Written by Tom King
Illustrated by Clay Mann
Published by DC Comics
“And it’ll hit me. That the laser isn’t real. Here or later. Like, one day I’ll just know that I’m real. And it’s not. And that’s Okay. And then maybe, y’know, I’ll just laugh or something.”
This month’s issue of Tom King’s super-hero murder mystery takes us back to Sanctuary in a series of vignettes taking place over the course of the day before the event which led to the deaths of a good number of DC’s super-powered community, including Roy Harper, aka Arsenal, and Wally West, the Flash.
It’s provides us with a very useful window into the set-up and working of Sanctuary itself, and the wonder-tech it employs to help its patients come face-to-face with their problems.
That technology is a sort of full-immersion VR experience, akin to the X-men’s Danger Room at its most advanced, connected directly to Sanctuary’s A.I. mainframe. Patients enter a session at a moment of their choosing and are presented there with whatever they wish to experience, along with the gentle therapeutic inquiry of Sanctuary to help them make sense of their own extra-normal ruminations.
Think a Ready Player One Therapeutic Couch™.
Clever. And suddenly the whole concept of Sanctuary takes on added weight and wonder.
Here for the first time we get a glimpse into Wally West’s experience at Sanctuary, with a poignant reminder of the life he had with his one-time wife and children. The life he lost to the DC 52 and Flashpoint reboots.
Here we see Booster Gold arriving at Sanctuary, with a rather over-done Booster-ific enthusiasm… and a surprisingly insightful grasp of his own situation…
Here we have Lagoon Boy, demonstrating for us just how effective in fact this full-immersion therapeutic work can be, in a repetitive sequence of trauma-replay exposure therapy that suggests just how remarkably Sanctuary’s wonder-tech can be utilized, with perhaps a foreshadow suggestion of what this story itself may yet turn out to be for at least one of our main characters…
And here we have death: A snapshot scene at the end of the Sanctuary massacre, with a reveal that certainly seems to pin down one of our characters as the architect of the crime.
Emphasis on ‘seems’.
If I sound skeptical, it’s only because it feels just a little too easy – or, when all is said and done, perhaps too hard.
Too easy to believe that Tom King has handed us the entire answer to this mystery so openly, so soon, and on a silver platter to boot. And too hard to believe that just this one person could so thoroughly accomplish all that has been done.
But if not just this one person, then who? Who indeed?
The answer to that question just may lie, in part, in this month’s cover art, a remarkable bit of storytelling magic in its own right, by the brilliant Clay Mann, who’s rendition of this month’s entire issue continues to be just superb.
While it would be tempting to go down a garden trail with this month’s second alternate cover image of Wonder Woman standing over the dead body of Maxwell Lord, by Ryan Sook – and hey, I’m not ruling out a vengeful Maxwell Lord by any means, particularly if during the stretch of DC’s ‘lost 10 years’ of continuity, Lord did manage to become the leader of Checkmate only to eventually be killed by Wonder Woman, after wreaking havoc throughout the superhero community – nonetheless, before we go chasing after more possible red herrings, we are probably better served at this point discussing the very real likelihood that Sanctuary itself has been made possible through a very creative utilization of the Medusa Mask.
Now this may turn out to be a red herring as well. We don’t really know exactly what’s happened to the Medusa Mask, after all. Not since, well… well, since Tom King brought it into the first arcs of his Batman run, where the Psycho Pirate, under the thumb of Doctor Hugo Strange, wielded his terrible emotional powers through the mask to destroy many, many lives, and before he was then forced to use it to repair one of those lives – the fractured mind and soul of Gotham Girl, who regained her sanity after being instructed by Psycho Pirate to be Brave and Happy… through the mask.
Since then we haven’t seen any sign of the Psycho Pirate. But we have seen one sign of the Medusa Mask. It shows up in the DC story arc The Button, in which Batman and the Flash begin to uncover some of the mystery surrounding the 10 years of continuity Dr. Manhattan has supposedly stolen from the DCU, in what appears to be an ongoing recreation of continuous multiversal reality.
The button in question, of course, is the infamous Watchmen smiley-face button. The scene with the Medusa Mask has the two objects lying side-by-side on a table in Batman’s cave (in Batman #21), when a dimensional rift sparks between the two, as if reality itself is somehow unstable between them, with fairly electric results.
Now, anyone who has more than just a very recent familiarity with the DCU, no doubt noticed straight-away on the front cover of our very first issue, just how similar the mask that Superman is holding in his hands is to Psycho Pirate’s own trademark mask. Especially given that both the villain and the artifact, played a pivotal role in DC’s very first Crisis on Infinite Earths – a reference hard to miss, given the title of this book as well.
But now here we have a second cover, one which features one of Sanctuary’s very Medusa-looking-like masks spattered with blood much like the Watchmen button as we know it is, with the reflection of both Batman and Flash staring back at us, just to drive the point of a possible connection to our most recent DCU crisis all the way home.
Add to that the revelation that the Sanctuary masks are not simply a means of anonymity for its patients, but are themselves the very wonder-tech that, once worn, connect our heroes to the therapeutic immersion VR that has been crafted via some fusion of Kryptonian science and… something else. Something else that certainly seems to be, very likely, or at least very possibly, a version of Psycho Pirate’s Medusa Mask.
I mean, it would require a little creative time-lining, perhaps, or maybe a lot of creative time-lining, so… maybe? Seems a pretty good possibility at any rate. Or a pretty big damn red herring.
But so, if this is true, what does it tell us? Well, for one thing, we know that the Medusa Mask is Very Significant. Like End-of-Creation, and a Constant throughout all of re-created space-and-time, sort of significant.
And we know that it’s been used to drive people mad – it’s been said, that Psycho Pirate could make gods go crazy, and when he unleashed his powers on Gotham, he whipped up a city-wide mob riot in no time at all…
Sounds like a dangerous thing to have floating around in the world, just ripe for the taking. Even if it is being put to good use somehow.
Too bad there’s not some sort of secret world Peacekeeping Organization out there, one tasked with keeping us safe from omega-level world-ending artifacts just like the Medusa Mask itself must certainly be…
Next Issue: World’s Greatest Detectives on the case.