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A Hero in His Own Mind: Action Comics #891 [Review]

If you’ve had any exposure to the character of Lex Luthor throughout his decades of playing the role of Superman’s nemesis then you don’t need me to tell you that Lex can be something of an egomaniac from time to time. Lex is a supremely talented, highly intelligent individual, and he’d be the first one to proudly admit to those facts. So it’s no surprise that when writer Paul Cornell takes us on a tour of Lex’s fantasies by way of everyone’s favorite miniscule malevolent telepath, Mister Mind, Lex often envisions himself as someone special and apart from his fellow man.When he appears as figures akin to Prometheus and Victor Frankenstein, we see Luthor as he so often sees himself: a remarkable man who is persecuted for the gifts he seeks to give the rest of humanity. We see him later as a wild west sheriff and as an all too familiar superhero, living out his self-appointed role as protector of the great unwashed of the human race. But what’s surprising about the trip is that while Luthor clearly has the same massive ego he’s always had, he’s also self-aware of the problems he poses to himself, capable of identifying obstacles, and willing to second guess himself in ways that are unexpected. And the result is that Cornell continues to create a strong leading character for his “Action Comics” run.

Of course, it should be pointed out that Mister Mind isn’t exercising the best tactical decision-making here. If you’re in the DC Universe and assembling some sort of mysterious master plan, you should probably first sit down and assemble a basic list of assumptions that should not be built into that plan. Constructing an operation that is dependent on beating the Flash in a footrace would be, for example, inadvisable. As would designing a caper that hinges on emerging victorious from a hide and seek match against Batman. And only slightly below those two would be making sure your evil scheme in no way assumes that you’ll be able to defeat Lex Luthor in a mental contest taking place in his own head. Then again if you’re a tiny green squishy thing whose only real asset is mind control, I guess you’ve got to play to your strengths and hope it works. In any other book it’s possible Mister Mind’s plan might have been successful, at least for a little while. But he made the unfortunate choice of picking a fight with Lex when he happened to be the story’s protagonist. Oops.

It’s unclear exactly what Mister Mind is after, although it’s apparent that someone else has secured Mind’s services to delve into Luthor’s brain and alter his thoughts and that Luthor’s fantasies are being used as a distraction to make him comfortable and compliant. Or at least they would be if Luthor didn’t catch on quick. By the second fantasy Dr. Frankenstein-Luthor, aided by assistant Lois Lane, her hair styled into a mad-science approved beehive, starts to sense something’s amiss. Upon drawing back the sheet covering the inhuman monster Luthor is afraid to let loose on the world, he’s shocked to find the creature is not Superman but is in fact himself.

Prompted by the Lois in his fantasies, Luthor begins to second guess himself, to consider options and strategies that wouldn’t normally occur to him. He begins to realize, even though he’s not necessarily willing to admit it out loud, that sometimes he can be his own worst enemy. And it’s this openness to viewpoints he would usually ignore that leads Lex to both triumph over Mister Mind and then sets him on a decisive path in his search to find more power rings in the wake of the events of “Blackest Night.” More than that, seeing Luthor as an egomaniac who’s becoming gradually conscious of the threats his inflated self-opinion poses to his plans makes him a more complex character who’s fully capable of carrying the role of the book’s lead. I’ve been more drawn into Luthor’s quest than I ever thought I would be, and this arc is showing signs of being by far the best thing to happen that has any connection to the events of “Blackest Night.”

Oh, and if that’s not enough to get you interested, this issue also includes several panels where Mister Mind wears a cowboy hat and holds a six-shooter. Poor little fella, the harder he tries to be threatening, the more laughably adorable the result is.

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