Thursday, June 13, 2013

365 Comics...163: Superman Unchained #1 (2013)

First off, that title... it's a terrible title for an ongoing series.  DC's tried to play it off as something, anything other than a riff off Django Unchained, hearkening back to the iconic image of Superman busting out of chains on the cover of Superman #11 (1941, July/August) and then countless times since (most notably Neal Adams' cover to Superman #233 (1971, January)).  But it's really just owes it's existence to the success and popularity of Quentin Tarantino's Oscar winning slavery/western/revenge epic, which in that like makes it somewhat, I dunno, co-opt-y (like it was made for the WPCBC Network from Mr. Show).

Adventures of Superman, Action Comics, Superman: Man of Steel, Superman: Last Son of Krypton, Superman: Man of Tomorrow, Superman of Metropolis, Superman: Big Blue Boy Scout, ... You know, historical titles, or titles relating to or about the character.  This Unchained thing seems like a flash in the pan, a mini-series title.  I could be wrong, this one could last a decade, but somehow, once the star writer and artist leave the book, it probably won't last more than a year or two after.

(But seriously, with Man of Steel also hitting theatres this week, why not "Man of Steel" as a title?  Seems so utterly logical, moreso than aligning with Django.)

Anyway, enough grousing about the title, what about the book?  Well, it's a 22-page book for $4.99.  We'll 22-pages plus a "tipped-in" four-page fold of two images that could have just as easily been two normal splash pages, bringing it to a 24-page book at an easy $2.99 if, you know, they wanted to create value for the fans.  But I get it, nothing reads "special" like a gimmick, and a poster-sized fold-out page is quite the gimmick... but in story it feels completely unnecessary and from a reader standpoint, it doesn't deliver anything all that spectacular or inspiring (and in fact it's kind of annoying to unstick it from the rubber cement and unfold it.  Wasn't there a comic a while back that required one to unfold it... Arrowsmith or some fantasy book from a few years back?  Wednesday Comics was like that and it worked well.  It might have been interesting for all of Superman Unchained to be a completely fold-out book.

Whatever.  This tipped-in poster business, not a great idea, but also it could be used to a pretty interesting effect, such as, say, the Trinity war if an artist wanted to cram in a couple dozen heroes and villains into a fight scene... or given to someone like JH Williams III to do some crazy innovative panel stuff with the structure, or Geoff Darrow to really blow someone's brains out with an intense amount of detail.  I could think of a dozen different artists who would probably do something more interesting than two poster-sized splash panels.  But it could also be a sign of Scott Snyder, as a writer, not exploring that space in his script.  The moment itself in the book was a signature Superman-rescue moment, like the space-shuttle rescue in Superman Returns... it's a defining element of his character, that he uses his might for heroic deeds, not just fighting, but it's not a special moment, certainly not special enough to warrant a massive fold-out page.  Think of Superman Beyond, from Final Crisis, how trippy that story was and how Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke could have used it, or Morrison and Quitely in All-Star Superman... there I go again.

Jim Lee has never been a favourite artist of mine (perhaps I retain some bitterness over the 38 copies of X-Men #1 I naively bought 23 years ago) but I find his style less appealing every time I see it.  These days, it's looking dirty with all those excess lines, and any panel that isn't solely focussed on a character pose looks more sketch-like than a finished image.

But the story itself in Superman Unchained is one I can get behind.  It feels like a Superman story, but not a pre-Flashpoint one... it takes that foundation that Morrison laid in Action Comics, expands on top of it.  Superman is heroic, intelligent, inquisitive, honorable, friendly (or intimidating, depending)... he's is the icon he should be.  I won't say it's perfect, but it's definitely the Superman the New 52 has been searching for and hasn't had yet.

Also, the best part of the book was a Clark Kent/Jim Olsen moment, which goes a long way.  You know what, even at five bucks and a less than awe-inspiring fold-out I still feel like I got my $5 worth, which, given how uninspired I've been by the Superman of the new 52, is saying a lot.  I won't pay $5 bucks monthly, but this once, I'm fine with it.

No comments: