There seems to be a trend among writers getting a crack at Superman to make some big, sweeping statement about what the character should be interpreted as. This could be something like Grant Morrison’s god-like Superman, Alan Moore’s very fallible Superman or even John Byrne’s strong use of duality between the mask of Superman and the very human nature of Clark Kent. Three fantastic big interpretations that work, but they are generally the exception to the rule in terms of measures of success.
On a strange flip side, we rarely get a big blockbuster style Superman story. Something akin to summer blockbuster films. The Death of Superman comes to mind, but as fans, we all know things slow down considerably during the second act. There is also the Our Worlds at War storyline from the turn of the millennium, but the general premise of that storyline often missed the mark and ultimately collapsed under its own weight.
So it came as both a surprise and delight when it was announced that Scott Snyder had a Superman story he wanted to tell. And it was a Superman tale that Jim Lee wanted to pencil. Snyder’s usual hyperbole aside, it was easy to get wrapped up in his excitement over this project. It was big, it was explosive, and while it had repercussions in-story, Snyder also respected what was going on in the main titles at the time; effectively put the set pieces back where they needed to be by the end of the of the story, while also leaving things wide open for potential future use.
The only real criticism of this story comes from certain cliched tropes sneaking into Snyder’s writing, specifically the strange new super powered being with mysterious motives. We saw this in his Batman run, and it appears Superman is not invulnerable to it either. Unexpectedly though, Snyder nails Lex Luthor’s character, and this ruthless version of Luthor is reminiscent of John Byrne, Roger Stern and more recently Paul Cornell. A lot of writers miss the mark with Superman’s arch nemesis, but this was truly one of Snyder’s strengths in this story.
Jim Lee’s artwork of course, is a true highlight and when compared to his run on Uncanny X-Men or even Batman: Hush, Superman Unchained definitely belongs among his career highlights. Big splash pages have also been Lee’s strength, and there is no shortage of these throughout the series, though they never truly feel gratuitous, but in fact serve the bombastic scale of the narrative.
Even the back-up feature with Dustin Nguyen on art does a superb job at what it sets out to do; fill in the gaps that the main story cannot necessarily accommodate in the main pages. All in all, while this may not be the most perfect Superman tale, it just may be the most enjoyable.
Collects: Superman Unchained 1-9