Finding conflict for Superman is a tough nut to crack. For 75 years, the Big Blue Boy Scout has been lifting up cities, blowing out stars, and battling whatever gets thrown at him, no matter how ridiculous. Pre-New 52, Superman hit a serious low point when J. Michael Straczynski had him walk around America. When the New 52 reboot hit, everybody thought Superman’s time had arrived, but nope. Weird editorial changes, sloppy writing, and the mere presence of hack scribe Grant Morrison pretty much screwed Superman from the get go.
Where does that leave the new series Superman Unchained? Writer Scott Snyder, the man behind American Vampire and Batman, teaming up with iconic artist Jim Lee, is a good start. But does this dynamic duo do justice to Krypton’s last son? Boy howdy, they do! Superman Unchained proves that a character like Superman lives and dies on great writing. Snyder manages to inject excitement in the opening pages, and then establish the plot of the first story arc, all before he slaps us across the mug with an awesome last page reveal.
Opening in 1945, Unchained kicks off with a mystery. A bomb is dropping over Nagasaki, Japan - or is it? What is that? It looks like - nah, it couldn’t be. Jump ahead to the present day and Superman trying to control the rapid descent of a gigantic space station. Apparently, things have been falling from space all day and Superman has been there to stop them. After a pulse pounding space rescue, we find our intrepid reporter Clark Kent, still working away from the Daily Planet, finishing his freelance story for Lois Lane.
His facts are wrong though. Superman managed to save all eight pieces of falling space debris. Clark knows he only saved seven and allowed the eighth to hit an area where there would be no loss of life. Who saved the eighth? Therein lies the mystery of Superman Unchained. Who is hiding what from our hero? Lois Lane? Her father? The recently imprisoned Lex Luthor?
Snyder accomplishes three things here. First, he shows that fast-paced writing and stellar art can make Superman exciting, even if we know he has the power to stop any catastrophe. Second, he ensures we’re all engaged with Superman on a human level by bringing in Clark Kent. Then, he constructs a finale that ensures we’ll be around for issue #2. Snyder’s natural ability with storytelling is how he stays a step ahead of his peers. Batman, Superman, vampires, weird ocean creatures, Snyder can do it all.
Jim Lee’s art is, as always, on point. Remember, this is the guy who made All Star Batman, Frank Miller’s ode to child abuse, look good. Nobody does bigger than life, heavy action like Lee. Besides his strong lines and natural ability to convey movement, Lee also knows how to draw faces. He can get emotion across without relegating everyone to having an open mouth or wide eyes. If you question just how good Jim Lee is, check out the opening spread of the falling space station. It’s incredible.
Superman Unchained is poised to bring a new layer of depth and excitement to the first superhero.
(4.5 Story, 4.5 Art)