Superman Unchained #1
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jim Lee, Scott Williams, and Alex Sinclair
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
With DC's latest bid to bring Superman to the big screen only days away, and this year marking Superman's 75th anniversary, it makes sense that DC would bring together Scott Snyder and Jim Lee, arguably the biggest names in their stable right now, on a project ostensibly designed to capture the inevitable public attention from Zack Snyder's Man of Steel and channel it into comic sales for Superman Unchained. The problem is, despite the obvious power in the creative team, and what could be described as the best possible timing for a comic launch, there's not a whole lot in Superman Unchained for someone who's been reading Superman's adventures since the advent of the New 52, let alone someone who might pick up this comic hoping to find the same thrills as a cinematic Superman might offer. It's simply more of the same; a comic that could be issue #5, #19, or #237, with no sense of majesty or power to match its Herculean title, and no sense of style or vision to justify Lee or Snyder's reputations.
Don't be mistaken, Superman Unchained isn't terrible, it's not even really bad, per se. It's simply typical, uninspired, and worst of all, boring. There are moments that approach the kind of operatic, Earth-shaking power that Superman can have, but all too often they are weighed down by a lack of real motivation or direction. There's a sense that Superman Unchainedhopes to coast by on bookends that hint at a larger philosophical agenda, one deeply inspired by the book's title, but that no one really knew what to do with everything in between. So rather than presenting a vision of the Man of Steel tied to DC's current creative zeitgeist and meant to showcase the raw power a pair of big name creators like Lee and Snyder can bring to an icon like Superman, Superman Unchained presents perhaps a more unintentionally accurate picture of DC's current direction. One of largess, shiftlessness, and a strong sense of the potential of their characters with no idea how to resolve creativity with marketing strategy.
And so the result is a book designed and cultivated as a major event - the company's biggest creators taking on its biggest character at a momentous point in the character's history - that reads more like the middle issue of a story arc. Hampered by the need for an in depth knowledge of Superman's New 52 history and a wealth of story points that assume the reader will know that Clark Kent doesn't work for the Daily Planet, why Clark and Lois aren't together, who Ascension is, why Lex Luthor is in custody, and a host of other little mysteries surrounding the events of Superman Unchained #1, there's little given to allow readers to connect with the characters, let alone connect the story's dots. Weighing the actual content of the comic against the promise of its potential aside, this is simply not the way to launch a series.
Scott Snyder brushes greatness at times, finding ways to humanize Superman in spite of an almost purposeful lack of attention to the Clark/Superman dichotomy and placing him in a grand scale which is, unfortunately, at odds with Jim Lee's often claustrophobic and hard to read panels. Jim Lee is, by now, one of the most thoroughly known commodities in comics. At this point, he offers very little in the way of new tricks or an evolved visual language. There are pages and panels that could easily go down as some of the most iconic Superman images of the New 52, but they are hemmed in by panel after panel of indistinguishable characters and brittle, inelegant lines. Fortunately, Alex Sinclair does manage to bring some mood into his colors, and when he, Lee, and inker Scott Williams manage to synergize, there is an atmospheric element to the art that does transcend much of DC's typical fare. But, too often, these high-flying moments come crashing down, pulled down by Lee and Williams's stylistic lack of depth or weight in their line work.
Superman Unchained has so much promise. Lee and Snyder have the draw, the clout, and the creativity to tell a wonderful Superman story, but somewhere along the way to Superman Unchained, they left it all in their wake. Again, this book isn't terrible, it's just not good. It's not particularly fun to read, it's not visually impressive, and it does little to reel in or define the nebulous entity that is the New 52's Superman. Rather than adding anything to Superman's mythos or striving to be the title that makes Superman as relevant in 2013 as he was in 1938, Superman Unchainedsimply disappears into the other Superman titles already on the shelf, hoping that a strong opening hook, and an obvious but philosophically dramatic cliffhanger will outweigh a lack of power or excitement in the rest of title launch.