Superman Unchained #1 review

There are no chains from which Superman breaks free in this issue. A better title would be Superman Unfolded, by virtue of the worst gimmick any DC comic has ever offered the world. Worse than stick-on Lobo. Worse than cardboard Bat heads. Worse, even, than plastic 'diamonds' that wreck every other comic around them.

It's two pages of story that fold out of the comic, each four times the size of a regular page. You're thrown out of the story as you try to figure out how it works. Which direction do you pull it from to avoid destroying the thing? Is that actual glue?

Finally, you gingerly unfold the images, expecting something awesome for the $4.99 this comic has cost you ...

... can you say 'underwhelming'? The first page has Superman smashing through a plummeting space station and you have to squint to see the Man of Steel. On the other side, there's an oddly contorted Superman, bashing something, with narration panels obscured by the cardboard the page is stuck to. Literally, every other page in this comic is more engaging. None of them, though, deserves to be seen at four times the regular size. Heck, none of them deserves to be on the extra-thick stock this series gets. I'll take 20 pages for $2.99, or 30pp for $3.99 (which is how many we'd get without eight of them being used for two images). I don't want 24 pages including a gimmick that not only adds nothing, it detracts from the story.

And it's a good story from Scott Snyder and Jim Lee. It doesn't need any kind of gimmick to sell big - even without their reputations, this issue would move units because it's a first-class Superman book, and DC has printed too few of them over the last few years.

Snyder's story ranges from Nagasaki in 1945 to Earth's outer atmosphere today. A human bomb that may have been the true cause of the city's destruction looks to have descendants today. Something, anyway, is knocking objects out of the sky, including the new Lighthouse international space station. One, though, has wound up in the sea. And it's asking for one of Superman's friends ...

'The Leap' also sees Lex Luthor outline his plans for a futuristic power source in Metropolis, Jimmy Olsen discover a new bagel palace and Lois Lane demonstrate that she may be an excellent news gatherer, but she can't write to length.

Or perhaps she's so in love with her own prose that she won't, as implied in an unbelievable scene that sees Lois moving a paid-for advertisement around the Daily Planet's pageplan to make more room for her story. It's unbelievable not because the Planet's 'book' is manipulated via Minority Report-style floating holograms, but because no reporter has advertising department privileges. Honestly, I can suspend my belief only so far.

Never mind, I like Snyder's Lois - sharp, non-bitchy, helping Clark with his newsblog start-up. I like his Perry, who knows enough to remind Lois that advertisers actually pay for certain positions. And I like his eager beaver, yet not stupid, Jimmy (though Snyder insists on folk calling him Jim as if there's something wrong with Dick ... er, Jimmy - for a second I thought Superman was being radioed by Commissioner Gordon)

My favourite aspect of this book is Clark's narration, which speaks to his intelligence; I often baulk at folksy Smallville reminiscences, but there's one here that tries to explain what it means to have the power or a god and still remain human. And away from his inner life, Snyder presents a Superman not feared and hated, as in many of his recent appearances, but trusted by the world - just as it should be.

Luthor is obnoxiously up himself, which is how I like him, quietly delighted that Metropolis city chiefs are allowing him to, no doubt, literally plant a weapon among them in the shape of his Golden Tree project. I might rail at their stupidity, trusting a man who has proven dangerously unstable, but it's not as if city councillors aren't known for hubris - they obviously believe that if they keep him on a short leash, he'll perform.

(I just hope this isn't the start of Snyder importing the widespread stupidity that allows Gotham's Arkham Asylum to serve as a revolving-door-respite-home for psychotic criminals.)

Intriguing plot seeds for the future include a terrorist group named Ascension, and new Metropolis supermax, The Maw - Luthor's latest home. There's also an evolution of one of Superman's powers, at least in terms of description.
Jim Lee and inker Scott Williams produce powerful panels aplenty, with a good-looking Superman dominating every scene in which he appears. The new costume Lee designed for the Man of Steel looks best when you can pretend it's the old one, like here. Otherwise, it still looks weird, especially the too-skimpy cape.

The supporting cast look good generally, especially Jimmy, who gains an old-fashioned reporter's trilby. Lois, though, should be depicted wearing actual clothes, rather than, it appears, body paint. Silly fold-outs apart, the action scenes impress, while the new character who debuts at the end of the issue has a memorable design.

Dustin Nguyen draws a two-page epilogue, presumably due to some deadline crunch, as it's indisputably part of the main story. He does bring a doomier, darker style to proceedings, which works for the sequence ... this is partly due to a different colourist, as John Kalisz takes over from Alex Sinclair. Both artists help the pages look good. Sal Cipriano letters throughout.

All in all, a solidly entertaining debut with some fine stylistic flourishes and hints of big things to come. As I said, this isn't a comic that needs to hide behind a gimmick. One thing we learn this issue is that even handcuffed, Lex Luthor is an ace at origami - if only the master paper cutter had been put in charge of Superman Unchained's opening gimmick.

Comments

  1. Like you, I find a lot to like in Snyder's writing (even Lois' manipulation of ad space, but maybe because I'm used to working for smaller papers and publications where you might just make those suggestions no matter your position), but I think I dislike Jim Lee's art even more than you do. There isn't a single page where I don't have issues with clarity, staging or plain old common sense (I blame him for Lois' magic screens, and there's no way Lex did that origami holding the book like that).

    Compare to Capullo's work with Snyder in this week's Batman issue. The way things are hidden and revealed, for example. I wasn't keen on Capullo when the New52 began, seeing him as just another flashy early Image artist, but he's really been doing solid work on that book, and remarkably free of fill-ins.

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    1. I do agree that a reporter can suggest moving an ad, but as Rob points out below, they can't just move it themselves, can they? Not on any paper I've worked on.

      I should probably let this one go!

      I've been out tonight - socialising on a Wednesday, it's so not me! - so haven't read Batman yet. I'm looking forward to it, as you say, Capullo improves constantly.

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  2. I haven't picked the book up yet, but does Lex still have his facial scars that he had during hel on earth and after? Do they explain why they are transferring Lex out of his self made prison? Good review as always.

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    1. There are scratchy marks on Lex's forehead, cotton, but it may just be Lee/Williams rendering. You make a good point. And no, no explanation for Lex's move.

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    2. Maybe it was the Stormwatch reboot.

      --Eki

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  3. Great review. You're right about Clark's inner monologue. The farmboy reminiscing has become such a cliché but Snyder's got a fresh take on it here. I completely agree about the weird poster, this book didn't need it. I was really impressed with Lee on this issue. I thought the people in his non-action scenes actually looked like they were doing what people do and not striking weird poses.

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    1. Thanks for tht comments, Paul. I agree, there was less posturing from people all round, and I enjoyed he detail Lee and/or Williams put in, such as the mini-copter at Clark's place. I wish I had them as I blogged.

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  4. I was at Denver Comic Con a couple of weeks ago and attended the George Perez panel. He said that he did not want to renew his contract with DC because he feels that the New 52 has changed the characters so much that they aren't the characters they are supposed to be.

    What are your thoughts on this?

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    1. I see what George means, Tom, but I foresee the traditional characters coming back, bit by bit - certainly in Superman's case, when someone like Jurgens is around, we see the real guy. Batman hasn't changed much, he's been a psycho cipher since the Nineties. Wonder Woman will likely revert to a more recognisable characterisation when Azzarello finally leaves. And so on.

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  5. As soon as I saw Lois moving ads around, I groaned. I don't think that's possible -- at least not without a conversation -- on any of the multiple earths.

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    1. Superman should so spank her (ducks).

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    2. Ha... that would go over well.

      Looking at that strange hologram console that Lois is working on, it strikes me that comics set in the present are looking increasingly like 80s-era Legion comics.

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    3. True - fancy some 3D Dungeons and Dragons?

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    4. I'll need assurances that Computo won't take over and crucify us...

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  6. This was meh. Seriously. Not bad but no good either. Nothing to write home about here that you have not read upteen times before which is not a good thing if you wanting to add real and new layers to a mythos that needs a kick in the ass anyway. Won't be coming back.

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  7. Snyder had one hell of a week, with not only this but also Batman #21 (introduction to Zero Year) and American Vampire: The Long Road to Hell. Having read all of them, American Vampire was the best of the bunch with great characters and strong emotions.

    This was my second favorite and it was very good regardless. Good character bits and dialogue (which I really got into since it felt more normal and engaging), good action and heroic moment at the beginning, and a solid mystery setup. So going to check out the next issue.

    The only thing Scott Snyder left to read is The Wake #2, but that's at the end of the month...

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    1. One day I'll get round to American Vampire, I have the first issue on digital. Don't fancy The Wake at all.

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  8. I don't know Mart, you keep saying you liked this book but your review reads otherwise. I didn't read this myself as Synder's writing leaves me cold and Lee's art leaves me nauseous, but I was looking forward to reading your take on what should be a new definition for Superman given the (supposed) talent involved. It doesn't sound like too promising a start so far.

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  9. Great review Mart. I liked much of what you liked, especially Clark's inner monologue (showing he is nervous sometimes with risky rescues) and Lois' strength.

    I didn't mind the ad stuff mostly because it seemed to show Lois runs the Planet as much as Perry. That said, I am not in the business and *hate* most medical scenes in comics ... so I can sympathize.

    And the fold-out did seem superfluous and actually took me out of the action since I had to break out of the story to slowly unfold and refold the thing.

    Seeing Man of Steel this afternoon.

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    1. And I enjoyed your Man of Steel review, which can be read here:

      http://comicboxcommentary.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/movie-review-man-of-steel.html

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  10. Good review Martin, and I agree with many of your points. I didn't mind the idea behind the crazy poster fold out thing as you did. It definitely broke the flow, but I liked the big action in-your-faceness of it. It's nice to see Superman being this tiny small force trying to stop this gigantic space ship then zooming in to see the action. The glue-thingies sadly brought back my collector tendencies, as I tried my hardest not to wrinkle the pages (gasp!).

    Lois moving the ads around... wasn't Lois promoted to a position equal (if not higher than Perry's) by Morgan Edge in the initial George Perez Superman new 52 run? Then something happened and she wanted to do stories again? So she was still high ranking, but a reporter at the same time? At least that's what I was thinking in my head why she could move ads around and totally blow word count.

    Snyder nails Superman's 'new 52' voice well, but still showing us the clark we love. Well I guess it's not much to 'nail' since the new 52 Superman's voice has been so muddled. The inner monologue stuff connects me much better to the character than any previous new 52 stuff to date. I really enjoyed the way he caught all the Superman supporting casts voices, and Luthor was done well even in just a few pages.

    The opening action sequence was great, with us being introduced to a variety of new ways superman can use his powers. It was very reminiscent of the fun airplane sequence in Superman Returns but in a much, much grander scale.

    This is my top choice so far for the Superman line in the new 52. Greg Pak's and Jae Lee's World's Finest is coming out soon and that's looking really good. Scott Lobdell and Rockafort's Superman is starting to shape up. Action Comics is getting a new writer after Lobdell's fill in and the Adventures of Superman Digital series is a great amount of fun. Also! Sholly Fisch will be handling 2 Superman Villain's month books soon and I've also been secretly enjoying the 'Injustice' digital releases... This is a great time to be a Superman fan (ME)!

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    1. Thanks for the great comments, Arvin, I especially like your perspective on the pull-out panels.

      As I recall, Lois is a reporter again, yes, and no longer management - and even managers can't move ads without going through another department, the ads are locked on the pageplan (just as the ad dept can't touch stories).

      And you're right, things are looking up for Superman at DC.

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  11. Why does Jimmy look like a girl?

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    1. He's dug out the old disguise kit?

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