A Soaring Success
After a bitterly disappointing last issue, I was still nonetheless waiting to see how the next issue of Superman Unchained would play out the plot points and story developed over the series. The two month delay from Villain’s Month and Jim Lee having a baby pushed this new issue back a week from its original scheduled arrival. Hopefully, the long wait for issue 4 lives up to the hype and potential Snyder and Lee have been crafting
SPOILERS WILL BE DISCUSSED FROM THIS POINT.
In short, was I impressed? Answer: I was absolutely blown away by the quality Snyder and Lee both brought to the table for this issue. The errors with the last instalment are practically non existent this time around and we get an incredibly well balanced story that gives each character and plot thread introduced some well deserved development. Take Lex Luthor’s depraved plans for Jimmy Olsen for example. These scenes receive some impressive introspection on Lex’s part via the use of the art of paper folding in the first two pages of the book and later on too. Not only is paper folding used to give an inspection over Lex’s outlook in the story, it also signals a transition in the pacing and direction of the story too. Just as paper dolls were passed between friends to carry over into death, so too does this issue transition into the stride of the story that Snyder has promised Unchained would be. And Lex exudes sinister malevolence and an unpredictability to what he’s thinking and how his involvement in this story will tie into the bigger picture. This is exemplified by his use of paper dolls to predict the deaths of Batman and Wonder Woman which also works out well in those character’s overall mythologies. Unlike Johns who drops certain knowledge in the story for the sake of sounding smart, Snyder ties that knowledge into the overall narrative and theme of the story. It makes for a very pleasant change in how one reads into the story. Even though he didn’t get much development in this issue, I am intrigued with what Jimmy’s role will be now that Lex has him pinned as the helpless harbringer of Superman’s doom which he probably won’t see coming. The respect given to Lex as an integral part of the Superman cast is much appreciated by me.
This respect is carried over into Lois’ part in the overall storyline. I was miffed (that’s a British expression for annoyed btw) that Lois’ gutsy and resourceful response to the plane crash in the last issue was nullified by the plot convenience crystal from the Ascension defector. But this is played out in a wonderful fashion by placing Lois slap bang in the centre of unravelling the core mysteries of this storyline. I loved how Snyder executed this move as it isn’t just someone going to Lois because she knows Superman. There’s a personal stake in there too which I’ll go into later but the main reason why this works so well is because it plays to Lois’ strengths as a character. Her determination, passion for the truth mixed in with empathy and concern come to the fore amazingly well with her other shining characteristics and it’s a great reminder of why Lois is such an iconic character alongside Superman. Snyder is giving her the spotlight in solving the mystery behind Ascension and Wraith with this new crystal because of who Lois is, an investigative journalist who’s more than principled and resolute enough to follow the facts of the story through to its very conclusion. Even if it puts her in dire peril and at the villain’s mercy. I’m really ecstatic over how Snyder will have Lois decode the secret hidden in this storyline because of the importance Lois has in the story and her strong characterisation under Snyder’s pen.
Of course, the main bulk of the story is on Superman and Wraith’s fight with the Russian drones in Tokyo since this is principally a Superman book after all, not a Lois Lane or Lex Luthor one. Lex and Jimmy’s scenes give the issue the shocking and thematic moments, Lois’ part plays on the unknown information concealed about Ascension and most likely Wraith. Superman and Wraith’s scene is the action packed fight sequence of the title and that’s all just fine by me. We get a brilliantly written fight scene in this issue coupled with strong characterisation that’s carried through the issue too. Superman’s portrayal was the weakest aspect of the last issue as Snyder reverted two good issues of strong characterisation into the angry, abrasive New 52 Superman we’ve had the misfortune to see in the Superman Family titles. But this is rectified in the latest issue because Superman is back to how Snyder first wrote him. He cares about the destruction the clash with the drones is causing and on using methods which don’t cause any harm to innocent people. He intelligently assesses the combat scenario and comes up with intelligent applications of his powers and the environment. And in one particular scene that I love, after Wraith makes a grim remark about how he’ll have to put Superman down if he steps out of line, Clark remarks “There’s no need to be so grim about it. I’m not quite cynical enough to see things your way.” That is exactly the character I want to see in Superman. Someone who, whilst realistic is always about looking for the best in others and in making himself better as a result.
But onto the action scene. It’s intelligently portrayed by Snyder and Lee for numerous reasons. The stakes are meaningful with the Russian Drones utilising red solar radiation bullets and missiles, making every hit against Superman and Wraith seem tense. The odds stacked against these two powerhouses force them to be resourceful in their attacks and this is something lacking from a lot of comic book battles today. Straight up brawls and epic hits can be really awesome but ingenuity in how the fights are constructed can go a long way too. By forcing Superman and Wraith to tactically use their powers like armoured doors as shields, sonic attacks and a glorious rapid fire heat vision panel, this shakes things up very well. And Wraith is growing on me I must say. He’s evidently more experienced than Superman and even tutors him on how to use his powers and what he may eventually become over time. Yet Snyder keeps an air of enigma about him. It’s still unclear who he really is, where he came from and what his ultimate agenda is. This keeps Wraith from wholly being an ally to Superman and underscores their team up with a foreshadowing of what conflict is to come.
I admit that Lee hasn’t always been at his best in this series but for me, that changed with this issue. Jim reminds the reader why he’s one of the best and most marketable artists in the business even with the delays. His painstaking attention to detail is a master craft in itself making every panel something to keep their eyes on at all times to spot certain things. From the shards of debris left over from the action packed clash to the brushstrokes emphasising Lex’s facial expressions and posture, Lee renders every page exquisitely. The dynamic pencils of the action sequence such as the glorious rapid fire heat vision panel where each burst is evident to see are balanced effectively with close up shots of Lois talking to the Ascension defector where you can see the water drops dripping down Lois’ face giving a vivid interpretation of the scene. This is contrasted excellently with Williams’ bold and bright inking which makes the colours for the comic appear even more beautiful on panel.
As for the backup, it wasn’t anything too special once again. Lois was written well but the backup traded more on the anonymity of Ascension agents along with the shock reveal that General Lane seems to have played a role in Ascension’s origin. Nguyen’s art suits the tone Snyder’s going for.
Overall, I have given the first two issues of the series 5s when they’re more deserving of 4.5 or even 4s. And the second issue should have been given a 3 in hindsight. However, I have no qualms with giving this issue a 5 as for me, that’s what it deserves because it’s my favourite issue of the series to date and one of my favourite New 52 Superman issues. Snyder hits his stride in this issue of his arc with strong characterisation, a well paced plot, balanced introspections on each story thread and an inventive action sequence rendered in exquisite artwork by Lee. This series really makes me pleased to be a Superman fan as it’s a new tale that is played out in an interesting fashion and is always respectful of the legacy Snyder and Lee are adding to.
- · Story: 10/10
- · Art: 10/10
- · Overall: 10/10