Review: Superman Unchained #1

supesunchained1

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Superman. His Boy Scout persona, something that many creators have identified as favorite traits of his, has always turned me off primarily because it eliminates a large category of potential stories. Superman doesn’t really have the same crises of morality and self-interest that other heroes have, because he’s always driven to save others at any and all costs. There’s this central lack of mental anguish to his actions that resulted, in my eyes, in most his stories being stories of him finding some way to beat a force that happens to be stronger than him. That gets boring, fast.

That said, I am a huge fan of Batman, and Scott Snyder’s run on that character is approaching legendary status as he goes into his third major arc of his run (“Zero Year”, starting this month with issue #21). Snyder has become one of my favorite creators, so a Superman book written by him and drawn by the incomparable Jim Lee, whose work on Justice League earlier in the New 52 was utterly fantastic, was a very attractive prospect. I decided to give Superman another shot, and see if a new creative team could charm me.

Turns out that while they haven’t yet managed to persuade me that there’s an interesting character here, they have managed to convince me that the character can provide a fun thrill ride.

I’m going to get this out of the way first: this is an unabashed stunt issue, and that’s okay in the long run: but it hurts this issue. There’s a big fold out poster roughly the size of four pages, double-sided, with an admittedly gorgeous spread of art. The creator’s names are larger on the cover of this book than on other books, and the cover itself is a glossy, thicker stock than typical covers are. It’s $5 instead of the typical DC $4 for flagship characters. And while it will certainly get more people reading this title, it’s not the best thing for this single issue. It’s a rather humble first issue, with a contained conflict as Superman struggles to stop a falling satellite from going nuclear (some sketchy science going on here) and doing some real damage, all while hinting gently at a greater conflict to come. The stunt trappings cause this story to underwhelm a bit, which I was disappointed by.

But make no mistake: this is still a very solid issue. Jim Lee’s art is, as always, fantastic (that is, if you like Jim Lee’s pencils. If you are good with his line art then you’ll love this issue, but if Lee has never clicked with you then it won’t convert you). The four-page spread is particularly impressive, and I’m sure that Lee had a great time drawing it – there’s a lot of very visible care in that image. He handles the big space moments well, but also the smaller moments with Clark, Jim and Lois obsessing the small details of running the paper.

Snyder’s story is intriguing, but again, this is a #1, and serves mostly as setup, both of plot and tone. He puts a big action setpiece first, and then starts laying some groundwork, to make it clear that this will be an action comic with a story to tell – not unlike his Batman run – but he doesn’t really get to the business of telling that story quite yet. The relationships between the characters are a bit ill-defined at the moment, as well: does Lois know Clark is Superman? Does Jim? Is this taking place “now”, in the New 52 present with all the Justice League’s woes happening concurrently? I expect more will become clear in next month’s issue, but for a #1 there’s a lot left rather amorphous that should be more defined.

I don’t mean to sound overcritical: I really enjoyed this issue on the whole. It was a fun action story that entertained me and got me excited for Man of Steel on Friday. It’s lacking in a couple of areas, but the art is gorgeous and Snyder’s script is still entertaining to read. But for a big stunt #1, it could use a bit more punch, and a bit more definition.

Verdict: B-

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