On the first cover of Heroes in Crisis, Tom King and Clay Mann's upcoming seven-issue event comic, is an image of Superman holding a mask that looks similar to the one worn by the DC characters Psycho-Pirate.
And upon closer examination, that mask isn't the only one on the cover. There are several hooded figures, wearing white, who are wearing similar masks.
This isn't the first time Psycho-Pirate's mask has been associated with a "Crisis," but more specifically, it's not even the first time the mask has played a part in a major DC event in the last year. This thing has been all over the DCU.
So what role could the mask be playing in Heroes in Crisis?
DC has revealed that Heroes in Crisis will focus on Sanctuary, a place where DC characters are being helped with the trauma of constantly dealing with violence. Because of clues seeded through recent comic books, we know Batman has sent people like Poison Ivy to Sanctuary to be treated by "robots and holograms" - seemingly, these masked individuals. And he's stated that people can be suspended "in cryogenic stasis until a cure can be found" for any mental problem they're having.
King has also announced that Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman are the ones who set up Sanctuary, hoping to help people with the psychological effects of violence, including PTSD.
Where did Psycho-Pirate come from?
To review, King introduced Psycho-Pirate and his powerful Medusa Mask to the "Rebirth" DCU in Batman #2.
Psycho-Pirate is the alter ego of Roger Hayden, a character who's been around since the 1940's, using his Medusa Mask to project emotions onto other people. If he tells a person to be happy, then he'll be happy. If he tells someone she's afraid, then she's afraid.
But Psycho-Pirate's powers are so strong that they can really mess with a person's psyche. As Amanda Waller told Bruce Wayne in Batman #4, "the Psycho-Pirate is a man who could make gods go mad."
In fact, Psycho-Pirate actually does drive a couple people mad in the Batman story where he's introduced. A superpowered character named Gotham goes so insane that he ends up dead, and another named Gotham Girl is severely messed up by the experience, paralyzed by fear.
Gotham Girl's resulting mental disability drives Batman to hunt down Psycho-Pirate (even fighting Bane for him at one point).
Eventually, Batman succeeds and brings Psycho-Pirate and his mask back to Gotham City.
Radical New Therapy
So the last time we saw Psycho-Pirate, he was locked within the super-secure east wing of Arkham Asylum in Batman #17, also written by King.
Alfred had taken Gotham Girl into Psycho-Pirate's cell, manipulating things to make sure they wouldn't be disturbed, and had forced Psycho-Pirate at gunpoint to heal Gotham Girl's phobia (which he had earlier caused).
Alfred made a statement about it being a "radical new therapy."
"This technique will require utter isolation, for four days," Alfred said.
Alfred carefully held the Psycho-Pirate's mask up to his face and said, "Brave. Now."
Psycho-Pirate did as he was told. Wearing the mask, he said, "You are brave."
Days later, Gotham Girl was shown to be healed.
Soon after, the mask was shown to be in Batman's possession. The bloody Watchmen button reacted in conjunction with the mask, causing a hole to rip in the Speed Force.
That event led to a DC event called "The Button," where Barry Allen and Bruce Wayne saw evidence of Dr. Manhattan's manipulation of the timeline (although they didn't discover who was behind it).
Then later at the beginning of Dark Nights: Metal, the prequel issue Dark Days: The Casting showed Batman using Psycho-Pirate mask to put together a machine that could access what he called "the dark." But when he used the machine, he unwittingly "broke the seal" that allowed the evil Barbatos to cross over from the Dark Multiverse.
So where did the mask go after that?
If the cover of Heroes in Crisis #1 can be believed, the mask is at Sanctuary.
Could the mask be utilized for mental healing, similar to what was done for Gotham Girl in the Batman that King also wrote?
Could Alfred's "radical new therapy" be at the center of the work done at Sanctuary, with staff members utilizing its powers to make people "brave" or "confident" again after suffering trauma?
And let's not forget that Psycho-Pirate also has another ability: He retains memories of DC's continuity changes. In fact, the memories of 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths eventually drove Psycho-Pirate insane. He was locked up in Arkham Asylum, where he talked seemingly nonsensically about past worlds that lived and died.
This power was confirmed in Batman #17 when Psycho-Pirate talked about "all the worlds," and how they're always being "re-born."
This is particularly poignant in the current DCU, where Dr. Manhattan is apparently messing with the timeline, something being explored in Doomsday Clock.
When King was asked about the character's ability to remember previous timelines, he confirmed that the Pirate remembers continuity that no longer exists," and that's "one of the appeals of having him in this book, and tying him into the story spine of the greater DCU."
Could the mask that's apparently being utilized at Sanctuary be tied to the 10 missing years being explored in the greater DCU?
With the mask already playing a role in "The Button," Dark Nights: Metal and now Heroes in Crisis, it's possible that this object could not only be at the center of the therapies in Sanctuary, but it might be one of the keys to DC characters unlocking the mysteries of "Rebirth."
Heroes in Crisis #1 is scheduled to go on sale September 26.