Comicscape: Superman Unchained #1 (Mania.com)

By:Joel Rickenbach
Date: Thursday, June 13, 2013
Source: Mania.com

Welcome to Comicscape! Each week we'll be taking a look at a few of the week's new books in hopes of informing your comic shop purchases, or at the very least giving you 4-color thrills and chills. This week: what else could it be? Superman gets Unchained!

Superman Unchained #1 (by Scott Snyder, Jim Lee and Scott Williams)
 
"Does she walk? Does she talk? Does she come complete?"
 
Here's a cliché for you- Superman is the hardest character in comics to write. He can't be killed (and if he is he'll just come back with a bad haircut), so therefore the stakes are usually moot, and if you try to go after the ones he loves, the dude has so many powers he's gonna save them one way or another. So, how does one make Superman interesting? Few writers have cracked the code, and when they do it usually doesn't last very long (Joe Kelly and Jeph Loeb come to mind). Since the launch of the New 52, Superman has been in a bit of a trance. DC's flagship character stumbled out of the gate, and with a gigantic summer blockbuster coupled with the character's 75th anniversary on the horizon, DC had to break out the jumper cables. Interestingly enough, DC's other golden boy, Batman, is on one of the character's biggest runs in memory, all thanks to writer Scott Snyder. So, as the old saying goes- what's good for the Bat is good for the Kryptonian, so Scott Snyder now wields DC's dual pistols, and they've even loaded the Superman gun with bullets named Jim Lee.  Yes, the time is nigh for the big blue Boy Scout, and DC wants to make sure you know it's a big deal. Not only does Superman Unchained #1 have 800 covers (probably more like 7), it even has a double page sized centerfold of Supes that you can tack up on your wall, right next to Miss July.
 
"Years go by I'm lookin' through a girly magazine, and there's my homeroom angel on the pages in-between."
 
Centerfold aside, Superman Unchained is not the character redefining issue you might be expecting. Mercifully, Scott Snyder does not try to retell Superman's origin, as if anyone picking up the book, comic reader or not, doesn't already know it. Yet by the same token there's really not much iconic about this issue. I was expecting to see Superman put on the pedestal, just in a new language, but what we get is much more business as usual. That's not to say Snyder and Lee don't have an epic story to tell, by issue's end we are given a tantalizing bit of information that could make this run memorable, but the slate has not been wiped clean, Snyder and co. are still working within the designated parameters. 
 
"My blood runs cold, My memory has just been sold, My angel is the centerfold..."
 
The issue opens in Nagasaki, 1945, a child is witnessing the bomb being dropped, but instead of a mushroom cloud on impact, the bomb splits open to reveal a man, a blue man, who clearly has incredible power. Fast forward to now, and Superman is hurtling through space to try and stop 8 satellites from crashing on the Earth's surface. We're not sure who is responsible yet- Terrorist group Ascension? Lex Luthor? But all that matters is what Superman does best- saving lives. He manages to stop 7 of the 8 satellites, letting the last one fall harmlessly on an abandoned military base. After the heroic deeds, Superman confronts an aloof Lex Luthor, and even has time to write a piece on the surviving astronauts as his bespectacled alter ego, Clark Kent. For his troubles he pals with Jimmy Olsen, and gets groused by Lois Lane. It's during this last conversation that he learns all 8 satellites were stopped, so the question arises: who stopped that last satellite? The one Supes let fall to earth... Wonder Woman? Green Lantern? Superman travels deep into the ocean to find out, and what he finds is the eighth satellite, safe and sound on the ocean floor with a hand print molded into its side. Much like the ones he would leave when he is using his strength to save the world. There's a bit more to this reveal, but I'll leave that for you to discover.
 
"It's okay I understand, This ain't no never-never land, I hope that when this issue's gone, I'll see you when your clothes are on"
 
Before we dig any deeper, I can tell you that regardless of the fact that this issue isn't a landmark shift in Superman as a character, it is the most interesting he's been in a while, and that's largely due to what Snyder teases us with at the end of the issue. Snyder smartly humanizes big blue the moment we meet him. He recalls a game he played as a kid in Smallville, and how that memory lingers in his mind every time he returns to Earth's atmosphere from space. It's an inner thought that only Superman can have, and it pulls us in immediately, even if we'll never experience it. The action scene that follows is suitably grand for the guy with a "S" on his chest (It's not an "S"...), and this is where the centerfold comes in. If you ever wanted a picture of a Jim Lee rendered Superman punching a satellite in space, well, your ship has come in. The last few panels of Superman, the astronauts and the satellite plummeting to Earth are thrilling, but on the whole the scene eats up way too much of the issue. There's only so many panels of Superman wrangling with space junk one man can take before he starts to tune out. Things pick up when Superman confronts Luthor, it's a classic tête-à-tête, and is over in a flash, which is a good thing since Luthor is best in small doses. For me, it's the scene with Lois Lane that really falters. She's a very one-note, motor-mouthed, overachiever, almost as if she was ripped from a bygone era. She's talking to Clark, arguing with Perry White, and messing with the layout of the current issue of the Daily Planet via a Minority Report style virtual display. It's all a bit off-putting, and I have a feeling this is on purpose, but as readers we need to invest in Lois quickly for things to work, and this issue does not give us that opening. I hope I'm not rolling my eyes every time Lois shows up a few issues down the road.
 
Hopping over to the art for a moment- It's a very up and down affair. Jim Lee is a legend, there's no doubt, but I feel he's gotten a bit sloppy in recent years, and this issue is no exception. He nails the centerfold, but much of the action is very messy and undefined. He also needs to break out of the traditional layout shell. There is far too much reliance on small, hard to discern panels that contain very important information and/or flow. It's almost as if he focuses on the wrong thing, and then has to cram all the important stuff into 3 inches of page space. Again, when he takes his time the results are legendary, I just wish he took more time more often.
 
"A part of me has just been ripped, The pages from my mind are stripped, Oh no, I can't deny it, Oh yea, I guess I gotta buy it!"
 
What really ends up sealing the deal for Superman Unchained is what Snyder does best- build mythology. He did it with Batman and The Court of Owls, and the end of this issue reveals he's doing it again. What the last few pages suggest is there's a giant piece of mythology about to be dropped on us, and it really will add a new dimension to the tried and true Superman formula. This is also the perfect time to pull it off- much of the New 52's history is an unknown quantity, so weaving a huge new thread in the fabric of Superman is fair game. Of course, this all depends on where this story goes, and how much impact its allowed to have, but after two years of Batman- In Snyder we trust.
 
"Na na nananana na na na na nanana na na"

 

Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him onTwitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.


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