Heroes in Crisis #3 – Tom King, Writer; Lee Weeks, Clay Mann, Artists; Tomeu Morey, Colorist
Ray – 9/10
Corrina: Sanctuary Is Unworkable
Ray: Three issues into Heroes in Crisis, Tom King’s murder mystery, we finally get an issue exploring what this series was originally supposed to be about – a high-tech mental health center geared towards the superhero community. Although the opening and closing pages are done by regular series writer Clay Mann, Batman/Elmer Fudd artist Lee Weeks jumps on for the series’ first flashback issue as we see how things unfolded in the days leading up to the destruction of Sanctuary. And it’s pretty clearly the best issue of the series, deepening the mystery while also giving us some much-needed insight into some of the victims and survivors. The core of Sanctuary is a high-tech virtual reality environment that the heroes enter, and it creates whatever they need. That makes it exactly as healthy – or unhealthy – as these heroes need it to be. The series shows us the potential of this concept through three of the patients – Booster Gold, Wally West, and Lagoon Boy.
Lagoon Boy’s role here is interesting because his trauma is one that most people thought had long been forgotten – the death of his teammates in Titans East way back prior to Flashpoint. He’s been reliving that moment again and again, trying to figure out if it could have played out any differently. Wally, meanwhile, is wallowing in what he’s lost – using the room to recreate his family from the past world. While it’s distinctly less violent than Lagoon Boy’s methods, he’s also not addressing the process of moving forward, just looking backward. Booster, meanwhile, is having his first session here, and he finds himself confronted by himself, a self-hating doppelganger. It’s all intriguing, and it all ends too well when Sanctuary goes to hell. We get to see Wally’s moment of death, and it’s very different from everyone else’s – making me even more sure that not everything is as it seems. But the last page shows us a host of other victims we haven’t seen yet, all semi-obscure characters with their own fanbase. I can’t shake the feeling that as good as this series is, it’s taking away more than it gives.
Corrina: Let me sort this out. Sanctuary is supposed to be a safe space to help people recover, yes? But there is exactly zero oversight by real people because there’s a secrecy problem. Thus, allowing people to make themselves worse. Nothing like being stuck in a virtual reality that gives you the unreality you want (or deserve) to create a healthier and more mentally stable person, right? Unless you want to punish yourself, like Lagoon Boy.
There is a type of psychological counseling that has the patient confront their fears and relieve their experiences so they can overcome them but that’s done under close supervision. In this case, Lagoon Boy gets VR tech and privacy and…nothing else. In fact, there seems to be an isolation element to Sanctuary, with people unable to be honest with each other because of security. That makes sense but pretending to be someone else ads a level of extra effort to patients already struggling.
How can Sanctuary help with recovery under these conditions, with patients left alone to “make up” their own therapy?
Add this to the lack of security–someone wanders right into Lagoon Boy’s VR– and Sanctuary becomes a ticking time bomb. How can any of the heroes who created Sanctuary have thought this was a good idea?
How can a series that was pitched as a realistic examination of mental health issues for superheroes portray the exact opposite of what it may take for some of these patients to recover?
By contrast, virtual reality is being used in therapy sessions over in the Deathstroke series too. Slade is not given a choice about undergoing these sessions. That’s because he’s in a criminal asylum and has lost his rights. And, yet, the setup of those virtual reality therapy sessions seem far more likely to produce actual emotional and mental breakthroughs than Sanctuary. (Of course, the therapy may also be only in Slade’s head but at least the depictions of using virtual reality with oversight makes sense.) Deathstroke also does not get enough credit for its psychological examination of its characters but I digress…
In any case, what the heroes have done is opened their doors to a “safe space” that’s loaded with VR tech that can be used by the resident to further damage themselves, and with no security to ensure their safety from the outside or, really, each other.
But, hey, at least the readers can feel some sympathy for the one-joke Lagoon Boy before he gets spitted for real, one of the most nihilistic moments I’ve read in comics in years.
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Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.