When this comic began, it had a fairly simple premise: a Superman-analogue goes bad and turns against the world. Part of the draw of the series, at least initially, was finding out why.
This would be enough to keep a normal book floating for a couple of years, but Mark Waid decided not to go the tried-and-true route. Instead, we knew by issue #11 exactly what drove the Plutonian (or "Tony") over the edge. No one event drove Tony to madness. Rather, several factors contributed to his turning: the disconnection from humanity due to his powers, the feeling that no one appreciated him for all of the good he did, and the realization that humanity may not be worthy of his attention or his faith. Some of this is ultimately contradictory, but hey, that's how the mind works! It is rare to see such care taken in examining the psychology of a character, and Mark Waid should be applauded for creating a hero/villain with such depth.
With issue #12, the Plutonian's secrets are laid bare, and we finish our slide into the next arc of this story. After his brother's death, Charybdis has reclaimed all of his powers and is now strong enough to present an actual threat to the Plutonian. After wiping the floor with Tony in their first match-up, Charybdis (or "Cary") has dubbed himself "The Survivor," and taken command of the remains of the Paradigm. Unfortunately, this power boost also boosted Cary's ego, and he expects not only the loyalty of the remaining members of the Paradigm, but adoration from the public, and he gets quite upset when he gets neither. Cary is on the same path to destruction as Tony, and the US government is not willing to wait for him to reach the breaking point. With the Plutonian apparently out of the picture, the government engages the services of Orian, an interdimensional bounty hunter, to take down the rest of the Paradigm, which he quickly does by maiming Gilgamos and using him and Bette Noire as bait. Meanwhile, Tony went to the grave of his former sidekick, Samsara, to recover from the beating he suffered at the hands of Cary, only to discover that Samsara was still alive. Unbeknownst to Tony, Samsara is inhabited by the spirit of Modeus, the Plutonian's greatest enemy (and the Lex Luthor to his Superman).
That brings us to this issue, where we see the Paradigm take on Orian, and Tony confront his former foster family. While I enjoyed the continued exploration of Tony's psychology, the fight with Orian was somewhat less enjoyable. Cary, for all his powers, is unable to put much of a dent in Orian. This is the same person who put the beat-down on the Plutonian just a couple of issues ago, and the fact that Orian is seemingly stronger than either of them lessens the sense of danger that you are supposed to feel whenever the Plutonian makes an appearance. This was palpable in the earlier issues, but much less so here.
My other big problem is that Waid has started to introduce events into the story which have taken place off panel. The transformation of Cary into "The Survivor" from a couple of issues back was only mentioned in the summary at the beginning of the issue, rather than shown in the comic itself. Here, we learn that Scylla's body is missing from a comment made by Charybdis in the course of the fight with Orian. I understand that there are only so many pages to be used for story each month, but having important details dropped during seemingly innocuous conversations really pulls me out of the story. It makes me feel like I missed an issue somewhere.
By the end of the story, Tony is on the move again and the Paradigm is out of the picture. These new developments are quite intriguing, and I'm very interested in seeing what Tony's next move is, as well as what will happen to the Paradigm (and where Orian dragged Cary off to).
I have to admit that while I did think Peter Krause was off-model for part of the story, I did not initially realize that he only drew the second half of the book. Diego Barreto is a good match for his style, and the change in artists halfway through the book is not jarring at all, at least to my eye. Krause does a good job with expressions, although many of his faces still look a bit weird to me (eyes set slightly too low, overly large foreheads, etc.). Barreto lacks some of Krause's detail, but his figures look a bit more natural.
Was this a good issue? It certainly was not the strongest in the series. For all the fighting, this really was a set-up for the next stage of the story. Still, the peeks into the minds of Bette Noire and Tony were entertaining, and you can definitely see shades of "Kingdom Come" in some of the dialogue in this issue, particularly Quibit's assertion that "We're all that can save you." So while this was not the best issue, it was still a solid and entertaining read.