Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: Superman Unchained #4

Superman Unchained #4 came out this week and continues to be a very entertaining and intriguing read.

Writer Scott Snyder continues to run three separate storylines through the book and that is what has grabbed me the most. We have the Superman/Wraith plot with Superman meeting an earlier and very different version of an American super-hero. We have Lois out on her own, dealing with some all-powerful crystal. And we have Luthor breaking out of prison and tormenting Jimmy with the hopes of tormenting Superman. And arcing over all of these is the threat of the highly technological anti-technology cult of Ascension.

All of these plots continue to move forward briskly in this issue but none seems cheated of time. It is as if Snyder is juggling the plots with just the right tempo, peeking in, moving forward, and leaving. Now my hope is that all of these plots end up intersecting at some point.

Perhaps the thing that struck me the most about this issue is that the Lex and Lois stories were the most interesting!

Jim Lee's art doesn't seem as detailed as prior issues and with the delay I wonder if he skimped on some pages to get this thing to the printer.

The action sequences of this book center around Superman and the Wraith trying to defeat Russian war drones which are being controlled by Ascension.

The banter between the two as they get bounced around a bit by advanced weaponry. Wraith seems almost fatherly at time with Superman, teaching him about powers he might use as well as trying to protect him from injury. But there is also this undercurrent of 'why am I doing this as one day I will kill you'. The former humanizes Wraith a bit. The latter makes me think he is some sort of sycophant.

As for Superman he has a sort of wry smile on his face, almost jabbing Wraith about his 'I am going to kill you statement'. It is as if Superman can't believe that someone who is helping him now could turn around.

Now one thing I worry about is effective anti-Kryptonian weaponry being readily available. Here the drones have 'red sun emitting bullets' which can harm Superman. Why hasn't someone killed him yet from a sniper rifle with one of these? While the need for conflict and a concern for injury is needed to make a Superman story compelling, making anyone with a gun and a certain bullet be capable of killing him is too much. Remember in "New Krypton" when there were Green K cannons, Red K handcuffs, Gold K bullets, etc.?  Too much is a bad thing.

It is interesting that they don't seem to hurt Wraith. Although he says he has 'shields'.

As for Lex, he has kidnapped Jimmy Olsen and seems to be using some large device to alter Jimmy's left hand in some way. Lex talks of how he knows just how Superman will be killed.

But there is some great Luthor stuff here. I always felt that Luthor was insane in his own way but in an overly orderly way. But here, he has this long scene where he has made origami figures of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, himself, and Jimmy. And his speech here about the power of origami ... their history, their fragility ... it seems too tangential for typical Lex.

This scene made Lex even a little scarier for me because he seems almost dissociated from reality here a bit, obsessive about something odd. And, of course, the fact he can talk about the beauty of these things while he is torturing someone is fantastic.

As for Lois, her helicopter was saved from crashing by this man holding a strange crystal.

I will admit I am a flailing a bit here. The man worked for Ascension, left with this crystal which is similar to a Kryptonian sun stone but is something more. The man, obviously damaged ... maybe from 'using' the crystal, says Superman needs to crystal because Superman is going to die soon.

And this crystal is the key to everything, perhaps a key power of Ascension itself.

Okay ... I need more info. But it is a good mystery.

Meanwhile Superman and the Wraith continue to battle in the middle of Tokyo.

I liked this small exchange between the two as they figure out how to defeat these things. The Wraith notes that the buildings are 'mostly' evacuated so they can take the fight to the streets. That is a soldier speaking, realizing you might need to break some eggs to make an omelet.

Superman is thinking more like a super-hero. He doesn't want the remaining people hurt. Better to bring the fight to the sky.

It is a small moment ... but it shows a profound difference between the characters.

And then there is this scene that is eerily familiar to Superman's talk to Bruce in Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Despite working well together, despite Wraith being able to teach Superman how to use his powers more effectively, eventually someone in authority is going to ask the Wraith to put Superman down. And he will do his duty. Homage? Reverse Dark Knight portraying Superman in a better light?

Another mystery that Superman brings up is that we haven't heard about Wraith's origin. Where does he come from?

It has to be Daxam! Similar powers, shields to protect him from bullets (lead?). Maybe his more monstrous appearance is the result of lead poisoning?

Not a huge leap but it is my guess.

Nice cliffhanger. As Lex's device slowly descends on Jimmy's left hand, Lex reveals that Jimmy will be his instrument of death.

Okay, so what do we think here? Embedded red sun bomb? Kryptonite joy buzzer?

I initially thought that somehow Lex was involved in Ascension. But now I am not so sure.

And then a new wrinkle.

Lois is captured by Ascension members who wear screen like masks and declare that General Lane is 'their father'.

Could this be some anti-Superman technology gone awry? Is this a black ops group created to kill Superman using Ascension as a cover? Is this a group which has left the military to become their own cult?

Whew! Lots of progression and lots of new mysteries! There is nothing like a complex Superman story with high action and using his supporting cast to its utmost potential. I mean it, this is the best Lois book we have had since the New 52.

Hopefully, Lee can keep up on the artwork so that there aren't major delays.

Kudos to Snyder and Lee for this book.

Overall grade: B+/A


Martin Gray said...

Great review, and I am soooo jealous of 'Kryptonite joy buzzer'!

Gear said...

This was a very good read, I enjoyed it a lot. I hope they can continue with the quality they've put into this.

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments.

Any thoughts on Wraith's origins?

Martin Gray said...

Daxam would make sense, though I could see DC avoiding Legion links for now. Then again, there is that awful Superboy solicitation hinting at an 'edgier' Legion ...