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Superman Unchained #2 – Review

SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #2

By: Scott Snyder (story), Jim Lee (pencils), Scott Williams (inks), Alex Sinclair (colors)

The Story: Superman multitasks rampaging robots, black hole tech, and doppelgangers.

The Review: It didn’t register on me last time, but since it has a back-up feature, that means it’s one of DC’s few, extra-sized series: a higher price point for an added page count.  Since Snyder only uses a couple pages for his back-up, he basically has three extra pages for his own use.  In similar fashion to how stifled DC comics felt after they reduced their page counts two years ago, it’s remarkable how much more substantial those additional pages make the story.*

Even without them, the issue would have felt pretty dense anyway; that’s just how Snyder writes.  But those pages allow Snyder to add all those wonderful, brainy details that make his stories so naturally fascinating to read: references to Greek history (i.e., Apollodorius), British folk figures (i.e. Ned Ludd), and labor movement ballads sung to the tune of battle hymns.  Unlike Geoff Johns, who throws in these things to give his work a veneer of sophistication, Snyder uses them to enrich the story, to comment on the action, to hint on events to come.

For Snyder’s part, he uses just enough scientific principle to give Superman’s fantastic adventures some anchoring—yet even just some can be crucial to keeping that suspension of disbelief necessary to appreciate Superman’s feats.  Too often, his extraordinary powers are overused in such blunt fashion that there’s no thrilling creativity to it at all.  It’s nice to see him actively use his brain to solve problems, revealing not only the physical limitations of his abilities (“…the heat will sear anyone standing near the windows.  And the freeze will make the glass brittle.  They’ll die burned and frozen.”), but his own ingenuity as well, which is just as spectacular as his execution (creating a waterspout and freezing it to catch a collapsing tower).*

At the same time, Snyder finds fresh ways to challenge Superman aside from making the enemy bigger, brawnier, more unbelievably powerful.  It’s as if he takes a page out of Grant Morrison’s book in taking old ideas and adding a bit of Silver Age polish to make them seem new.  Giant robots and high-tech weaponry are no new obstacles to the Man of Steel, but how about giant robots equipped for civil construction purposes (“The world’s tallest crane.  Concrete drum with a hundred-thousand-pound output.  Steel cutters.”) and weaponry powered by space phenomena (“Black Hole Lasers.  We got black hole bullets, too.  Little fifty-caliber rockets with these light vacuums inside…”)?

Snyder also challenges Superman by using the old strategy of simply giving him more threats to neutralize.  Ascension, with Cyborg-baffling technical know-how, can hide itself and strike from anywhere.  This other sun-absorbing being, potentially older, stronger, and more experienced than Superman himself, will definitely be hard to just K.O. in the usual ways.  And then there’s Lex Luthor, proving he’s as diabolically clever as ever, using his solar-tree model to effect his escape and outsmarting his imprisoners even in a coma, all with a delightfully grandiose air: “Beep, beep, Warden.  Out of the way, please!  It’s time for me to save the world!

It goes to show that no matter how plot-driven his stories are, Snyder always remembers how essential good character work is to making them come to life.  As arrogant a prick as General Lane is, his unblinking face-off with Superman makes it impossible not to respect his guts.  Batman tempers his cold ploys with Clark by revealing how he secretly wants to abandon the master plans out of trust for his friend (as seen in the brief back-up drawn and colored by Dustin Nguyen and John Kalisz).  And Lois and Clark have never seemed so compatible in their journalistic rivalry and affection.  “Be careful, Lois,” he tells her as they fly off to pursue their respective stories.

Never, Smallville.”

Never let it be said that Lee can’t draw an attractive image.  Quite frankly, there are now stronger pop artists in the business nowadays, but Lee is the father of them all and, unlike many of his contemporaries, he’s managed to refine his work to remain relevant, looking almost as sleek and modern as during his heyday.  If there’s a certain sameness to his characters (you can easily confuse an unmasked Bruce for a coiffed-up Clark), he makes up for it with big, bold action that captures the thrilling scale and fun of Superman adventures.  Who better to add sparkle to that than Sinclair, the man half-responsible for the fantastic look of Johns’ epic Green Lantern tales?

Conclusion: A bit cumbersome in words, a trifle flat in art, but these are forgettable flaws for an otherwise ideal sample of a Superman story.

Grade: A-

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Makes you wonder how other DC titles would prosper given that kind of extra room for storytelling, huh?

* I find it interesting that Superman simply resigns himself to the possibility of casualties in his endeavors, no matter what he does: “People will die.  But hopefully most will…”

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2 Responses

  1. I was cautious about both Snyder and Lee on this title. Snyder tends to be more comfortable with “darker” material and I didn’t know how he’d take to a character like Superman who has a much brighter aspect to him and is known for the “epic adventures/battles”. Lee can either be on his game or just telephones in his work (as I believe he did with the New 52 Justice League). Lee also has a touch of the “Liefelds” about him in that a lot of his characters look like each other. Both have impressed me just two issues in. It’s the only Superman title I’ve been interested in since Morrison did All Star Superman. DC wanted a title that cashed in on the hype of “Man of Steel” (which I enjoyed) and I believe they’ve got a winner in Superman Unchained.

    • They definitely don’t have a winner in either Action Comics or Superman. Speaking as someone who’s never really cared for Lobdell’s writing, I really don’t understand how he wound up headlining two titles from one of DC’s biggest icons.

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