SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Heroes in Crisis #8 by Tom King, Mitch Gerards, Travis Moore and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
The identity of the Sanctuary killer has been confirmed, but there’s a lot more to the massacre than simply identifying the person who committed it. Tom King and Mitch Gerards’ Heroes in Crisis #8 features a full-issue confession by the perpetrator, and the circumstances behind his actions are somewhat understandable - almost. That is, until what the killer reveals what he did afterwards. Compounding his own mistakes, what came next make his already dark deeds all but unforgiveable. Is any kind of redemption for this hero even possible at this point?
Who Did It – and What Else Did He Do?
The killer, of course, is revealed to be Wally West, whose character was only fairly recently brought back into DC continuity. And the killings weren’t systematically carried out, one by one, as it had previously appeared, either. No, Wally actually killed all the other heroes en masse, accidentally, in an oh-so-brief moment of weakness. The emotional burden upon learning of the other heroes’ individual traumas was too much for him to bear on top of his own. For the briefest of moments, Wally lost control of the powers of the Speed Force contained inside him, and in that moment, that single burst of energy killed everyone around him.
Wally was already a broken soul at that point, but reached a new low upon learning of his peers’ own emotional struggles. Nothing could excuse his actions, but under other circumstances, his unintentional and deadly loss of control could have been viewed as nothing more than a simple, if catastrophic, mistake. Had he just remained in that field outside Sanctuary after setting off the alarm, and awaited the arrival of Sanctuary’s founders (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman), his deadly mistake might have been looked at with more sympathetic eyes.
But that’s not what Wally did – instead, he compounded his mistake. Realizing the gravity of what he had just done, he schemed a way out of it to dodge his accountability. He did the unthinkable for a hero, especially one who mentored under a detective -- he deliberately restaged the crime scene, framing both Harley Quinn and Booster Gold for the murders. He even went so far as to go forward in time and murder his future self, and then return to place his own body at the scene in order to deflect any suspicion.
Redemption – or Reboot?
One might think Wally’s desperate move against himself is some kind of fitting suicidal justice. Perhaps it is, but his motive wasn’t to punish himself for what he did – it was to buy himself time to atone for it. Admirable, perhaps – but in those subsequent days, Harley and Booster were caused a lot of grief, and the superhero community was consumed pursuing numerous false leads. Justice wasn't his to mete out, and Wally’s misguided attempts to make good after killing many of his colleagues weren’t heroic – they were cowardly.
The Sanctuary massacre was like a murderous equivalent of the Watergate scandal – the misdeeds committed were bad enough, but the subsequent attempts to cover them up only made them worse. If Wally had simply answered for what he had done, there might have been a road to redemption for him. But in attempting to foist blame on others so that he could deliver his own contorted form of justice, his altruistic heroism became nothing more than ambiguous vigilantism. If a path to redemption exists for Wally, then it’s just become ridden with a lot more obstacles.
A path more difficult to traverse, yes – but a path nonetheless. Wally could simply steal Booster’s robot pal Skeets and time travel again, for instance – back to a time before the murders where he could presumably stop himself from ever committing them. Perhaps the Speed Force within him could again be used, this time to bring the dead heroes back to life. Or perhaps none of it will matter – Doomsday Clock seems poised to reboot the DC Universe again, anyway. Restoring the pre-“Flashpoint” DCU could very well retcon Heroes in Crisis entirely, making the massacre a non-issue.
Wally West – Pariah?
Revisionism, though, isn’t redemption. Time travelling and retcons aren’t the tools of redemption – they’re simply ways to ignore what was done – and the subsequent consequences – and merely start over. Whatever Wally’s fate, one constant remains: he killed a number of his colleagues. He didn’t mean to, granted, but he did it nonetheless. And a true hero would face the consequences, rather than draw others into his convoluted plan of deceit while still hoping for the possibility of atonement.
When all is said and done, Wally West will likely play the role of hero again at some point, whether through retcons, magic, memory wipes or some other kind of reversing trickery. But that doesn’t mean he’ll ever be redeemed. Right here and now, he’s guilty of murder, and whatever possibility he had for redemption evaporated when he chose to run away rather than stand up.
One Big Misunderstanding
There remains one hope for Wally: that the murders never actually happened in the first place. Wally admitted to using Sanctuary’s virtual reality chambers to further his elaborate scheme. Perhaps this whole experience for him is actually one of those VR simulations. Like his own apparent death at the hands of Harley – and then Booster – maybe all those murders aren’t really what they seem. Perhaps Wally is living out some kind of simulation that’s playing on his own fears – fears driven by his increasing sense of isolation.
Of course, that would essentially mean that the entirety of Heroes in Crisis was nothing more than a dream. A hoax. An imaginary story. With one issue to go in the series, the revelation that DC’s latest event was never even in continuity would likely be a bit hard for fans to accept. And the whole “It was just a dream” notion never really goes down well with fans in general.
If there’s a proverbial rabbit to be pulled from a hat, it’s going to have to happen in Heroes in Crisis #9, on sale May 22. Otherwise there will forever be a large stain on the career of Wally West.