By: Mark Waid (story), Chris Samnee (art), Matthew Wilson (colors)

The Story: Let this be a lesson to all parents who allow their children to outnumber them.

The Review: Mind control is the most insidious of superpowers, whether for good or evil, but especially for evil. In the superhero genre, which often struggles to achieve real emotional dimension, mind control strikes directly at that never-bundled pulp of the characters’ hearts because nothing is scarier or more painful than the loss of self. Energy blasts and physical blows damage the physical body, but psychic attacks expose the most vulnerable parts of people.

The difference can be seen in the opening pages, as Purple Man (a.k.a. Zebediah Killgrave) uses children as his proxies, capturing and converting the poor Lahni’s son as she screams and struggles to free him. It is just as her motherly instincts are at their maximum that Zeb forcibly shuts her down, then guides her to her death, all the time telling her subdued son, “You won’t miss her.” It’s that severance between the mother-child relationship that’s tragic and horrifying, as much as Zeb’s raucous laughter as she helplessly leaps screaming off the roof.

That kind of control is intoxicating for the ego, obviously, but gives Zeb no advantage in the art of understanding and winning people’s hearts. All he wants is love—hence the kidnapping of children, the offspring of past dalliances—but he’s too sadly deluded to realize how wrongheaded his way of getting it is. You’d be inclined to feel sympathetic, especially at the beginning, when he seems most painfully aware of how his own powers obstruct real emotion: “You do love me. Yes? That’s…that’s a question. Not a command…isn’t it?” But years of getting what he wants whenever he wants it does not breed patience, and within three panels, he’s screaming at the blank-faced kids with frustration, torn between the lack of instant gratification and his unwillingness to force it: “Love me! It isn’t an order!

[Spoiler alert!] The twist is when the five children reveal they can resist his power, though not its evil influence. There’s more than a little inspiration taken from the Stepford Cuckoos in their hive mentality, dosed with a Children of the Corn creepiness. “I’ve never been to San Francisco before,” says one after they compel Zed into the path of a speeding streetcar. “Come along, brothers and sisters.” But this is the byproduct of having their heritage thrust upon them; as the involuntary conversion of their newest sibling shows, they weren’t born this way.

In contrast to Zeb’s utter failure to finagle his way to true love, Kirsten and Matt are finding more success doing it the hard way. Despite the PDA, they’ve got plenty of issues to work out looming near the surface, some having to do with the unique pressures of being Daredevil’s girlfriend, others…well, still having to do with that, but closer to home. If Kirsten’s going to be the Lois Lane* of this outfit, we need to know a lot more about her, and introducing her estranged dad and stepmom (whom Kirsten describes with a whole zoo of unflattering metaphors: barracuda, cougar, etc.) is a good start. Unfortunately, Kirsten’s dad is also pulled into Matt’s orbit, which is the core problem for Mirsten** unless Matt finds a way to set up boundaries between his personal and public lives, fast.

After a couple months away, Samnee instantly reminds you why he’s such a force for this title. The opening pages show that he has as much command over the storytelling as Zeb does over everyone else. Each panel doesn’t merely continue the action; it reveals information in the most dramatic way. Samnee’s not afraid to make wide shifts of POV to keep you focused on what’s important: the doomed Lahni’s legs as she climbs the stairs, Zeb caressing her converted son’s cheek as her back slowly proceeds upwards, her hand pushing open the door to the roof, the tiny figure of her body as it tumbles off the side of her apartment building. Kudos to Wilson for the interplay of black, blue, and purple in a noir-ish scene, and kudos also to Joe Caramagna for the purple lettering to denote when mind control is in play.

Conclusion: Waid and Samnee at nearly their very best, although they cut short exploration of their latest villain.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * An apt comparison since Kirsten wryly notes that flattery is Matt’s “kryptonite.” So I’m assuming Superman comics exist in the Marvel U? Otherwise whence comes the concept of kryptonite?

** Which is how I’d like to refer to them from now on. Go on. You know you want to.

– A potential weakness for Matt: his acute sensitivity to motion makes him prone to seasickness. Makes you wonder how he’s gonna handle the BART—or the next big quake.