Superman Unchained #2-3 by Scott Snyder – Friday Flash Review [Shadowhawk]

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Shadowhawk reviews the latest two issues for Scott Snyder’s chart-topping new series featuring the Man of Tomorrow.

“The second issue still had me on the fence, but the third one allays all fears and ensures that this title is going to be a must-read on my monthly pull-lists.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields

My main complaint with Superman Unchained #1 was that it just wasn’t all that compelling and it didn’t offer me any real hook to latch on to. The fact that Scott Snyder is writing this and Jim Lee is drawing is was my biggest attraction to the series, aside from the fact that the other two Superman comics, Action Comics and Superman are both lackluster and have been going through a lot of creative changes recently. That kind of business dealing doesn’t inspire any confidence in a title, and is a sign of lack of cohesion at the editorial level. Going into Superman Unchained #1, my expectations were high and the issue ended failing to deliver.

But it appears that after that initial stumble, the only way for Scott Snyder and Jim Lee to go is up, up and away.

Superman Unchained 02While I enjoyed #2 for the most part, I still didn’t get what made this title special, or why Superman needed a third book to himself (or even fourth for that matter if you count Batman/Superman) when other characters are not even getting ONE book. But that’s slippery slope thinking where comics themselves are concerned (the case for superhero movies is entirely different).

The issue starts off with putting Superman right smack in the middle of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates as he keeps the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa, from collapsing. As a resident of Dubai, this was quite exciting. I talked with current Supergirl scribe Michael Alan Nelson about placing some stories in the Middle East for the title and he remarked that any such stories would have to come out organically and not be forced. That is exactly what Scott did here with that early scene. And I loved that Dubai got five pages in the sun for such a high-profile comic.

From there-on, we see some really interesting moments between Superman and Batman as they discuss a specific problem that has been bothering Superman of late: is it possible to completely cloak something from the Man of Steel? Apparently it is, but someone needs to go to great lengths, and expense for that. The setup for this entire sequence is just as exciting as the action scene in Dubai and it breaks the adrenaline high quite nicely by slowing down the pacing and focusing on something more immediate and personal.

And then we go into the entire mystery surrounding a piece of satellite wreckage and a mysterious being that Superman has been looking for. That launches into the entire third act of the issue as Superman flies off to confront this potential threat but gets the shock of his life when he realises just who has been pulling strings to keep this being a secret, even from him.

In its entirety, sure, the series has its moments and Snyder’s writing is great, but for my money, the issue went a bit overboard with the mystery and it ended on a really weird moment, which deals with Lex Luthor being up to his old tricks again. I haven’t read Morrison’s run on Action Comics so I don’t know what’s been going on with Lex in the New 52, other than the fact that he is being kept incarcerated in a high-tech prison built especially to contain him. And therefore, not knowing Lex’s motivations acts as a big dampener on things. It just seems seriously out of place.

However, there is redemption of sorts in the scenes dealing with Lois Lane, who’s been hunting down the story of the global terrorist organisation known as Ascension, who tangle up with Superman in Dubai within the early pages of this issue. It sets up a really interesting arc for Lois and definitely made me keen to read on more.

With the art, Jim Lee is up to his usual good form. Its quite clear that Scott is writing to Jim’s strengths with this series, giving him ample scenes where Jim can just go crazy with details or put out some incredibly cinematic scenes of Superman in combat or flying off at super-speed as he is often wont to do. Combine all that with Scott Williams’ inks and Alex Sinclair’s colours and Superman Unchained #2 is an absolutely amazing visual treat. The art team is pretty much perfect and the artists are doing a fantastic job of making this as visually great book as they can.

The lack of a clear protagonist and all the subplots going on does take away from the full effect of the script, and the final scene between Superman and the mysterious being isn’t all that exciting of a hook, but I’d still recommend picking up this book. Its doing something different from the other Superman books and the best thing about it is that it has some actual talent on it.

Rating: 8/10

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Issue #3 is where Scott Snyder and Jim Lee both go all-out and put all their chips on the table. They don’t hold anything back and I both appreciated and enjoyed the heck out of that decision, because this book finally delivered on what I wanted from it: no-holds barred action scenes between Superman and an antagonist who could really challenge him, the madness of Lex Luthor and some great scenes with Lois in the bargain.

To begin with, we finally learn significant details about Wraith, the mystery weapon of the United States government that has been in use for a number of decades now and is one of the government’s best-kept secrets. The way that Snyder characterises him was unexpected and it sets up a great relationship between Wraith and Superman, whether the two fighting against each other or with each other for that matter. There is some great back-and-forth between the two of them, which really adds to the tone and mood that Scott appears to have been going for.

Most of all, the action scenes between the two characters were superlatively good. Scott really taxes Superman’s strengths and advantages while Jim renders it all into scenes that are worth looking at again, and again, and again. Jim adds some great flourishes to each of these scenes, to help each scene stand out from the rest and also show that Wraith is no pushover, not in the least, when he goes up against Superman.

Brilliant really.

The madness of Lex Luthor is in full bloom in this issue after the rather haphazard approach from before. His appearances are all too brief, and the mysteries surrounding him are beginning to deepen as Scott teases out the full story with hm. This was a little frustrating as well, since the lack of motivations as presented to the reader is making it difficult to connect with the character in any way. For what is otherwise a spectacular comic, this was both a highlight and a negative of this issue.

And finally, we come to Lois, who’s having Ascension trouble of her own. More than the previous issue, #3 definitely marks the point where Lois is being presented as a positive role model, and not a damsel in distress that needs to be saved by Superman at every turn. Quite frankly, this was an extremely welcome approach to the character, establishing her as a character in her own right with her own set of problems all around. Some of the scenes are a bit too indistinct, but its nothing major, so I’m willing to give the story a pass in that respect.

Overall, this was quite the fabulous issue. I loved that I finally got treated to Wraith’s origins and that he went hand-to-hand against Superman. Given the solicitations for next month, it should be interesting to see how Wraith’s character is built-on and explored further.

Once again, the art is fantastic. All the red lightning surrounding Wraith as he battles Superman was a great visual effect that served to build on the character’s alien origins (Wraith’s that is, and not Superman’s, although General Sam Lane does a great job of intimidating Superman here). The kind of art that Jim Lee is putting out here is the kind of art that I wish had been going on in Justice League by Geoff Johns, with its first arc. Jim’s art there was fairly decent, but it left me wanting a lot more because it wasn’t up to his usual mark. In that respect Superman Unchained #3 is definitely a far better title.

The only criticism I can think of other than what I’ve already mentioned is that there is a slight disconnect between Wraith and General Lane, which is apparently resolved off-screen. The effect here is that something is missing and it affects the pacing slightly.

With this issue, Superman Unchained is going on my must-read list and I’m eagerly anticipating #4 in October as is the Wraith one-shot next month. All things considered, this is a top-tier title to be following on for more.

Rating: 9/10

More Superman Unchained: #1.

Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.

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