Now exactly two-thirds of the way in, the latest issue of DC's crossover comic event, Heroes in Crisis, feels like an interlude of sorts, both narratively and visually; a calm before the storm as Tom King and Clay Mann's storyline prepares to enter its final act and accelerate to the finish. This sense is underscored by guest artist, and King's longtime collaborative partner, Mitch Gerads handling most of the art duties for the issue, with Mann only providing the talking head bookends seen throughout the series. But while much of the issue is a surprisingly low-key, introspective exploration into making a difference and the quintessential meaning of existence, it also packs one hell of a wallop by the end, making it the most emotional, shocking issue in the series to date.
For the sixth issue, King decides to go deeper with his narrative rather than bigger, focusing on the emotional and psychological issues of the heroes at Sanctuary rather than the murder mystery that has largely driven the story so far. Heroes in Crisis has always been a more personal, existential crossover in comparison to its Multiverse-threatening, bombastic counterparts, and this issue is the most intimate and emotional yet. It is also the most expository, with one character pondering his own meaning through classic philosophers that could potentially throw off the pacing with dialogue though, by the end, the heavy-handing monologues (from a very surprising source!) are revealed to be very much intentional and all part of King's greater narrative plan.
A large part of what conveys the issue's raw emotional content and carries it through its slower moments is Gerads stepping in on art. The creative pairing of King and Gerads have honed their collaborative chemistry through The Sheriff of Babylon and Mister Miracle, and they're still very much at the height of their powers, months after Mister Miracle's end. Everyone addresses their insecurities, traumas and emotions in very different ways, and Gerads beautifully renders each over the course of the issue; without emulating Mann's style established in the earlier issues and this issue's bookending pages, Gerads seamlessly and subtly makes the story's characters all his own, ensuring the artistic shift won't be jarring for readers here, or in the inevitable collection.
And of course, there is the murder mystery that's the inciting incident of the series and serves as its narrative core. While much of the issue unfolds like an elegy for its characters, King and Gerads make sure to tie these seemingly disparate threads into the series' central, driving plot. Like much of the story, this connection is not necessarily presented to be shocking, but rather as an understated twist that will inform Heroes in Crisis for the remainder of its story. While heavy on the exposition and self-reflective for much of it, the sixth issue stands as the most pivotal, vital installment since the series' debut this past September, and is sure to reverberate throughout the DC Universe moving forward.
In many ways, Heroes in Crisis #6 is a prime representation of King's work as a whole. Cerebral, deliberate and deconstructive, the requisite action and violence of a superhero story is there, but depicted as more consequential and impactful than it is gratuitous and escapist. Working once again with Gerads, the sixth issue brings out the heartbreakingly personal approach that made their previous collaborations such acclaimed successes with critics and fans alike. The eponymous crisis for this crossover event has always been more existential than earth-shattering; an internal conflict rather than one across cityscapes and starry cosmos. And with its most recent issue, King and Gerads have elevated each other creatively to deliver a painfully soul-searching look at the cost of heroism in the heart of the DCU. And, with this issue's big reveal, there's no going back as the creative team begin to turn over their cards for the final act in a can't-miss issue.
Heroes in Crisis #6 is written by Tom King and illustrated by Mitch Gerads and Clay Mann. It is scheduled to go on sale on February 27 from DC.