Wednesday, February 22, 2017

'Superman Unchained Deluxe Edition' review

Writer Scott Snyder should consider giving up writing any Batman stories and switch over to Superman.

His run on SUPERMAN UNCHAINED Nos. 1-9 is one of the best Man of Steel stories I've read that isn't the umpteenth telling of his origin.

And let's be honest: Snyder wore out his welcome writing Batman long ago. The best thing DC Comics could do to make the Dark Knight's comic-book adventures relevant and certainly fresher, not to mention regularly interesting, is getting a new writer. But I'm here to do a retro-review of SUPERMAN UNCHAINED...

With Jim Lee on pencils, working with his go-to inker Scott Williams and colorist Alex Sinclair, it's one of the best looking Superman stories in a long while. Lee's Superman skews young, but his take on Supes, Batman and Lex Luthor are fierce. His Lois Lane makes her one of the most gorgeous women in comics -- even more attractive than Wonder Woman. (Lee's honestly has never been to my tastes for some reason.)

Snyder's Superman universe, despite being part of the overall "eh" New 52 continuity, is more "my" Superman than anything he's done with Batman (who has an extended cameo in this story). He has made Bruce Wayne much too neurotic, non-communicative and a matter-of-fact for my tastes; there's a reason I don't read any new comics being published about my favorite superhero.

The most appealing and compelling renditions of DC's Big Two are compassionate, noble ass-kickers -- and I'll give credit where it's due: Snyder's Superman gets as close as anybody has in the New 52 era.

In these nine issues of SUPERMAN UNCHAINED, we learn there is a powerful being named Wraith who came to Earth nearly 75 years ago and has been working for the United States as a secret weapon pretty much ever since. The government's and Wraith's reasons aren't clear or explained, but such storytelling details seem to be the exception and not the norm these days.

Supes, in the meantime, has been tracking down Ascension, a mysterious group of what seem to be terrorists. Lois also has been researching the group, but from the journalism end of things.

General Sam Lane (her maniacal father) has created some "Star Wars"-like military firepower in his ongoing attempt to kill Superman. Why? Because apparently that's what he does. (Such finer details again seem to irrelevant in the New 52 age of storytelling.) Lane has a serious yet unexplained vendetta against the Man of Steel -- on an intensity level that rivals Luthor's.

Snyder doesn't explain nearly everything -- or enough -- despite spreading his story over nine issues. Unlike most storylines being published now by Marvel and DC, this one doesn't feel like it has been extended just for the sake of the modern tradition of writing six- to nine-issue stories.

Regardless, it's enjoyable, not anything close to an instant classic that might compel fans to experience it again, but solid.

Again, another admission: Any relatively recent, well-made story that gets me reading to the end is a whole lot more compelling than anything else in the New 52. Or Marvel, for that matter.

Also, it's refreshing for a modern story to feature heroes who are actually heroic and aren't immersed in a doom-and-gloom perspective. There's too much pessimism in comics. Too many stories -- especially those published by DC in the last 15 years or so -- have little sense of hope. (Damn; I really sound like an old fuddy-duddy. *Sighs...*) 

So it's a breath of fresh air seeing Wraith, who has been manipulated and used by slimeballs like General Lane, eventually embrace the good that Superman sees in him. And how cool is it to see Supes finally being the moral foundation of his own story!

If only that carried over to the rest of the DC Universe. Or in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" ...

The hardcover deluxe edition of this collection includes a gallery of alternate covers. Usually, that's a yawn-inducing, page-filling experience used to pad the end of a trade paperback. But I truly enjoyed seeing these, so much so that I perused the covers a second time.

Most of the artists designed their cover based on the actual events in the series. Even better, each issue has alternate covers perfectly depicting the art style from the various eras of Superman comic books: 1930s, Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, Modern Age, "Superman Reborn" (post-"Death of Superman") and New 52, although those covers most often have nothing to do with Snyder and Lee's story. Again, a sign of the time!

Some fantastic eye-candy!

Grades: Story - B-; Art - A; Alternate covers - A-

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