Review: Superman #23
With the release of Superman #23, former Supergirl writer Michael Johnson takes over the writing duties for current series writer Scott Lobodell. Now that the announced Psi War is currently in effect, how does Johnson do his first time with this title? The result is a middle-of-the-road experience that returns good characterization to Superman but ultimately doesn’t feel like a compelling story.
A definite strength that Johnson brings to this issue is how he writes Superman. Former writer Lobodell definitely had a “bad boy with powers” take on the Man of Steel, with his Superman often coming off as a jerk who would use his powers for wrong means, such as when he burned rival reporters Q-Pads with his heat vision. Lobodell’s Superman would also usually try to spout witty one-liners and frequently showed anger, which are traits that most do not associate with classic “Boy Scout” Superman. In this issue, Johnson gives the reader a Superman who fights hard against the H.I.V.E. Queen because he believes she means to enslave the population and doesn’t throw out one-liners that feel forced. He also attempts to take the fighting away from the city and doesn’t even hurt anyone when they are attacking him while being mind controlled. It is a great feeling to see a Superman that is characterized as a hero trying to save those around him, as it gives the reader sympathy for him while feeling much more true to the character’s personality.
The story is opened by an in medias res moment that doesn’t make much sense in the context until the very end, thus making the developments of the entire issue pointless overall. The long and drawn out narration text that accompanies this sequence doesn’t help, and there is no way to tell until the very end of the issue whether this voice is a character or just a very talkative narrator. The plot eventually gives us a power play of mind warfare between the H.I.V.E. Queen and Hector Hammond that really gives those reading no one to root for, since both characters are very unsympathetic. It does not help that Superman is taken out of commission for a big chunk of this story and isn’t really able to do much against either the Queen or Hammond. At a moment in the proceedings, Hammond actually has two police officers shoot one another in a very random act of violence that is not really ever dealt with or resolved. Was it done to showcase Hammond’s brutal nature, just how powerful he can be with his mind control? Or was it perhaps a way to raise the stakes for what Superman has to stop? We are never told, and the ending comes abruptly with Superman rushing across Metropolis to find both his current enemies incapacitated with a new enemy now ready to strike. Finally, while it is nice to see Lois Lane show up, her moment is wasted. She only wakes from her coma surely with knowledge concerning Superman’s current predicament and is purely there for a future issue set up.
On the art front, previous New 52 Superman artist Jesus Merino does a good job with what he is given from the story. His Hector Hammond is certainly extremely creepy looking, and seeing Metropolis residents fighting one another and Superman while either controlled by the Queen or Hammond is an interesting sight to behold. Merino gives the citizens under mind control blank expressions that does enhance how they mere puppets in this Psi War, and a panel that is particularly effective involves the Queen holding her hands to Superman’s head while he screams in agony. However, some paneling in the plot can be confusing at times. We first see Hector Hammond show up in a page that could have served as a good cliffhanger resolution, but a panel above showing the Queen’s reactions to Hammond before we ever see him ruins the entrance. Also, a sequence involving citizens climbing one another to grab Hammond is well done and evokes images of World War Z, but the positioning of panels on this page makes the lettering confusing to understand at first, as some of the words can be read out of sequence.
Overall, Superman #23 is a mediocre start to the Psi War crossover that will continue next in Action Comics #24. While it is great to see Superman’s characterizations improve, he takes a backseat this issue to two larger-than-life characters that aren’t very compelling or interesting enough to invest in. Hopefully, the next issue of this little event will improve things, but what has been shown so far is not that impressive.
Superman #23 gets a 2.5/5