I was intrigued when they first announced that Scott Snyder was writing a Superman series. His Batman run in the New 52 has been fantastic, with maybe a few hiccups here and there. Superman Unchained 1 was a great start, showcasing not only Superman’s heroic nature but also his thinking skills. But then the series not only went downhill in quality, but chronic delays ruined nearly all enthusiasm I had for the series to begin with. Can the final issue make up for lost enthusiasm?
In short, no. One of the problems with this mini-series is that it has a bit of an overcomplicated plot. It has Lex Luthor’s antics while in prison. It has both General Lane and his army acting as a hindrance for Superman. It has Wraith, a similarly powerful being who is working for the military and later fights against Superman. It has an alien crystal that seems to have power over all technology, and Lois Lane having her own side-story tied to that crystal. And to top it off, there’s a massive alien fleet ready to attack Earth. That’s way too much for a 9-issue series that took more than a year to finish.
The bulk of this issue is Superman taking on the alien fleet, while Lex Luthor narrates on why he doesn’t like Superman. It’s an interesting contrast, seeing Superman’s actions directly contradict most of what Lex says, but some of it kind of doesn’t make much sense. Luthor talks about a satellite being able to read energy on Earth from years back, yet wouldn’t the energy have dissipated long beforehand? The end of the issue also comments on how Superman recaptured Lex after the space battle. That would have been nice to see, considering how Lex’s escape was actually kind of awesome. Instead, we have a quick flashback to Clark as a kid, blasting a crazy old man with murderous intent using his energy powers and then saving his life with CPR. It’s not a bad scene, but it probably should have been in an earlier issue if anywhere.
The biggest problem involves Wraith though. In the last issue, Superman defeated Wraith by shoving him deep into the Earth’s core. It was something about the core weakening Wraith the same way that Kryptonite weakens Clark but I don’t remember the specifics. Yet when Superman was ready to sacrifice himself to destroy the alien fleet, Wraith suddenly shows up with no explanation and does it for him. It’s fitting that Wraith sacrificed himself instead, but how exactly did he escape?
That’s not to say there isn’t anything to like about this issue. There’s a brief tender moment between Superman and Lois, showing that they still care about each other despite DC’s insistence they shouldn’t be married. The same could be said of Clark Kent and Lois when they had a phone conversation to end the mini-series. The art by Jim Lee is the real highlight though. It may be the main reason the issue was delayed but it looks fantastic. The climactic battle in space is complete with all sorts of debris flying around, good use of motion blurs when Superman flies at incredible speeds and an impressive two-page spread revealing the alien fleet. The use of lighting effects and electricity flying all over earth really adds life to the chaotic climax. And finally, the facial expressions are very well drawn.
Yes, Jim Lee’s art is great throughout this mini-series, but that doesn’t make it worth the wait. The end result still feels like a mess, with too many plot threads colliding and too many unanswered questions. The overall result has some great points yet there are too many shortcomings to make Superman Unchained good overall. Unless you’ve read the other 8 issues, I wouldn’t recommend this. I wouldn’t recommend this mini-series as a whole, but I wouldn’t be against Scott Snyder taking another shot at Superman.