I think King's defense of the story suggests an anti-war narrative, and it's not like every man and woman who's done army service is a saint or fully supports the good-vs-evil narrative. There are, alas, those people who'll turn against the specific beliefs in why wars have to be fought, and betray the rest of the folks they worked with for the sake of a propaganda angle we'd be better off without. Is that what he's going at here?
As one could imagine, this kind of endeavor—elucidating the mental health struggles of superheroes while also alluding to the reality of perpetual war—is a political minefield. The widely discussed comic has become the topic of thoughtful ruminations on the psyche of veterans and other trauma survivors, but has also drawn controversy due to its subject matter and the ways that the writer-artist team has executed the themes of interpersonal isolation, repression, and addiction.
The writer may have gotten commentary from King, but it doesn't look like he got more from any other sources to back up this puff piece. And another problem is how this story so far has been made canon, referenced in at least a few other books so far, and that's part of the valid beef DC fans have against this trash. Oh, and there's even something eyebrow-raising spoken of in the following:
Heroes in Crisis is particularly harrowing in the ways it “adjusts the camera,” in King’s words. It casts readers as sounding boards for costumed icons to come clean about their anguish—an anguish that doesn’t fall back on origin stories, but instead draws on the violence of the present world. Over the course of each story, heroes speak directly to readers and, in confidence, reveal the psychological struggles that are hidden beneath the costume. Some are more game than others—Black Canary, for instance, says “fuck it” and walks out of the confessional almost immediately. But on the whole, these sessions are heart-rending micro-stories that touch on the feelings heroes subdue in order to keep doing their jobs effectively.
Really, this awful book contains that kind of profanity? In that case, we've sure come a long way since most profanity you'd see since the early 70s was of the very mild variety, and mainstream superhero comics usually avoided the rawer elements like the F-word. As for "feelings", the writer fails to respect that these are fictional characters, not real life people. And regarding violence, there's been far too much over-the-top violence already, even in Marvel books, recalling a mid-2000s story where J. Michael Straczynski's mediocre Morlun creation showed up against in Spider-Man and ate an eye. When sensationalized violence like this is normalized, something is gravely wrong.
At times, the characters seem mishandled. The trauma depicted within the pages of Heroes in Crisis might seem like it’s being trivialized for any reader feeling the agony of depression, addiction, or a surplus of anxiety in a society that burns with racism, sexism, and ableism. On the whole, the comic book industry still has room to grow when it comes to addressing real-life social problems without exploiting mental health struggles and marginalized populations. Heroes in Crisis has recently come under fire for turning otherness into spectacle. When Mann’s cover for the seventh issue was leaked online, its sexualized rendering of Poison Ivy’s murder caused a rupture in the comic community. The questionable cover—in which Ivy is posed as a bloody pinup—was almost immediately removed and recolored (though it should be noted that the new cover hardly changed much). Similarly, a page in the title’s fourth issue features Batgirl silently lifting up her shirt to expose bullet wounds from the Joker’s attack and sexual assault in Alan Moore’s hugely influential The Killing Joke series. The scene’s thick quiet felt like a canvas for hypersexualization, with its final panels languishing on her pelvis and rear.
Ah, here's where we reach that now classic double-standard on sex and sexuality, while violence gets a free pass. While making a spectacle of the proceedings is a valid argument, to criticize the book over purported sexuality is petty, and takes away from the more important matters like killing off established characters for publicity stunts. Let's be clear, if worrying at all times about whether a woman's breasts and butt are visible, it's all they'll be worrying about.

Still, it's hard to feel sorry for King, DiDio and company that the very SJWs they're pandering to are now turning against them, petty issues or not. Yet no surprise they'd try to appease them either.

And on the subject of society being full of racism and sexism, is that said from a leftist viewpoint? Not very effective if that's the angle they're taking, and the following seems to confirm that:
Writer Rob Jones (@SonofBaldwin), whose work has appeared in Essence, The Feminist Wire, and The Middle Spaces, was vocal about his concerns on the series, tweeting that the book is “an example of what happens when mostly white cisgender heterosexual males are in the room, in control, unchecked, and uncriticized.” When I talked to the Brooklyn-based comic lover, he found Lagoon Boy’s self-imposed flagellation in the third issue to be the most egregious. “The first thing that jumps out at me immediately is the choice to have Lagoon Boy, who in many ways, stands in as a ‘malformed’ or ‘disfigured’ disabled person due to his non-human appearance, elect self-punishment as his method of dealing with trauma,” Jones said. “What self-respecting therapist would comply with abuse as treatment for someone who is already in such a fragile psychological state?” Jones points back to the history of ableist mismanagement in comic books, citing Bay Area psychotherapist Dr. H. Eric Bender’s work detailing the inaccuracies of DC’s Arkham Asylum—specifically the categorization of patients as “inmates”—as a prime example of the publisher’s misunderstanding of psychiatry.
Oh good grief. Is this a "male feminist" we have here? And somebody who wants us to believe only heterosexual men and whites are capable of pulling an offensive stunt like this? Because there was a woman or two working for DC at the time Identity Crisis came out, serving as apologists for its repellent story, and Rags Morales, the artist, as far as I know, may be of Puerto Rican background. To blame it all on cliched targets is to obscure the capability of anybody else to make a mistake, and dampens the impact of the criticism.
“You have to listen, and it’s worth the time to adjust,” said King, in regard to various backlashes to Heroes. “I worship Will Eisner. He’s one of the founding fathers, and he created a terribly racist character [named Ebony White]. Someone asked him about it years later, and he was just like, “Whatever, those were the times, I would do it again today if I was in the same environment.” And I just wanna reach out and be like, ‘Dude, just listen.’ I never want to be the guy not listening.”
While Ebony's character design was unfortunate, he was depicted heroically, and from what I know, Eisner admitted in one of his last writings, Fagin the Jew, that he'd been irresponsible in how he conceived Ebony. It sounds like King's throwing Eisner under the bus while lying about or making inaccurate statements about him. Also, the way King puts it, you'd think Ebony was a racist himself! How stupid can one get? And look how desperate King must be for attention, as he falls back on some weak rambling about "listening". We already did, and realized whatever he's brewed isn't worth the trees cut down to make the paper. So, as sales made clear after a few months, we're not listening to a man who's just so full of himself.
To some degree, King practices what he preaches. In the first issue, a loaded image of Hot Spot left a bitter taste for some comic fans who found it to be exploitative and gratuitous. The little-known DC hero, a black teenager, is shown lying dead in a hoodie when Superman finds him in a grassy field; a tear trickles down Hot Spot’s face as he lies limp, eyes wide open. It adds up to a cruel reminder of Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012 and the continuous threat that black people are not only under but also seem to pose to a largely white world. I tell King that this particular scene could be interpreted as making light of the Trayvon Martin tragedy and the brutal reality of being black in America. “When there’s a lot of hurt, it seems to me that the most vulnerable are hurt the most,” he said. “The people who don’t have the advantages take the blows harder. So it was important to show that aspect of it and not hide from it.” Still, the decision to pluck Hot Spot out of hundreds of interesting DC characters to feature in a way that seems geared toward sensationalism downplays the real-life terror black people feel.
As I may have noted before, it appears Hot Spot was turned into a sacrificial lamb for the sake of a political agenda, and a distorted one too. The thing is, it's entirely possible that King didn't intend it all as how the writer interprets it, but rather, to support his identity politics-driven cause. Given that the writer of the puff piece is otherwise favorable to the rancid little tale, one can't be sure if he's complaining as a result.
“The curse of writing,” King said, “is that you’re always trying to imagine yourself as someone else and you always end up just being you. So whatever character I was writing about at that time, I was relating to them. The only way to write good is to share parts about yourself and put them with other people.” The necessity of projection can result in brilliance, but also gaps. On one end, King’s relation to Superman “living in between two identities” comes straight from his time in the CIA when he was forced to “lie to [his] family and friends about who [he] was” and also hide his personal struggles in the field to maintain his security detail. But on the other, his experiences regarding race, sexism, and ableism are inevitably limited, which can bleed through as insensitivity in some of his passages.
Oddly enough, that might make sense, if he's a leftist. They've had such a disastrous view of these issues, what do they expect? King's claim he's "relating" to the characters and "sharing" through them is laughable, however, because if he's mistreating them to the point of being expendable, then he's only exploiting them for the sake of an ambiguous agenda. Near the end, it says:
As far as shedding light on the myriad unhealthy coping mechanisms we employ to alleviate mental illness, Heroes in Crisis is largely cogent—even if, as the critic Jones notes, some of those mechanisms don’t reflect reality in every case. [...]
I'd say this confirms the writer's favorable and forgiving, even as he verifies the already obvious fact it's not realistic, and exploiting established characters for the sake of the tale only makes it less so. In that case, what's the use of writing about it and talking about the political allusions? For now, it's worth noting that, as some recent developments prove, even the social justice propagandists they courted aren't taking to its grimy story, and they only demonstrated a textbook example of how it's impossible to please anyone.

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Why would the paper be stupid enough to condemn something its being paid to praise?

"If he wants to draw from his experiences, that's okay, but it should be in a story of his own making with his own characters, not those of other people with more respectable resumes than he's got."

If he does not draw on his own experiences, then he is not adding anything of his own to the mix, just regurgitating the same stories that other people have done better. I want to see the writers do something better when they work on the old characters; otherwise, we might as well just forget about doing new stories and reprint the originals.

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