Superman #21 came out last week and it has taken me a bit of time to finally get to the review.
I have to say that with H'El in the rear view mirror, I have been pleasantly surprised with direction of this book. There is nothing earth-shattering by writer Scott Lobdell here. But there isn't anything horrible or vile either. And frankly, I have to be happy about that. So much was wrong with earlier issues that an average issue is a huge upgrade. I don't mean to damn with faint praise. The last couple of issues have been fun and interesting. I might not be smiling widely after reading these, but I have a satisfied half-smile on my face.
On top of that, Kenneth Rocafort continues to shine on this book. There are usually a couple of breathtaking panels each issue, stuff that sparkles. And this issue is no different. I can't praise him enough.
This isn't perfect by any means. But this Psi-War angle is pretty intriguing and an actual threat to Superman.
Here is a great example of Rocafort's art. We open to this splash page of the new Queen Bee bathing in some honey-like liquid. You immediately get a sense of her personality as you see her enjoying this shower of sticky stuff. I looked at the art before reading the captions and the first word that came to my mind was 'luxuriate'. And sure enough, that word is in Lobdell's text. When art and words mesh, the comic medium is at its strongest. Just great stuff.
Turns out the 'honey' is liquid plasma coalesced from the thoughts of Metropolis. She seems to gain strength from psionic residue.
I had to include this page because we finally learn what H.I.V.E. stands for. She also wants to control the world, removing free will and free thought, becoming the true queen bee that the hive follows. It is the Holistic Integration for Viral Equality. Don't ask me if that makes any sense. But there it is.
And despite having some powers of her own (we see her commanding drones), the Queen realizes she needs Hector Hammond and his power to accomplish her goals of complete domination of the world. I even sort of like her dialogue here. She isn't wringing her hands in evil glee saying she wants to have slaves worshiping her. She says that the world is in a bad place because of free will. She wants to save the world through a hive mind. I sometimes like my bad guys to think they are the good guys. She probably thinks she is being heroic trying to dominate everyone.
I also like that Hammond has sort of morphed from a Green Lantern villain to a Superman one. And boy, has that head become huge!
While we never get a clear understanding of the Queen's powers we see how quickly it can take effect. A STAR Lab worker is clearly 'infected' by the Queen's will, speaking in green dialogue and sporting some faint honeycomb like pattern on his face. And amazingly, his proximity (or touch) seems to be spread her will. Is this some old school 'hypno-pollen' at work? And if her power is so profound, why would she need Hammond?
Regardless, with more STAR workers in the fold, a HIVE team comes in and grabs Hector Hammond, hoping to get him back to the HIVE hive.
The source is someone dressed in bomb squad gear toting a shot gun; someone who turns out to be a young woman (revealed via Xray vision). She has a file stuffed with information about 'The Twenty', an organized crime ring considered to be an urban myth. But mixed in her files is a Senator.
I can't help but wonder if The Twenty is going to eventually evolve into The 100, the organized crime ring which always seems to be plaguing Metropolis.
Now one thing that I have disliked about Lobdell's run is that Clark has not played a big part in the book. On top of that, the whole characterization of Superman in the New 52 has felt off. I have craved a Clark who thinks he is just a farmboy from Kansas who wants to help and just happens to have super-powers.
So I thought this panel with Clark explaining why he does what he does, to remain grounded and in touch with humanity was a nice sentiment. It is laid on a bit thick. That is a lot of internal monologue ... in thought bubbles no less. But I can't complain about it not being there *and* complain about it being there. Still ...
As an aside, I loved that the panel is a pentagram sort of evocative of the S-shield. It was a subtle way of showing the dichotomy of the character ... Clark and Superman.
The extraction of Hector Hammond hits an unfortunate snag. While carrying his body through sewer tunnels, the HIVE crew hits an exposed power wire. The electric jolt awakens Hammond from his drug-induced slumber and ends up linking him with every person in Metropolis for an instant.
Again, I am pretty impressed with the power levels of Hammond here. It is quite a feat to link with everyone in the city, drinking in their emotions and dreams. I get the sense he is more like a telepathic hammer than a scalpel. Everyone seems to recoil with pain from this slight interaction.
I would have liked a different color scheme for this Hammond astral image. I couldn't help but think 'Sinestro' when I saw this.
Now there is a lot I need to just roll with here. As an after-effect of this Hammond assault, Superman's friends adopt an 'aspect' of his personality.
Lois suddenly feels invulnerable and jumps in front of a bus to prove it. Luckily she is saved by Superman.
Okay Superman feeling strong makes sense.
But then Jimmy dissolves into a blubbering mess of despair, crying because he is all alone. It is only after some talk with Superman that he snaps out of it. While he may be the Last Son of Krypton, I just don't think Superman has that much sadness in him. I always thought he considered himself one of the people, not necessarily alone. And if he feels that way, why not reach out to Supergirl again?
And then, the third 'aspect' of Superman, the desire to reveal to everyone his dual identity. Perry White goes into the newsroom and states he is had the desire to 'unburden' himself of a secret.
Invulnerable, alone, burdened by secrets ... those are the three personality traits that manifested?
And why did that happen? Are people manifesting other people's personality traits? Or is Superman's character so strong that he can effect those close to him.
Much like the Clark internal monologue panel, this seemed like a heavy handed way that Lobdell might be using to show his grasp of Superman. But even then, these aspects seem off.
This image of the agents struggling to carry the awkward weight of Hammond is a powerful one. It reminds me of slaves carrying a heavy burden of an emperor sitting on a throne. It mirrors the opening image of the Queen bathing away. Both clearly feel like royalty with 'normal' people below them, playthings.
Perhaps a Hammond/Queen Bee confrontation are the two sides of the PsiWar?
So overall, a decent issue. I found the Queen Bee and Hector Hammond scenes the most entertaining and interesting. I am very intrigued in seeing these two square off or team up. The Clark scene reads a bit heavy but its heart is in the right place. With that panel out of the way, let's see some of those things in action ... Clark entertaining at his apartment, sitting in a workplace, etc.
The Superman personality manifesting in his friends piece was certainly an odd segment, especially given the aspects we saw. It was good to know that these Daily Planet characters will remain active in the book despite Clark blogging.
And overall, the concept of a PsiWar sounds like a challenge.
Overall grade: B/B+