Superman Unchained Review

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

Batman: Court Of Owls Review

Looking back a decade on, it is quite clear that DC intended to take some creative risks when launching the New 52. The comic book industry has gone through universal reboots, but there was a sense that this time it was in fact, different. Suddenly Grant Morrison was headlining Action Comics, Justice League was given a big blockbuster start, and over in the Batman corner of the DC Universe, the reins were handed over to Scott Snyder and Tony S. Daniel. A bold move, considering Snyder had only done one other Batman story at this point (with Dick Grayson in the cowl, not Bruce), and Tony S. Daniel when not collaborating with another writer, has decidedly mixed results. Still, the fanbase was primed for the creative teams on most of the books, especially once it was announced that Greg Capullo would be joining Scott Snyder on Batman.

Batman: The Court of Owls was the first arc of the second volume of the Batman. Snyder and Capullo set out to tell a dark, mysterious and treacherous story of intrigue that would have the Dark Knight Detective questioning not only the motives of his new foe(s), but also just how much he thinks he knows Gotham City’s history… which of course also describes eighty percent or more of Batman stories published in the past eighty years. A digression…

That is not to say this is a terrible storyline. It does have its moments, and it is certainly served well by Greg Capullo’s more than capable hand in the art department, but the story ultimate buckles under its own weight. Eleven issues if you read just the main story, considerably more if you get bogged down by the sub-story “Night of the Owls” partway through this epic. While for the most part paced well within individual issues, this entire “epic” could have easily been told with fewer issues; half as few, if you include the ancillary titles. The reveal at the end of the story comes across as cliched, and a plot point if memory serves, is never even really explored again, by his creator, or any others. And considering the character the cliched plot point refers to is now dead, it may never get addressed again.

If the reader takes it as a separate parts of a whole, the storyline did give us a new foe in both the Court of Owls itself as well as their Talon foot soldiers. Those concepts have considerable legs, having been used in both animated media, and allegedly for the upcoming Gotham Knights game. Even if Scott Snyder’s story telling suffers, his concepts and ideas do not. During the most ridiculous moments, Batman still seems badass or incredibly cool, but reading it a second time years on, you begin to realize you fell for the hype a bit…

Unfortunately, Snyder still suffers under his own success and hubris with subsequent stories. If you wish to read him at his best, you should pick up a copy of Batman: Black Mirror. That is not to suggest this is a terrible storyline; there are worse, and at least one better.

Collects: Batman: (Vol. 2) 1-11