Look, I won’t lie: I came to DC’s new Superman comic, Superman Unchained (a title that really should be Superman Unchained! but then I am in charge of nothing) with a bit of dread.
On the one hand, Scott Snyder’s been doing astounding stuff on Batman, managing to craft these big, epic stories that still feel very personal, with plot points that matter beyond any initial shocks (seriously, go read volumes one and two, “Court of Owls” and “City of Owls“, for some of the best Batman comics produced in the last 20 years). Add to that his fantastic creator-owned series American Vampire, an honest-to-god fresh take on a tired-ass genre, and I can comfortably say the guy’s earned a fair bit of trust.
Then there’s Jim Lee on the art. And when Lee is on, he concocts some really exciting visuals and Platonic ideal levels of Superhero Art. He is also one of the only people who can draw Superman’s new costume as though all those extra lines make any kind of sense (they don’t, and the boots are stupid and the sleeve cuffs are too long and there’s not enough yellow and jesus what is with that hair? but the point is, Lee’s the guy who designed the stupid thing so he’d better be able to draw it well).
On the other hand….
Snyder’s second big Batman story featured a Joker wearing his own carved-off face as a rotting mask, and stitched together a bunch of naked bodies into a tapestry like that was a normal thing. Occasionally, he can miss the mark.
And Jim Lee is also the godfather of so much terrible Image-90’s style-over-substance-or-talent art that I’m still mad at him for an entire decade of bad comics. AND more recently, for Justice League, one of the categorically worst comics I have ever read. He is also a proponent of Bad-Ass Superman, the guy who grits his teeth and threatens you with heat vision, and that’s not really my idea of Superman (I will give you my idea of Superman via some recommendations on Friday).
So really, this whole thing could’ve gone either way.
Fortunately, I’m happy to report that everyone’s best instincts played out, and Superman Unchained #1 is probably one of DC’s best Superman comics in years. Which unfortunately is damning with incredibly faint praise, as most of DC’s Superman output – even Acclaimed Comics Super-God Writer Grant Morrison’s Action Comics reboot (which was weirdly boring) – has been god-awful.
But it’s clear that Snyder and Lee sat down with a checklist of things they wanted to see in a Superman comic, so here is what you can expect:
- Superman flying through space and smashing heavy objects
- Superman rescuing people and smiling at them comfortingly
- Superman and Lex Luthor exchanging in amusing antagonistic banter
- Jimmy Olsen: Clark Kent’s Pal
- Friendly reporter rivalry between Clark and Lois, and
- New villains, so you don’t have to worry that they decided to reinvent Toyman into a face-eating cannibal or something.
There are really only a couple problems, one of which is really a nitpick: Clark Kent is currently…I don’t know, a blogger? It’s awkwardly alluded to but never actually explained in his scene with Jimmy (sorry, “Jim”). All I know is, he wears a hoodie while he writes in a dingy office space, while Lois (an editor at the Daily Planet, I think now?) does some fucking Minority Report shit with layouts that is not even slightly explained. For a comic that seems to really want to resemble a Superman comic anyone could enjoy, there’s a little too much vagueness in laying down just what the hero’s current status quo is.
Then there’s the big villain/mystery that closes out the issue. I really don’t know what to make of that one just yet, other than that by tying a very Image-90’s-looking character into the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, there’s a very real risk of it being, worst-case scenario, tasteless in several different ways, and at best, a shadow of Warren Ellis’s late-90’s Stormwatch concepts.
Of course, the real problem is that it costs $5 fucking dollars for 37 pages, a few of which are a poster-like fold-out section that is apparently very unwieldy in print but actually worked out really nicely on the digital edition. I’ve said before that $4 is way too much for a comic. $5 is just nuts. (I’m assuming this will be a $4 book from next issue onward.)
If you want to check out something new and the price isn’t a dealbreaker, I say go for it. It was really entertaining – and definitely a pleasant surprise, given how much of DC’s output these days is just miserable, poorly-planned and haphazardly produced.
Next up: Some serious recommendations, along with me doing the honorable thing and telling you which comics to avoid, even though Entertainment Weekly and the like are saying they are good (they are not good).