Superman #22 came out this week, another good issue for writer Scotty Lobdell, a trend that has been true for this title since H'El on Earth played itself out. The Psi-War brewing between HIVE and Hector Hammond is certainly an engaging plot, one that Superman isn't well-equipped to deal with. But even within this arc, each issue has slightly improved from the last. It has been a while since I have looked forward to the Superman title. Right now, I am.
It helps that this issue actually gives us some time with Clark as well as with supporting cast members Cat Grant and Jimmy Olsen. Yes, Lois is completely absent from this issue. But I hope that means in the future she will get good moments like Cat and Jimmy get here. It also helps that Lobdell recaps the story so far by having Superman review the events in his head. It brought me up to speed and helped clear up the initial confusion of why H.I.V.E./Hammond are fighting when the last time we saw them (in Action Comics) they are allies. I knew that flash forward in Action would flummox me.
The art in the issue is done mostly by Eddy Barrows. I have always liked Barrows art but I have come to realize he just can't get things done on time. This issue is no difference. While Barrows does the bulk of the art, recent Smallville artist Daniel HDR pencils pages 13-15 and Geraldo Borges who did art on some of the Legion issues of Adventure Comics filled in on 16-18. Hat tip to blog friend Mart Gray of the great Too Dangerous For A Girl comic review blog for the art breakdown. HDR and Borges style is cleaner, with less line work. But it is all good.
As usual, Kenneth Rocafort does stellar work on this cover. The whole point of the Queen is she is supposed to seduce you or fill you with honeyed word so you will obey her. This image works for that feel.
Last issue Hector Hammond was kidnapped by H.I.V.E. and brought to their headquarters. Unfortunately, Hammond's powers have been augmented by a sudden surge of electric energy. Still, the H.I.V.E. headquarters is Queen Bee's domain. Her troops surround Hammond and she demands that Hammond recognize his role as a mere tool in her plans to dominate the world.
I love this panel structure by Barrows. With the Queen apparently in charge, the panel is shaped like a honeycomb. The point of view here, looking up at the Queen gives her the feel of power, as if we are kneeling before her as well. Nice.
That art riff is flipped on its head on the next set of pages. It turns out the gun-wielding drones were psionic illusions by the Queen, a feint that Hammond saw through quickly.
Suddenly, the ordered honeycomb panels give way to round bulbous panels, not unlike Hammond's head. Suddenly the perspective is different, the Queen looking much less larger-than-life. As always, when art and words complement each other, comics are at their best.
I also have to say, I love that Hammond needs his own slaves to help him with even the most menial tasks. To see this soldier propping up Hammond's arm as he chokes the Queen added a slight element of humor to this scene.
As fun as this mini-skirmish was, the following scenes of Clark and the supporting cast were even better.
We get to hear Superman talk about how ill-prepared he is for a psionic war. He can't punch or heat vision a telepathic attack. And if it weren't for Orion's defenses, he would be helpless.
There is something about this sequence where we see multiple images of Superman turning into Clark that smacks of old-school comic fun. I thought this was great.
Lastly, I am glad that Clark seems to get the same weird vibe off of Dr. Veritas. She studies him closely. She makes veiled double entendres at him. She seems to know more about his capabilities than he does. I wouldn't be surprised if she becomes some New 52 version of Maxima or Rampage.
Clark meets up with Cat Grant. Clarkcatropolis.com, the revolutionary news blog site the two are trying to set up, is struggling. I love how Clark notices the small things about Cat that show she is hurting a bit financially. An empty Starbucks coffee cup and cheap shampoo. That doesn't sound like Cat.
But more importantly, it adds a bit of character to Cat Grant. This is the first incarnation of Cat I kinda-sorta like. She isn't vapid or hateful like prior versions. It would be easy for Cat to give up on this dream when things got tough but she isn't walking away. I am pretty sure the old Cat would never stick it out this long, let alone do this to begin with. Kudos to Lobdell for tweaking her character like this.
Now we can talk journalistic integrity at some other point but Clark decides it is time to break a big story on the site ... specifically a story he learned via his super-powers.
After last month's tip on The Twenty, Clark does some digging. It turns out that STAR Labs is holding some powerful young super-powered individuals as 'test subjects'. These are part of this mysterious Twenty.
Now I don't know if I like STAR Labs being turned into another big bad corporation instead of the upstanding research firm it has always been. Holding people against their will and experimenting with 'treatment'? Sounds nefarious. And knowing the DCU, it will turn out the military is funding this.
Lastly, I thought for sure the Twenty were going to be something mundane like The Hundred or Intergang. We learn that the Twenty are Twenty people who went missing during Brainiac's attack on Metropolis (as seen in Morrison's run). How the heck didn't more than twenty go missing? Are these people still missing? Or known to have been missing and then found? Since they are a legend ... how did that start?
Back at HIVE, we are again shown that Hammond is suddenly much more powerful than anticipated. The Queen is only able to escape by flashing an image of Hammond being shot by guns into Hector's head. There is a page of Hammond being literally blown to bits by guns that all turns out to be illusion. It is one of the things that I like about this story so far. I have to keep on my toes a bit because I might not be able to believe everything that I see.
The bottom line is Hammond suddenly has all that is H.I.V.E. at his disposal.
In a bit of a stretch to set up a scene, Superman decides to 'check in' on Jimmy. Last issue, Jimmy manifested Superman's personality trait of feeling utterly alone. (Now I don't think Superman ever feels that way ... but whatever).
Jimmy is living it up on his parents dime. Last month we heard they were dead and Jimmy inherited their billions. Here we learn they are famous and have 'gone missing', like many famous people do. There has to be more than this here.
My guess? The elder Olsens are 2 of the Twenty.
The conversation is broken up by a sudden earthquake as tentacles like those seen in Brainiac's attack on the city suddenly spring from the ground and start shaking the block apart. And then Superman's brain seems to overload and he crashes through the ground.
Did that tentacle attack really happen? Or were they also more illusion?
That is two references to Brainiac in this issue. We know from the solicits that he is on his way back to Earth.
Superman crashes right into the arms of the Queen Bee on the run.
And from her we learn even more about the Twenty. She is one of them. She (or they) has been preparing for Brainiac's return. She seems to have a lot of anti-Brainiac sentiment here. So she is an enemy of an enemy. Heck, she says she is trying to protect the city.
We should start ticking off the members of The Twenty we know of/suspect. Queen Bee. That actor from last issue. That ninja women from last issue. The Olsens. What about Dr. Veritas??
As for art, I love this sort of anti-pieta. Sure it looks like Michaelangelo's Pieta. But that is one evil looking Queen Bee. And I doubt she is supposed to be comforting/mourning Superman. It is a dark reflection of the classic Pieta and that works here.
So overall an entertaining issue on all levels. The PsiWar plot proceeds with Hammond and HIVE duking it out. We get some quality Clark/Cat moments. We learn Brainiac is enmeshed in this whole thing. And the art was solid throughout.