Sunday, June 23, 2013

Superman Unchained 1: "The Leap"

I normally reserve this space for comics which are good, or at the very least interesting failures. However, this is DC's prestige Superman project led by it's biggest exclusive artist (who is part of management) and its A list writer. It was marketed specifically to capitalize on the success of Man of Steel, and is intended to be both an introduction to the contemporary Superman, and a high concept, high energy adventure for loyal Superman fans.

I'm not sure it succeeds on those terms.

The story is pretty thin, and feels like the first issue of a new run on Adventures of Superman in the early 2000's. It's dated, bland, stuff that I must have read a million times before. Point by point:

- I have no problem with the appropriation of Nagasaki for this comic's first scene, in theory. Some very fine science fiction authors have shown us that alternate history can be a springboard for great stories. However, real tragedies should be used with some real respect. You don't have the small Japanese boy who's about to be atomized by the weird blue energy man call out his own version of "It's a bird..." That makes you look emotionally tone deaf and exploitative. What did we gain from this scene that couldn't have been implied?

- The showcase sequence for Superman is problematic. Snyder borrows Jeph Loeb's trick of having Superman recall an anecdote from childhood that serves as a metaphor for what he's doing at that moment. I've seen this done a lot, but it's not a cardinal sin to borrow a successful beat from another writer. What is call for penance is the art: stiff, generic, hampered by a silly poster gimmick that borders on a real embarrassment. One side requires you to find the text box to know which way to hold it, and other is an impact shot with no force or visible effort. Not a disaster, but not what I'd expect from the DC A-team. The rest of the rescue is played big, but there's a giant missed opportunity as we are let in on Superman's thought process...only to find that he thinks exactly the same way you or I would. Doesn't this man's mind move at a million miles an hour? Haven't we any more insight than this?

- Superman recognizes the MO of bringing down satellites from one of Lex Luthor's term papers, so he goes to confront Lex as he's being transferred from his one man SuperDuperMax from Lobdell's recent issues on Superman to Gen Pop at Stryker's. Lex is shown here as the stupid person's idea of the world's smartest man. He's reading the Iliad (in translation, which doesn't seem right, and I suspect was done because Jim Lee can't be bothered to research what Ancient Greek letters look like), and when Superman attacks the copter he folds two of the pages into an origami skyline of Metropolis to show Superman what he's been working on. He exudes neither menace nor charm, and seems altogether like a wayward professor with delusions of grandeur and a taste for arts and crafts. It would have made a lot more sense if he had been absent mindedly doodling his new invention in the margins, but whatever. Other than mentioning the terrorist group Ascension for the second time in four pages this does nothing.

- The scene with Lois and Jimmy is just badly constructed. This scene exists to give two vital pieces of information: To explain Clark Kent's job status to new readers and to reveal to Clark that persons unknown saved one of the satellites he had given up on. It's crammed with so much unnecessary detail visually and textually that we're in danger of losing it. Less is more. Also, I got that Ascencion was important the first time, Scott, you don't have to keep mentioning them to me.

- Superman investigates the lost satellite, is fired on by an American sub, and we learn that the military has the Superman from Nagasaki in that location. Can anyone write an actual cliffhanger anymore? That's just a development, not something that makes me count the days till Issue 2, AND it's info we got on Page 3. Sloppy, lazy, writing.

- A two page epilogue (that Jim Lee couldn't be bothered with) reveals the crucial information that Perry White has ancestral binoculars that no longer work, and burned up man pulled from the ocean by a fishing trawler wants to see Lois Lane. Thrilling.

Conclusion: Events like this settle in the consciousness of readers and will help them determine just who and what this new Superman is to be. It's nice of Jim Lee and Scott Snyder to have made this one bland enough to escape notice, then. DC have had two tries at defining this new Superman in the almost two years since his debut in Justice League 1: Morrison's run on Action Comics and Lobdell's H'el on Earth storyline. Those two stories aren't playing on the same field with one another in terms of quality, but at least they were big bold adventures that took chances and felt fresh. This is yesterday's news for the Man of Tomorrow.

Not recommended.