REVIEW: “Superman Unchained” #1

(DC Comics, 2013)

Review by Shawn Warner

WRITTEN BY:  Scott Snyder
PENCILS BY:  Jim Lee & Dustin Nguyen
INKS BY:  Dustin Nguyen & Scott Williams

The sky is falling, well not really but the satellites in it sure seem to be falling out of it at an alarming rate. So who else could save the day from such perilous events but Big Blue himself, Superman? Not just any Superman but Superman as brought to us by Batman scribe extraordinaire Scott Snyder and legendary artist Jim Lee, so to say that expectations are high would be beyond an understatement. In fact these kinds of big titles with big names attached to them can sometimes falter under the weight of such high expectations however, I am happy to report that is not the case here. Superman Unchained comes out of the gate with guns blazing. There is no lengthy build up, it is action just about from page one and there are very few more qualified to bring that action to life than Jim Lee. He is at the top of his game here, time has not diminished his vast arsenal of skills, and quite to the contrary he seems to have gotten better in the interval between his stint on Justice League at the launch of the New 52 and now. Though we have seen his work on Superman many times in the past this is a more multi-faceted Man of Steel, much more than a new uniform this Superman is beefed up and intimidating when necessary without losing the benevolent warmth betrayed by his boyish facial features. Lee nails the balance between savior of the world and Boy Scout this comes with the intimacy with which he knows this character.

The story centers on an as yet unknown villain or terrorist group responsible for hurling satellites at the Earth from space. The opening pages, including a fold-out poster are lavishly rendered scenes of Superman rescuing a team of astronauts from being victims of one such attack. The hyper-detailed wreckage and anguished facial features of the characters are visually stunning. It is impossible to heap enough accolades upon Lee’s work on this book, to say it is incredible would be vastly insufficient and would very quickly become redundant suffice to say there is not a panel in this book that is not a treat to scrutinize with the same eye a jeweler would use to gaze upon a flawless diamond. It is that good.

Scott Snyder does an equally excellent job of writing this Superman of the New 52. In fact he seems to have very intentionally modified this Superman to be an integral part of the New 52. He appears to feel at home in this universe where other super-heroes exist and he is friends with and even a member of a team of these heroes. Perhaps even more so than Superman, Clark seems to fit right into this world where he no longer works at the Daily Planet but maintains very close ties with Jimmy (now Jim) Olsen and Lois Lane. Clark and Jim share bagels while he and Lois discuss Superman’s response to the rash of plummeting satellites. Snyder writes dialogue that is deeply human and rings true; each character’s voice is unique and recognizable, which is in my opinion the mark of good dialogue. The rhythm, the back and forth between characters is impeccable and gives his dialogue that much more credibility. Clark learns from Lois that one of the satellites that was missed by Superman and crashed harmlessly into the sea was reported to have been stopped by him. This prompts a further investigation in which Superman finds a hand print on the satellite wreckage right before he is accidentally fired upon by a submarine carrying General Lane, Lois’ father. It seems they were destroying the remains of this satellite for reasons that make much more sense when you see the final page reveal.

Snyder masterfully builds up to the reveal, he mentions possible perpetrators; Ascension, the terrorist group and of course Lex Luthor is not beyond suspicion. In one of the books most exciting scenes Superman questions Lex in a helicopter over Metropolis. He turns the chopper upside down but never manages to rile Luthor who sits calmly reading the Iliad. The interaction with Lex is just one of the many classic elements that are meticulously incorporated with the new mythology of the New 52. The changes to Superman and to Clark; how he relates to his friends and to the world around him are what make this Superman vital and genuine. Scott Snyder has given Superman a vivacity that has been sorely missing for some time and I can’t wait for the next issue of Unchained.

Snyder teams up with Dustin Nguyen for the short two page back-up story. It deals with the falling satellites but from a very different angle. It is visually darker as is the subject matter as we see a fishing boat hoist up its nets only to find something much more disturbing than the catch of the day contained within them. Jim Olsen and Perry White are written so well here that it is more like a transcribed conversation than scripted discussion, that is how real and human the dialogue is composed. Nguyen’s art is solid as always.

At a time when there is “Supermania” surrounding the release of Man of Steel, the requisite toy lines and myriad collectibles only the crème de la crème will survive the general public’s rather short-lived and fickle “what’s next” mentality and as of writing this review Man of Steel has not been released so it remains to be seen whether or not it will live up to the hype but Superman Unchained #1 has leapt the proverbial tall building of critical speculation in a single bound.  Jim Lee has delivered some of the best pages in his illustrious career and Scott Snyder has furthered his claim to comic book superstardom. If there were any doubts at all as to whether or not you should pick this book up let me unequivocally remove those for you at this time. Superman Unchained is as close to perfect as you are likely to get, a rock solid 4.75 out of 5, the only thing that detracted from being a 5 for me was the unorthodox poster pages that you had to unfold to follow the story. While beautiful and worthy of framing I would much rather have had the option not to deal with the cumbersome manner in which this was executed. That is such a minor complaint that it scarcely registers and should not even be considered when picking this book up. So until next time, see you at the comic book store.


Follow Shawn Warner on Twitter:  @shawnwarner629

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