Saturday, July 13, 2013

Review: Superman Unchained #2

Superman Unchained #2 came out last week and continued to percolate the multiple plotlines that writer Scott Snyder and artist Jim Lee put into motion in the inaugural issue. Between the anti-technology but highly technological terrorist group Ascension, the super-powered military agent Wraith, and Luthor doing 'good' things, this title hit the ground running. Moreover, these are my favorite sorts of plotlines because you know at some point they are all going to merge in to one major event.

Jim Lee's art is solid in this issue. I do have to comment on the cover (something I will comment on in the review as well). This cover image of Superman clutching the American flag could be considered a patriotic image, especially given the proximity to Independence Day. Unfortunately, after reading the story you realize the tanks Superman in fighting on the cover are American tanks! I am pretty sick of story after story of Superman fighting the American military. It would be nice if ... maybe every now and then ... we see Superman fighting along side out troops. Knowing now he is toppling over American troops, this image becomes almost symbolic of treason!

The issue opens with Superman in Dubai. Ascension has bombed the Burj Khalifi, the world's tallest building, toppling the upper half and leaving Superman 11 seconds to save everyone. Snyder gets us inside Superman's head as we hear him wracking his brain to come up with an answer. I think one of the perceived problems of writing Superman is getting around his near omnipotence and perceived infallibility. How can you create conflict or drama in someone this powerful. By reading this desperation in Superman, it humanizes him, let's us now while everything might look easy and rosy, he struggles with answers just like everyone.

Of course this panel got my attention especially given the recent spate of issues around killing and death with the Superman character. Here he talks about coming up with the solution which will cause the least amount of deaths. A Superman willing to concede death isn't necessarily a classic interpretation.

But just when I was getting ready to roll my eyes yet again over a more cavalier approach to death by Superman, Snyder turns things on his head. He actually has Superman come up with the solution to save everyone, freezing the nearby water to prop the building up. Kudos to Snyder for letting Superman save the day completely!

I also love the humility seen in the last text box as Superman thanks whoever is 'up there' for saving these people rather than tooting his own horn. This gets back to a more inspirational Superman character I am used to.

The next stop on Superman's to do list is the Batcave. Superman has asked Batman to investigate whoever pushed the falling satellite out to sea in the last issue. But first we get to see one of Batman's new toys, a suit which renders him invisible to Superman's vision powers. There is something more collegial about this interaction. This isn't Batman sneering saying look what I have. In fact, it is downright friendly for Batman to tell Superman he developed it. Interesting that Superman asks Batman if the suit will be destroyed.

I like the amiable conversation throughout this scene as Bruce and Clark talk about Ascension. I also think it is an telling choice that Clark came in street clothes while Batman is in full regalia. These are the 'real' personas here.

The conversation turns to Ascension at first. The group is powerful enough to be able to commandeer all the airwaves. Powerful enough to knock satellites from the sky. Powerful enough to topple buildings and take over Constructicon like mecha. And yet, their symbol is Ned Ludd famous for destroying machines and impeding technological progress. And we also kept hearing last issue they weren't strong enough to pull this off ... so someone is pulling their strings. Any guesses?

But then the conversation leans towards the unknown 'handprint'. There is some comic book science here as Bruce is able to investigate the presumed appearance of whatever did this and find out that they can absorb sunlight at an even higher efficiency than Clark. In theory this being is stronger than Superman. And that makes Clark a bit concerned. How interesting that Batman is the one who thinks Clark should go in with the idea of trust since this person helped save people.

As I have said before, in the current DCnU Batman is a better mentor than Superman. Batman has multiple proteges. Superman has estranged family. Now Batman is more trusting than Superman. The DCnU is a strange new world.

A cursory conversation with Lois leads Superman to believe the US military is involved with whoever made the handprint. I am trying to place this storyline in the DCnU timeline. With Clark still answering to Lois and the Planet, it is some time in the past.

Superman decides it is time to confront the military about this being. I don't know if I agree with Superman being this pro-active and provocative with the military. Alas, General Lane is all to eager to have a showdown like this. Lane emerges from the bunker with a swagger, calmly sipping his coffee. And then the troops show up, armed with 'black hole' bullets designed to suck solar energy away, a weapon clearly designed specifically for Superman.

Unfortunately, Superman is pretty demanding and threatening here, lighting up his eyes like he is about to kill Dr. Light. It seems a bit too much too soon for this display.

Not surprisingly, one of the troops gets spooked and fires the first shot at Superman, resulting in yet another fight between Superman and America's infantry. I am so weary of this trope.

The black hole bullets seem to work. I worry about this as well. Remember in New Krypton when the military had unlimited Green K bullets, red sun handcuffs, power dampeners, etc. You can't have Superman be 'invulnerable' if the army has many weapons which can kill him.

Luckily (??) the Warith arrives to stop the fight between human and super-human. That's the good news. The bad news is he seems to be itching to fight Superman himself.

So my one problem with this is the fact that the Wraith has been around since at least the 40s. If he is this tough, wouldn't the military have sent him after Superman and other super-heroes long before this? Or is he too uncontrollable for that. I hope that aspect of his origin is explored.

As I said above, it is the multiple plotlines here that are making this an enjoyable book for me. If this was just Superman vs the military I would be pretty underwhelmed.

But there are three scenes that wrap this book up that perked my interest back up.

One, the man found at sea at the end of last issue, the one calling for Lois, turns out to be a member of Ascension who is on the run. My guess is the doctor is about to say there is a 'creature' attached to him. That is fascinating. Could Ascension be some sort of symbiote/alien threat?  Regardless, they aren't happy that Lois is investigating and decide to knock out the tech on her plane. Nice cliffhanger for that plot line.

And nice characterization of Lois in this book, running the show but still doing some of the legwork for stories.

And Luthor finally shows his true colors, taking pieces of the miniature solar 'tree' fed city he was designing and making it into some makeshift armor to escape captivity. As I said last issue, why would anyone give Luthor access to any technology.

One thing I did like about this escape is that Luthor knew the prison would use sedating gas to stop him if he went rogue so he somehow downloaded his consciousness/personality into the suit. I love this image of an incapacitated Lex flopping in the exoskeleton while a smirking image of him does some trash talking.  Nice cliffhanger here as well.

The epilogue is also interesting. Again we focus on Batman and how he has kept assurances against Superman at Superman's insistence. So there won't be destruction of the 'invisibility suit' and there won't be destruction of some unnamed odd appearing crystal spike either.

Again, I like the feeling of cooperation here. This isn't Batman preparing for Superman on his own, paranoid. And this is Superman making sure someone can stop him, someone he trusts.

But this completely feels like the loaded gun seen in the first act of a movie. You know it will be fired by the end. I won't be surprised if Superman ends up using some of these anti-Superman devices himself as he fights his dark reflection Wraith. So presumed nice foreshadowing here.

So, like many of my Superman reviews these days, this is a measured review. There were some very nice moments here. In particular, the opening scene and Superman's internal dialogue was very good. But the confrontation with General Lane and the Superman/army fight seemed forced and overdone. In fact, that scene alone soured the rest of the book for me.

Am I being blown away by this comic. No. But I am finding it to be a dense multilayered Superman book with decent characterization. As with Superman, I am more interested in the background plot threads than the main one where Superman is squaring off against the Army's super-man. Had Superman not initiated the conflict with the Army I might have given this issue a higher grade.

Overall grade: B


Anonymous said...

Were the streets of Dubai empty when Superman froze the water? What about the oncoming flood, the tornado that could form when all this cool air hits the warm desert air and other possible changes in local climate? Superman just made an ecological mess.

Also I would expect some people to have died anyway. The top half toppled, picked up speed along the way, got halfway horizontal and then stopped suddenly. This is enough to kill a bunch of people in there. And what happens when the ice melts.

On the other hand we know that Superman is fast enough to cross the atlantic in just a few seconds, he can carry objects at high speed without damaging them and he can support heavy weights without them crumbling, so I don't see what the problem was here. He should have had enough time to get everyone out of the danger zone and then maybe even slow the building down before it hits the ground.


Jay said...

It was decent, its just not the page-turner I'm looking for, writing-wise or art-wise. Lee has yet to recapture what he was doing in the initial Justice League arc at the beginning of the New 52. Around the time of the Graves arc the quality dipped and it seems stuck there. And writing-wise the story just seems thus far very vanilla. I'm waiting for a big hook to reel me in in regards to the investigative-mystery aspect of the tale, but I haven't gotten it yet.

For me, after reading Batman/Superman #1, I'm thinking Pak is going to be where its at for me come October.