Superman Unchained #3 review

Superman and the mystery metahuman working for the US military are at one another's throats. The stranger's physiology is similar to Superman's, but with decades' more exposure to solar radiation. He's stronger, knocking Superman from Utah to California; his aim's good too, as he's sent Superman to the spot where General Sam Lane runs a super-secret world defence base known as the Machine. The being introduces himself by his codename, Wraith, and explains that he's been on Earth 75 years. Lane adds that the Machine was created to research the technology that came to Earth in Wraith's spacecraft, and eventually became a vital part of US defence - with Wraith as its secret weapon, an enforcer to make the world a safer place.

Lois Lane, meanwhile, is over Nova Scotia, desperately trying to save the lives of everyone on a plane after Luddite terrorists Ascension shorted its power. She has a plan - it's a long shot, but it might just work.

In Metropolis, escaped convict Lex Luthor is clomping and splashing across Hob's Bay, heading for one home in particular ...

Those are the broad strokes of Scott Snyder's story. The details include an explanation of why Sam Lane really hates Superman, and it's not simply the Luthor motivation that he's an alien. It's that he believes Superman to be a coward, unwilling to make the hard decisions and really make the world a better place, by taking down dictators and thereby saving lives; he thinks Superman is comfortable with only those tasks that bring applause and admiration.

He's wrong, I think. It's not about courage, it's a matter of self-determination. His first few stories apart, Superman has traditionally believed that it's not his place to act like a god, shaping the affairs of his fellow men and women. Yes, he'll save them from immediate threats, and massive calamities, but he's not going to swan in and act like some one-man coup.

This issue - the apt title is Prayers Answered - also shows us just what an ass Lane us, not simply wanting Superman subdued, but demanding he kneel before him (I suppose you'd call it a Zod complex). All his attitude does is make the Man of Steel uncharacteristically angry.

Wraith's an intriguing sort, speaking words of peace but enslaved to the military for 75 years - of course he'll follow Lane's orders, he's been raised by soldiers. He's a twisted reflection of how Superman might be if he'd been found by the authorities rather than the Kents.

While we've seen more militaristic versions of Superman many times over the years, Scott Snyder's story these past three issues feels fresh. It's perhaps the scale of the tale, with flashbacks to 1938 and 1945 and scenes set around the globe - most Superman stories never explore our planet beyond Metropolis, Smallville and the Arctic. It's also been grand to see Superman really have to fight for his victories, both mentally and physically. And the Lois we're getting is a hero in her own right, daring and smart and inspirational. As for Lex Luthor, well, he's impressed with his intellect so far, and this issue hints that he has something truly fiendish in store.

Snyder's script asks questions about what it means to be a hero, and nicely balances passion with action and exposition; if the angry Superman at the start of this chapter were representative of the series as a whole, I'd be nervous, but Lane has been pushing all his buttons, physically and emotionally. And Superman does calm down - I believe he's learning lessons along the way.

The art of penciller Jim Lee and inker Scott Williams remains summer blockbuster in scale, crackling with energy in the fight sequences, with a mix of splashes and tiny panels to control the pace. I actually prefer the quieter moments, when we see what the artists can do when asked to nail a particular expression - suspicion, desperation, puzzlement and so on. They do a pretty good job. Add in the colours of Alex Sinclair and Jeromy Cox and we have an explosion of superhero pop. My favourite panel is a splash (well, look at all that water - then click on image to enlarge).
Now that's a neat spin on the old Lex Luthor power suit. I also like the satellite-motivated use of a map background as Superman is kicked cross country by Wraith - a fun device.

A two-page epilogue drawn by Dustin Nguyen and coloured by John Kalisz is stunning, in its quiet way. Something as simple as the placement of light within the panels had me staring in wonder. I hope that at some point this art team gets to do a whole issue - perhaps a ghost story for Christmas.

Pop quiz! The Machine is located in Needles, California - which famous literary figure has a brother there?

Comments

  1. The utter bankruptcy of the Lane's premise is that, if he truly believed in those goals, why hasn't *his* army and his secret weapon acted on them? Why hasn't Lane saved those millions he claims Superman is letting languish? There's no answer, except Snyder is setting up bull$#%^ straw men arguments to try and rationalize hatred for Superman different than Luthor's.

    That's one flaw of a nu52 where everyone hates heroes--eventually you're going to run out of credible motivations...

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    1. I do agree, the New 52's 'mutant-isation' of the public attitude to superheros isn't a great idea. We should be seeing at least as many supporters as mistrustful.

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  2. Snoopy (of Peanuts fame) has a brother Spike, living in Needles, CA with a pack of coyotes in Topock Swamp.

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    1. Beat me to it! And with much more detail than I would have provided!

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    2. Spot on, thank you. I wonder if Scott Snyder is a fan.

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  3. General Lane really did not think his argument through, did he? After all, what would happen if Superman decided to, as you say, "make the hard decisions and really make the world a better place, by taking down dictators and thereby saving lives" and this led him to, oh, say, overthrowing the government of the United States because he disagreed with it and felt that it was acting oppressive & unjust towards its citizens? I guess Lane wants Superman to get involved in world affairs, but only acting against those countries and governments that the General personally regards as dictatorial.

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  4. Indeed. I never quite get the anti-superhero folk, whatever their motivation - if it wasn't for Supes and co, they'd be dead a thousand times over.

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  5. I think the point about "Wraith doesn't overthrow these governments either, so what is Lane talking about?" certainly suggests itself when you think of all the strife going on in the world - and how Mugabe has just "won" another election - but remember, the story opened with Wraith supposedly ending the war with Japan in WW2. The suggestion is, I'd say, that whenever such a thing has happened in real life, Wraith was involved. He was there during Iraq, maybe he detonated Chernobyl, maybe he caused the missiles being withdrawn from Cuba in the 60s, and so on. It's not so much Wraith's personal ability to end these conflicts or redirect the course of history as much as it is the US government's desire. In reality they've shown they're willing to nuke thousands of civilians and overthrow Middle Eastern governments, yet they're keeping well away from Syria at the moment, and have historically turned a blind eye to Israel's transgressions.

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    1. Great points Luke, thank you very much!

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  6. i like wraith and his acronym, i hope he is a good guy not a bad guy pretending to be good, also does anyone else think that the new 52 is 80 percent slap dashed together cause i do

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    1. I reckon it could safely be called a 'work in progress'

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    2. alright but can you tell if it's good work or bad work

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