Friday, October 4, 2013

Review: Action Comics #24

I didn't realize just how disjointed the insertion of Villains' Month would be on my comic reading until I picked up Action Comics #24 this week. I needed to go back and review the last issue to remind myself what exactly was going on.

This chapter of the Psi-War arc concentrates on the new player on the board The Psycho Pirate. Surprisingly, for the second month in a row, Scott Lobdell isn't writing (despite being listed on the cover). Old Supergirl scribe Mike Johnson is listed as writer here, although I have to assume that Lobdell is plotting what is happening here.

Art is done by Tyler Kirkham and is nicely rendered, with mixes of psionic powers, flashbacks, and a surprising cliffhanger page. I will say, I was never one to believe in a 'house style' for comics, but Kirkham's art just feels like a DC comics, reminding me of Cinar, Daniel, and others. I'm not against a house style necessarily, but I enjoy varying styles of art, especially when the art complements the story.

I will say that one of the plot points that I find unsettling is the psionic villains showing Superman is being emotionally vulnerable or even super-sensitive. You might recall that Hector Hammond made Jimmy morose and Perry bombastic ... feeling Superman said mirrored his own! I don't think Superman is either! In this issue, the Psycho pirate attacks Superman's insecurities and almost wins. I'd like to think that Superman is pretty happy with who he is such that he doesn't harbor such feelings.

Anyways, on to the story.

Remember, the last non-Villains issue ended with the Psycho Pirate showing up at HIVE headquarters. He had psionically crushed Hector Hammond and the Queen Bee and was gloating over Superman.

I thought this was a good splash page to start the story. It isn't often that Superman is put in the defensive position on the page. Kirkham does a great job amplifying what a threat the Pirate is by having him floating over Superman, giving a sense of leverage and dominance.

And the words play into this as well. The Psycho Pirate casually talks about Clark Kent, the most important secret, the one Superman dreads being released. With that knowledge, the Pirate has an advantage and the art rams that fact at us.

And then we get a sense of just how powerful the Medusa Mask has made this Psycho Pirate. Remember, the past few months we have seen Hector Hammond and the Queen Bee taking over the city, enslaving people, possessing Superman, and battling the Man of Steel to a standstill. These two aren't slouches.

The Pirate shows how he simply eliminated them. Hammond lies broken and unconscious on the ground. And the Queen Bee? Apparently exploded into psionic honey. We have seen that the Pirate is strong. Now we hear it. We are shown evidence of it.

The mirror image composition of these panels worked well, especially the coloring showing Hammond in shadows and the Queen Bee glowing.

I am glad Hammond is back to being big-headed. I am pretty sure that Kirkham had him drained and normocephalic last issue.

One thing I like that Johnson does here is show how the Pirate might be misguided, with good intention but evil ends to those means.

It turns out that Psycho Pirate was one of the Twenty, one of the psionics mutated by Brainiac. While many went in hiding, the Queen Bee embraced her role as vanguard for Brainiac and actually wanted to set the stage for his return. She captured as many of the Twenty as she could to drain them of their power and pave the way for Brainiac. The Pirate was one of those captured but escaped The Matrix.

Okay, nice visuals of a honeycomb. And the plot of The Twenty is interesting. But, like many Lobdell stories, it all doesn't add up. We have seen in the Lois-centric annual that the Twenty mutate into Brainiac-headed monsters. We also know they eventually die. And yet, the Queen and the Pirate have normal heads as do all her prisoners. And how/why do they die? Will all that background information (remember Lois 'dying' was a major plot point of the Annual) be forgotten? Swept under the carpet.

As I said, the Pirate sounds unhinged but he has some good intentions. He wants to free the Twenty from their prison. He wants to save them and stop the Queen's plans. That is noble. But he splattered the Queen. And here he wants to drain Superman of his super-brain power (listed as psionic which seems wrong). He'll suck Superman dry of his brain energy. So the ends don't justify these means.

But I thought Orion gave Superman psionic defenses?

I hate when details are forgotten ... or not explained?

The Pirate says he needs to suck all the energy out of Superman he needs to break through Superman's defenses. And he'll do that by having him doubt key moments in time, making him relive his insecurities, and so we get some nightmarish flashbacks.

First we see a replay of the t-shirt era Superman, attacked by the police and army (as he was in the first 2 issues). This barrage makes Superman feel homesick and question his decision to move to the big city. And just like that, the first layer of defense is broken.

Now I will say again, I'd love for Superman to see these things for what they are, to have the mental toughness to realize that these memories aren't real, to know he would never question himself the way he does. But instead he simply rolls over and gives in. It makes him seem mentally soft, insecure.

Then we get a particularly rough visit to Smallville. We see a smitten Clark belittled by Lana. We see him bullied by Kenny Braverman. And then we hear the Kents say they wish he died in the rocket.

Now of all the memories, surely Clark would see through this for the farce it is. So much of who he is and who he became is because of the Kents' love. This was the seen that struck me as 'wrong' the most. That Clark was feeling significant shame in his youth seems wrong.

I understand Superman doesn't usually fight on this battlefield. But he never even questions this.

And Kenny Braverman! Is there going to be a Conduit in the New 52?

With Smallville now a horror show, the Psycho Pirate proceeds to the last line of defense, a feeling that Superman wonders if he should have died on Krypton.

Maybe I am being too hard here. But I would think that Superman is just so completely comfortable with who he is and what he does that he wouldn't harbor such negative emotions and certainly wouldn't weigh him down this much internally.

But Superman gives in ... and give up.

And just as it looks like Superman is going to be killed ...

A psionically super-charged Lois shows up. (We had seen her hospital bed empty earlier in the issue.)

She is there to defend Superman! Okay nice change of pace here - Lois saving Superman.

And crackling blue electric kind of energy? It reminds me of ...

The Strange Visitor!

So I am of two minds with this issue.

I liked the opening scene, the exposition and reveals by the Psycho Pirate and the art work in the H.I.V.E. HQ. And I liked this ending with Lois being powered, nice cliffhanger. And Tyler Kirkham's art is very nice.

And I didn't mind necessarily the attacks in the past as a concept but I very much disliked the idea that Superman has the feeling so deeply ingrained and that he would succumb to them so quickly. Heck, he kind of shrugged off the Black Mercy all those years ago. Surely he would question why Ma and Pa hate him.

Overall grade: B-


AndNowInStereo said...

Interesting. I've not read much about Psycho-Pirate before, the only time I've seen him is in the JSA Classified Power Girl arc written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Amanda Conner. This Pirate seems to be using the same tactics as that one. That seemed pretty plausible in JSA:Classified, given how messed up PG is in that story and even though the Pirate's illusions are clearly fake, they resonate with insecurities she very obviously has as set up by the first two issues of it.

Those comics also had Superman as someone she could go to for help and who comforted her, though. The New52 Clark isn't quite so reliable and assured a character as his archetypal classic self.

Anj said...

You're not the first to say that I am being a bit too critical. I am used to the old Psycho Pirate who could control emotions but didn't cast illusions like this.

And I am not against the tactic, more how quickly Superman accepted the scenarios.

I suppose you are right. I have to move on from the archetypal Superman and accept this New 52 one and his foibles.

AndNowInStereo said...

I wouldn't necessarily say you're being too critical. I haven't read Action or Superman at all (next month's Action Annual and Superman issues will be the first I buy because of the crossover), whereas you have so you're a better judge than I as to whether or not this Clark SHOULD be affected so easily by this. I've only seen him in Supergirl, where he isn't given much characterisation and so it was very easy for me as a comics newbie when I read that to project the classic Superman archetype onto him. Power Girl is written as messed-up from the beginning of JSA:Classified, so it felt like it made sense for the Pirate to get to her in that story. I don't know if the same is true here?

Martin Gray said...

Great review, and excellent point about the disparity between 20 lore. Maybe the Swarm stops the big head effect?

PRgirl1294 said...

1. I would have to agree with you on you having to move on from your archetype of Superman and start accepting this new one. Remember that this Superman is much younger, less experienced, and is in a different situation from the old one. You can't expect him to be as strong-willed. Plus, he's going up against a Psycho-Pirate who is much more powerful than the old one. He could possibly subdue the pre-DCnU Superman just as easily. We don't know.

2. As for why Queen Bee, Psycho Pirate, and the Swarm prisoners don't die or develop Brainiac heads, I'd reckon it to be a matter of used psionic energy. Senator Hume and some of the other members of the Twenty were hiding their powers, and thus that built-up energy must have overloaded on them. But Psycho Pirate and the Queen were definitely using their psionic power and she was draining it from her prisoners, so that might have at least delayed that overload of psionic energy. But I'm just speculating.

PRgirl1294 said...

Also, as for Orion's mental defenses, in-universe, I would say that the Queen probably broke down or at least penetrated those defenses when she attacked and enslaved Superman in "Superman #23". And if she was powerful enough to penetrate those barriers, Psycho Pirate is definitely strong enough to do the same, considering how much more powerful he is than her.

Anj said...

I wouldn't mind Superman eventually succumbing to the Pirate's powers.

But Clark accepting Ma saying 'we wish you were dead' seemed like a stretch.

I would just want Superman to have a little more fortitude.

Dave Mullen said...

It was perfectly readable but I do suspect the Psycho Pirate was not in Scott Lobdell's plans for this storyline, hence perhaps his name being taken off what is his story...

I feel like things have been taken off course with this arc as you had this triarch closing in with Hammond, the Queen and Brainiac with Superman sandwiched in-between. Where the Psycho-Pirate comes in is as a gatecrasher, this isn't his story, but in a way it's fitting given the chaos and patchwork quilt that Action Comics has been tuned into since #19.

If I was super-critical I would rip this story to bits for the loose ends and questions it has elbowed aside or papered over, but as a story it moves along nicely and is superficially entertaining.

Of course my inner voice also increasingly whispers to me that I am guilty of accepting the sausage factory nature of DCs modern style of editing, where books are cobbled together by committee and the writer is a mere window dressing.
Is it worrying how much like his 90s X-Men work Superman feels like these days? A book that feels like it is being assembled on the fly and subject to constant revision...?