Superman #24 came out last week, the 'finale' of the Psi War storyline that Scott Lobdell has been weaving through both super-titles recently. Lobdell has backed off this story the last couple of months, maybe so he could write all of the upcoming 'Krypton Returns' books. Our old friend from Supergirl, Mike Johnson, once again steps in as writer on this chapter. I do wonder if Lobdell plotted this finale. Johnson does a fine job here, wrapping things up and tidying up some of the hanging questions I have about the plot.
Eddy Barrows is on art here and does a great job. I'm not surprised. Barrows stuff is always sharp and slick. It just seems he can never stay on time with a monthly title. With the wild psionic action and crazy physical brawls in this finale, Barrows really is able to shine here.
I put 'finale' in quotes above because while the acute problem of the various psionic factions vying for control of Metropolis was stopped, all the villains escape, slinking away to plot more. Also it is a brutal issue with some horrific imagery when the Psycho Pirate cuts loose on the citizens of town. It seems a bit much for a Superman comic. Lastly, there is one key panel which shows the new 52 attitude towards the man of steel, something mirrored in the recent movie.
I still think this was one of the better arcs in the 2 years of Superman stories in the New 52 (Morrison's run is exempt from inclusion in my mind). These villains with mental powers just pose a bigger threat in my mind than Mongul for instance. And Lois has a decent sized role here, albeit with powers. I want to see Lois the reporter more than Lois the novice psionic.
The book opens up right where the last book ended. Lois, infected and energized by psionic power, battles the Psycho Pirate who simply shut down Superman last issue.
There are some leaps here. The Psycho Pirate is powerful enough to have defeated Hector Hammond and Queen Bee. He is strong enough to be battling Superboy in a High School somewhere (still idiotic given what he is doing here. What would he gain from antagonizing teenagers). And he is replete with power having sucked Superman dry. So how Lois, who just inherited her powers, is able to parry effectively for a bit.
This opening splash is a great representation of Barrows' work here. The snakes from the Medusa mask, the cityscape. The odd angle, putting Lois and the Pirate upright when really they are at wild angles (Superman being the 'ground' X axis) all works.
And this page works as well, the panels formed by the splayed out psionic snakes. That is nice. There is even a sort of 'emotional spectrum' here, with the panels colored vividly with one major tone.
The Pirate is impressed enough with Lois to leave her alive. He tells her she must decide quickly ... join him or be killed by him. It is a bit of hubris on his part. Perhaps that is his flaw. But off he goes to strip the citizens of Metropolis of their civility and let their emotions run wild.
Lois uses her new powers to jump start Superman's mind. He is shocked by her appearance and her willingness to fight the Pirate. Before they can dwell too much, the other villains show up.
First Hector Hammond arises.
And then we see the Queen Bee in her real form. I have to say I was very happy to see this. All of the Twenty, those touched by psionics, have slowly mutated into monstrous forms with bulbous brain-heads. I wondered how the Queen Bee could be so super-model perfect. Turns out that was just her glamour. She actually looks more like the Aliens Queen. So thanks to Johnson for removing that slight problem I had.
With the Pirate being the biggest threat amongst them, Superman and Lois decide to team up with the Queen and Hammond.
Sure I have read Superman stories where he has briefly teamed up with villains to fight villains but it is usually with a wry smile. It usually ends with Superman imprisoning all the villains, even his temporary allies. We don't see that here.
And I suppose the Pirate is a bigger threat. Hammond and the Queen simply want to enslave the city. Heck, the Queen wants them to be fodder for Brainiac. These 'allies' aren't saints.
But the Pirate is the more pressing issue. He has removed all civility and reason from people. And it is here that we see some terrible imagery. People fighting and shooting and looting and lighting fires. Okay ...
But children becoming cannibals? Gnawing on the recent dead like the Vendol from The Thirteenth Warrior? It seems excessive. It reminded me of the horror we saw in the last arc of Alan Moore's Miracleman. This seemed gratuitous.
And now my biggest problem with the book ... once again we see Superman willing to kill if the threat is big enough. Or at least willing to consider a killing move before exhausting all other options.
Lois deduces the mask is what is making the Pirate so powerful. Superman has to remove it.
Look at his face as he acknowledges that removing the mask might kill the Pirate. She even says it might effect the crowd. So what does Superman do? While the Queen and Hammond distract the Psycho Pirate, Superman flies and rips off his mask.
It might kill the Pirate. It might make things worse for those he controls. But that is the first thing he does.
Not fly him away from the crowd. Not fly him up to the thin air to see if he can knock him unconscious. Not fly around him like a cyclone to shock the air out of his lungs. Not use his superbreath to make him hypothermic. Nope ... head straight for the jugular, human life be damned.
It is a subtle change in Superman isn't it. Now it is implied that if the threat is big enough he could kill.
And it feels wrong.
Of course, it doesn't kill the Psycho Pirate. But that isn't the point. The point is Superman was willing to do it knowing it might kill him. Especially when other options hadn't been explored.
Then a very nice wrinkle.
The mask seems to have a will of its own and tries to seduce Superman into putting it on. That would be a decent wrinkle alone.
But then psionic Lois uses her power and influence to have Superman take it off. And she ends her plea by calling him Clark! Shaken free by her voice, he removes the mask and incinerates it with his heat vision.
But Lois knows Superman is Clark! Was it her psionics? Did she 'know' deep in her heart and her psionics revealed the truth to herself? Who knows? But that is a great twist.
Of course, with the adrenaline rush over, Lois lapses back into her human form and her coma.
So we get this scene at the end where Superman proclaims that Lois is his best friend. So tell me, is this a case of him protesting too much? Trying to convince himself not to be in love with her because she is with someone else? Or is this DC shoving the Clark/Diana thing down our throats more, pushing Lois away more?
I suppose best friend is better than enemy or absent.
Lois ends up back in the hospital, brought there as Clark who happened to 'stumble upon her'. As for the villains ... they all get away. All of them. Sure, they are hurting and weakened. But Superman let them all escape to wreak havoc later.
So it is sort of a non-end. The Pirate and Lois know now that Clark is Superman. And Superman is willing to use a kill option to end a threat.
The action scenes were engaging and the art was vibrant. So overall this ends up being a decent issue. The ups are high. The lows are low.