Dual Review: Superman Unchained #1

Don’t think of this as a “versus” review, instead think of it as a toned down group review. Instead of the entire Comic Bastards crew chiming in on the new Superman Unchained, it will just be Steve and Dustin dishing their thoughts about the issue. They’ll still give it a score of either: Buy, Borrow or Passand of course we have a blurb about the issue from DC comics before we begin. When thirteen satellites fall from the sky in one day, the logical suspect is Lex Luthor—even though he’s still locked up in prison! But a stranger question remains: If Superman didn’t stop the last satellite from falling, who did? There’s a mystery hidden where even Superman can’t see it—Can The Man of Steel drag a decades-old secret into the light? Don’t miss the debut of this red-hot new series from two of comics’ brightest superstars: SCOTT SNYDER and JIM LEE!

S8-41b058bee8-02f85Steve: Borrow

First I want to say that there were some truly inspired moments in this first issue of Superman Unchained. I mean, what a great intro, presenting a retelling of what was secretly at the heart of that fateful day in Nagasaki in 1945, even throwing in a nice twist on the “Look, up in the sky...” part of the Superman lexicon.

While others might knock it, I also enjoyed Superman’s interior monologue as he later recalls childhood antics of jumping into freshly-stacked hay while sodomizing a space station (which I totally hope is a scene in that Man of Steel porn parody). I thought it  illustrated Superman’s dichotomy just fine, showing him to be both relatable and psychotically powerful.

Speaking of illustration, visually, a lot of this feels like that classic, detailed Jim Lee stuff that made me pop my first art bonerses back when I saw his 90s-era X-Men. Inarguably good shit to start, but other parts of it also feel a bit rushed or choppy in places. Lee’s got a certain inconsistency, which on one hand allows him to intricately render an exploding space station, yet lets him down with a certain indifference the next, like when Superman is surrounded by various clumps of amorphous detritus, which I think is supposed to be a jeep?

In terms of story, the brief exchanges with Jimmy, Lois and Luthor here are intriguing enough and on-point in a “by-the-numbers” kind of way. More interesting is the looming threat, the nature of whom suggests that Superman Unchained may not solely refer to the guy wearing skin-tight armor and a cape. And yet, there’s something holding me back from fully recommending this issue. I guess I just expected more; and sure, I may have swallowed the hype ... but sometimes that should be okay.

The truth is, this book is fine, but from Snyder and Lee, I need better than fine. For Superman, I think we deserve more than okay. I may be holding all involved to a higher standard, but come on, Superman was the original superhero standard, and I think it’s about time it becomes that again. This team can do it - I believe that.

Just like I said about Batman Zero Year, which also came out this week, Superman Unchained quickly slips from a good start into a familiar comfort zone ... and DC desperately needs to get out of their rut at the cusp of complacency, particularly with Superman titles. But look, I’m gonna continue to follow this book; the team has earned at least that much. I still just give it a borrow, albeit a strong one, and suggest keeping tabs on Unchained, but right now only at a glance.

In the end, unfortunately, this was just not the single bound Superman needed to clear the shadow of his recently mediocre building.

Dustin: Borrow

I know everyone has Superman fever right now and it’s easy to get sucked in and lose your judgment when it comes to this issue. After all it has fan favorite Scott Snyder writing it and Jim Lee the masterful on the art duties. This issue has some plusses, some minuses and a ton of neutral. Frankly, if you’re a relapsed Superman reader, this won’t bring you back into the fold.

The issue starts off by making the same tired, “it’s a bird, it’s a plane” reference before getting into Superman beating the shit out of that space station we’ve all seen so much of. I forget how many first issues I’ve read that has used this gag, but I’m so fucking tired of it. The thing that bothered me about this scene is that Superman is constantly forced to think and yet his first instinct was to smash through the billion dollar space station and create more debris to fall to earth. Also there are only two astronauts on board? Doubtful. Superman may have taken a moment to think, but his first instinct is still to smash first think later. Also his gamma vision came across as Snyder’s desperate attempt to please fans and stay in their favor.

After that the story pointlessly stops in with Lex Luthor as Superman reveals to both the audience and Luthor, that he knows that Luthor was behind everything. Someone needs to teach Snyder poker so he can teach Superman, you don’t show your hand that soon especially when you have nothing to back it. Luthor reads like all of Snyder’s villains, pompous, arrogant and average. Snyder attempts to make Luthor as intelligent as Morrison’s All-Star Superman counterpart, but instead delivers a hallow version that repeats facts read out of a science magazine. I was wholly unimpressed by Luthor and his pointless cameo in the story.

The only part of the story that shines is Clark’s interaction with the people in his life. His conversation with Olsen is genuine and interesting. For the first time I actually believed that these two men were friends and that Olsen served a purpose outside of fan fair. Lois is definitely a new version of herself and her interaction with Clark was interesting. I didn’t sense any love angst behind Clark’s voice, but I absolutely loved that. Frankly if they’re not going to be married or dating, then I don’t want him pinning after her either. This entire scene was packed full of great dialog and I saw glimpses of Synder’s writing that reminded me of American Vampire and Detective Comics pre-reboot. At the end of the day it’s just a rebooted Superman story with a new villain retconned into the continuum. It didn’t 100% win me over so I went with “borrow”, but I’ll likely finish the story arc even if it’s after a friend has finished reading their copy or the extra four weeks for it to go cheap digitally.

Score: Borrow It

Writer: Scott Snyder

Artist: Jim Lee

Publisher: DC Comics

Price: $4.99

Release Date: 6/12/13