Friday, September 12, 2014

Review: Superman Unchained #8

Superman Unchained #8, by superstar team of writer Scott Snyder and artist Jim Lee, came out this week, the penultimate issue of this comic's first and only arc. The book is ending with #9. Superman Unchained #1 came out 2 Junes ago. 9 issues in 15 months of a 'monthly' comic isn't a great rate.

Unfortunately, for me,  that delay in the story has really hurt this book.  I have looked forward to the book whenever it has finally hit the stands. But the stop/start nature of release has slowed the momentum of a complicated plot where 3 major threads are slowly weaving together.

Now I have to worry that the delays and then cancellation of the book has now hurt the story. Because while this issue is a slugfest with huge panels and splashes and double splashes, I am left knowing that this entire thing needs to be wrapped up in one issue, next issue, and I don't know if even a writer as great as Scott Snyder can pull it all together without it feeling rushed.

I realize I shouldn't damn this issue based on my preconceived concerns for the next. But I have to be honest, I felt a bit cheated with this issue because of the lack of story given the abundance of splashes. I always say 'big moments need big art' and the splashes are very nice. But knowing that we only had one issue left, I felt like the space could have been better used.

On to the issue.

As I said, the bulk of this issue is a knock-down, drag-out fight between Superman and Wraith with each gaining the upper hand momentarily only to have the other snatch it away.

There is a very nice opening near two-page splash of Superman about to drop a tanker ship onto the Wraith. It is a nice scene and captures the scope of the battle.

Snyder has a nice running theme through the issue of Superman asking himself how other people, other friends, other people he respects would deal with this fight.

Here he knows that Diana would 'unleash' the Warrior. She would push through. And hoisting a ship is a nice embodiment of that.

The Wraith has a myriad of powers, some of which border on Firestorm-esque. Before the tanker can be dropped, The Wraith dematerializes it by making the atoms unstable. He then pounds Superman pretty much across the planet. And we know that Superman is taking damage.

Superman then wonders how would Bruce fight? He'd fight dirty.

So he decides to try to suffocate Wraith, flying him to the moon and focusing his attacks on the trachea and diaphragm. The trachea/diaphragm lines sounded like Batman, how he always talks about the multitude of moves he could land on an opponent.

But the Wraith uses his energy powers again, emitting Kryptonite radiation and turning the tables, trying to suffocate Superman underwater on Earth.

Superman then wonders how Lois would deal with this fight, this battle he is losing. Lois would 'dig down deep' and tough it out. I love how Snyder has handled Lois in this series. And here, having Superman include Lois' strength of character with the other members of the trinity shows just how 'powerful' Snyder thinks Lane is. It shows how powerful he thinks the Superman/Lois relationship is.

'Dig deep' sparks an idea in Clark.

He tunnels down to Earth's core. There, the internal magnetism of the planet interferes with the Wraith's control over the electromagnetic spectrum. All that is left is strength and invulnerability. It seems a little out of the blue but internally consistent.

Without his EM powers, the Wraith gets battered. It allows Superman the time to monologue a bit, the discuss his philosophy. He doesn't hide behind an army like the Wraith. He doesn't sneak attack like the Wraith. He does stand out in the open, stating who he is and what he believes. It has led to him being attacked. And he has become a good fighter.

Part of this story has been comparing and contrasting the Wraith and Superman, their origins semi-similar. This was a nice coda.

And then there was my favorite moment of the book, this epilogue to the fight with the Wraith unconscious in the magma.

Superman mentions his friends and allies. How brave they are. How steadfast they are in the opinions. How they aren't anyone's lackey. They live in the light.

Having read the issue you can rattle off a short list of those people: Batman, Wonder Woman, and Lois.


But there is the whole gamut of other plots that need to be wrapped up.

The Ascension cult seems to be dismantled. The Wraith is unconscious. Are those plots done?

But what about the Earthstone, the voice inside it?

What about Lex?

What about Jimmy and the device Lex attached to his hand?

What about the origins of the Wraith?

Can it all be wrapped up?

Suddenly it looks like they are all balled together. Superman, Lois, General Lane, Jimmy, and a holographic Lex all congregate near the half-destroyed Fortress.

The Earthstone is calling out to aliens. The aliens that sent the Wraith. They are approaching Earth to attack. They want to see what Earth did with the 'equation' that unlocked information. And Lex knew all about it.

What I thought was a deadly joy buzzer attached to Jimmy turns out to be a case holding a syringe of concentrated solar energy, gleaned from his solar tower.

It will make Superman super-powerful but will burn him out. He'll be on a suicide run.

It sounds a little like the All-Star Superman solar overdose. And I suppose we'll see some battle sequence against these aliens next issue.

But has this issue brought the story to the place it needs to be. I would feel so much better if we had 2 more issues!

As I said, I shouldn't damn this issue for preconceived concerns. I thought this issue's fight, particularly when you heard Superman's praise of his friends, was very good. But I have usually been extremely happy with this book.

And it is a shame that we won't be reading more Snyder Superman and Snyder Lois.

Overall grade: B


Martin Gray said...

I do agree that the publication delays have hurt the book, it'll likely read wonderfully well in a trade but as a quarterly or whatever, not so much.

It's a shame, as Scott Snyder has some good ideas and you're right, a very nice handle on Superman's pals. I do hope he returns to the characters.

Do you think Wraith's EM powers were a nod to Electric Superman of the nineties?

Count Drunkula said...

I can't believe this book is still a thing.

I enjoyed the first issue--1+ year ago--but I knew right away where the Wraith storyline was going and it didn't interest me. Maybe I'll get this when the whole thing is over. Maybe.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments.

Mart, you are right that each issue is very good and as a trade will read very nice ... assuming the ending can be pulled off.

Count, it is crazy - 8 issues in 15 months. Maybe if we went in knowing it was bimonthly I might give it a pass. But we all knew this would happen with Lee on art.

Dave Mullen said...

There does seem to be a problem with the pacing and plotting of this series, perhaps because it was curtailed? But the decompression Scott Snyder chose to use is as equal a choice to blame as it left him with too drawn out a story and too much to do before the end.

The Wraith/Superman is one that was signposted back in the second and third issues and has been bubbling ever since, so this expansive fight-issue was a natural result, but the apparent pettiness of Wraith in going after Batman and now picking this fight with Superman seemed too unlikely for me. The Lex Luthor subplot too has been very odd - not seen since issue 4 he suddenly appears at the Fortress to deliver such a phenomenal amount of omniscient exposition my credulity reaches breaking point. HOW can Luthor possibly have learned all of this information?! We know from his Supergirl appearance awhile back just how far his surveillance network can reach so I have no doubt he could watch the action at the Fortress, and If he knew about the Earthstone and the imminent Invasion back in the first issue and before does it not suggest that Ascension was in fact his operation?
That is about the only plausible means by which he could have learned so much so I hope Scott Snyder confirms as much next issue.

I don't think Superman Unchained has been anything close to the 'definitive' Superman story which was initially promised, the way it has been handled strikes me as being as cynical as the overhyped Justice League of America a couple of years ago, a very brazen ploy to generate a quick buck and with no intention to make it the ongoing series promised...
Superman Unchained has been pretty average on the whole I'm afraid.