With a mini-series written by Scott Snyder and penciled by Jim Lee, you’d think DC Comics would have a veritable home run on their hands.
Superman Unchained #1 hit store shelves June of 2013, to pretty much universal acclaim. Timed to coincide with the release of the movie, Man of Steel, the new book (which was initially announced as a new on-going series) ended up having a nine issue run. Because of production problems, the 8th and 9th issues were cancelled and re-solicited months later.
The first issue of Superman Unchained started strong enough. The story opens up with a prologue of the bombing of Nagasaki on April, 9th 1945 (a little foreshadowing intrigue for you). We then quickly switch to modern times, with all the familiar faces making appearances (Perry, Lois, Jimmy, Lex and even General Lane), and Superman saving the day.
Over the next couple issues, we’re introduced to a mysterious new super-powered being named Wraith whose metaphoric leash is being held by General Lane. And General Lane has a big ol’ chip on his shoulders when it comes to the Man of Steel.
General Lane’s got a whole mess of dangerous toys he’s just dying to unleash on Superman. Which, he does. But, before any real damage is done, Wraith appears and suddenly there’s a whole new dynamic going on. By issue three Lois is in trouble (surprise!), Superman’s had enough of General Lane and, well…you’ll just have to read the rest.
Overall the story is… okay. Which is really not okay, when you consider DC has their heavy hitters, Scott Snyder and Jim Lee, on the company’s flagship character. And especially when you consider the excellent work Snyder continues to do on Batman.
And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe expectations are the problem here.
First, there’s Wraith. I won’t give away everything about him but it’s hard to suspend disbelief about some of the details of his origin. There’s just no way the military could keep a guy of Wraith’s caliber under wraps for that long. I can suspend my disbelief with the best of them, but… c’mon! But besides all that, Wraith is just a flat character whose backstory is barely fleshed out.
Then there’s General Lane. I get it. He’s military. He’s probably threatened by Superman’s power. That whole “one guy should not have all that much power” thinking. Blah, blah, blah. I don’t like all the animosity he has for Superman. I miss the old days, pre New 52, when there was at least a bit of respect between the military and Superman. I mean, c’mon! It’s Superman! He’s the big, blue Boy Scout!
And probably the biggest problem with the story is the ending. It’s pretty weak. I won’t spoil it but I will say that it’s kind of predictable.
There’s also just too much going on with the sub-plots. It’s like they wanted to cram all this stuff in at once, and nothing really got fleshed out very well.
Don’t get me wrong. Overall, the story isn’t terrible. There are some highlights. There’s plenty of action. Terrorist organizations looking to nuke the earth. All sorts of cool, crazy mecha. Superman in Kryptonian armor (real armor). And plenty of face time for Batman and Wonder Woman.
There’s a part early on, where Wraith is relating to Superman what the future will be like for him as his human counterparts start to get old and die off while he remains immortal. It’s a well written sequence and kind of sad for ol’ Supes.
There are also some spectacular moments as in issue 7 during a showdown in which Batman and Wonder Woman team up against Wraith in the Fortress of Solitude.
Which brings me to Jim Lee’s pencils. Man. Talk about pretty pictures. You cannot go wrong with Jim Lee’s art. The book is worth it alone just to gaze upon it. Yes. That’s the fanboy in me talking now. Say what you will about Jim’s art over the years, but for your friendly neighborhood jman? Jim Lee’s still got it.
So…what should you do? If you’re a fan of Jim Lee, that’s worth the price of admission right there. But if you’re looking for a good story, you might be a little better off picking up one of Snyder’s other trades, especially Batman or Batman Eternal. There’s plenty to choose from, and the art is equally as pretty thanks to Greg Capullo’s pencils.
Before you head on out of here, don’t forget to check out the newest episode of the Almost Internet Famous Internet show. It’s been called “the cat’s pajamas”