Superman #23 came out this week, the latest chapter in the Psi-War. Psi-War has been the most interesting and entertaining arc of the Scott Lobdell era on the book with a lot of moving parts and a formidable number of foes aimed at taking out the Man of Steel.
This issue moves the arc forward by adding another faction to the war, bringing in another player that needs to be dealt with. And while that makes this story that much more complicated, it also made me ask a couple of questions about the future of some of these characters. And Superman is almost a spectator in this issue, thrust into the background of the psionic maneuvers of the combatants.
The book also seems something of a substitute special. Old Supergirl scribe Mike Johnson is listed as writer. I can't believe he wrote this issue de novo; I have to believe this was plotted by Lobdell. But there is no plotting credit to be found. I was glad to see Johnson's name because I thought he was moving things in the right direction on Supergirl before H'El on Earth derailed all the progress he made with the character.
And art on the book is done by Jesus Merino over thumbnails by Eddy Barrows. I am not surprised to see that Barrows can't finish the book. He never seems to be able to put even 2 issues in a row on a title. Merino has a rougher style than Merino. But you can feel the Barrows-ness of the art throughout.
I do like the Kenneth Rocafort cover here, a sort of classic montage character piece. In particular I liked the 'army in silhouette' on the left upper corner, adding just a hint of action to the piece.
We start with the origin of the Psycho Pirate, a villain we just met over in Superboy.
An omnisicent narrator, observing presumably psionically, calls him a 'sweaty nerd' who grabs the Medusa Mask out of a museum display. The mask is supposed to have tremendous powers.
But the man is also identified as one of The Twenty. Remember, these are twenty people who went and stayed missing after the Brainiac attack, granted ultimately fatal psionic powers, and living amongst us hidden telepathically. The Twenty folks we have met have all sported massive Brainiac-like heads and end up dead, burned out by the virus.
This person thinks the mask's powers will protect him from the virus. I have to assume it will because I don't think a new Psycho Pirate will be killed so soon after introduction. Nor do I think he'll end up with a huge head.
Meanwhile, Superman battles the Queen Bee. The HIVE leader was kicked out of her headquarters by Hector Hammond last month and she is trying to gain control of Superman to use him as a weapon-drone.
We also learn that the Queen is also a member of The Twenty (how many have we officially met now? Five?). So I doubt the svelte and sultry Queen is going to end up sporting a huge brainy cranium either. Could her headgear somehow protect her too?
And it is interesting to see the different motivations of those effected by Brainiac. Some want to simply hide. The Senator wanted to try to defend the Earth from aliens. The Queen wants to subjugate everyone. I like how Superman calls her plans to eliminate free will as condemning people.
Nice art here, especially the crackling Queen, showing her power.
But I also like how the Queen belittles Superman, calling him primitive for trying to solve matters with his fists.
And the story does a good job showing how tough it would be to fight someone who can basically cast illusions, fight physically with telekinesis, and attack the mind on top of things. Even super-senses can't help.
It is Superman's difficulty with psionics that makes as compelling a story as it is.
Despite Orion's mental blocks, Superman actually succumbs to the Queen's attack, falling under her sway.
And at that moment where he is enslaved, Lois (who recently has become a member of the Twenty) is psionically startled out of her slumber. Most will know that I am not a big fan of her new boyfriend Jon. It must be rough on him to be holding a bedside vigil only to have Lois' first word be 'Superman'.
The snarkiness of the omniscient narrator who comes along for the whole issue should have tipped me off about who that voice belonged to.
The two warring factions in this PsiWar are Queen Bee and Hector Hammond.
Hammond arrives at the Queen's stronghold and prepares to attack.
While some of the Twenty want to prepare for Brainiac's return to fight him. It turns out the Queen's motives are very different. She wants to enslave humanity to prepare the world for Brainiac's arrival, serving up the populace on a platter. She is loyal to Brainiac. Now that is an interesting wrinkle. She seems so independent and narcissistic. I can't imagine her serving anyone. It also makes Hammond the lesser of two evil I guess. He wants to save the world.
Lastly, I don't show it here (outside of the snippet of her head in the lower middle) but Barrows really adds to the feeling that the Queen is bigger than life, or certainly perceives herself as greater than everyone, by having her on the page outside of panel borders, breaking down artistic walls.
Hammond takes over the minds of some of the citizens the Queen has enslaved and a drone war ensues. I love how Hammond's slaves are easily recognizable by their large heads. I have to assume that is some psionic projection as they are able to move around easily and fight.
It turns out that Hammond is actually physically still in the HIVE headquarters. His presence is an illusion. Angrily, the Queen flies off to confront him and that frees Superman. He then has to work his way through the attacking citizens.
I do think it odd that the Queen seemed so surprised that Hammond was at HIVE. Didn't he just kick her out of it last issue? Isn't that why she is sort of holed up somewhere to begin with?
When Superman arrives at HIVE he finds a battered and somehow normocephalic Hammond lying in rubble. So someone has basically depowered Hammond. And Hammond actually says that the Queen Bee is dead at the hands of someone ...
Nice view here, looking down at Hammond's shattered body. The emphasis should be on him because we have seen him dominate over that last couple of issues. And his frame and head has been such a important visual on this arc. So this angle helps move the story. Despite everything we have seen and know, Hammond is defeated.
And the Queen ... dead??
At last we learn that the narrator is The Psycho Pirate, who was narrating his own story at the beginning of the issue. And he sounds even more powerful than the old Crisis-era Pirate. And to have taken out Hammond and the Queen so easily is unreal. Calling Superman Clark is a nice line to end on.
But if he really controls all the minds on Earth, why he is flitting around a high school over in Superboy?
I think this was a fine issue. It does what a middle chapter should do, move the plot along, add some new wrinkles, and bring us closer to an ending. Things are different at the end of this issue than they were at the beginning with the two big players in the war now defeated/dead and a new player on the board.
This read very much like a Lobdell book so Johnson kept the feel of the story unruffled. And I actually think that Merino can channel Barrows enough to keep the book looking slick. I have enjoyed this Psi-War arc making the imminent Krypton Returns that much more scary in my mind.
The lingering questions I have involve these members of The Twenty staving off death and mutation as well as Superman's mental blocks no longer working.