here. Overall, I thought it was a pretty great Superman story, despite all the quibbles one might have about how it was marketed and sold, from its goofy title to it's ridiculous number of variant covers (58, by my count) to a few plot points that, were I an editor, I likely would have suggested changing or even just tweaking.
The biggest "problem" with the book is, however, also one of its virtues—Jim Lee's artwork. I like Lee a lot more than many critics who have been reading and writing about comics as long as I have, but sometimes he works on particular projects better than other times, and sometimes he meshes better with particular writers than he does with other writers. And Snyder and Lee aren't the match made in heaven that Frank Miller and Lee were, nor does his style seem to fit that of Superman Unchained as well as it did with All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder, or even "Hush."
One could say that Lee's artwork is the main reason this book was such a big deal in the first place, and there's probably something to that, but I found it quite interesting how low the sales of the book slipped during its run. After the first issue or three, it was being outsold by Snyder and Greg Capullo's regular old Batman monthly, despite significant incentives in the form of so many goddam variant covers.
I don't think that's necessarily because Capullo is more popular than Lee now, and may have more to do with Batman being more popular than Superman, but I do think its significant, and I wonder if the market doesn't more eagerly embrace a talented, punctual artist who meshes well with his or her writer more readily than it does a superstar artist with a bad reputation for hitting deadlines these days.
Anyway, I had a few more thoughts about Superman Unchained I didn't quite fit into the review in anyway that wouldn't have made what probably wasn't all that well-written a piece read worse still, so I thought I'd pull them out and address them here.
He brings some pretty lousy designs to play in this storyline. The first time I rolled my eyes was when I saw what Lois Lane was wearing to the office. I guess I'm not sure what material her glove-like dress is made of, but it's tight enough you can see her abs through it, so it sure doesn't look business casual. Also, that color!
The bigger disappointment is in the look of the new character, who is a Superman analogue who has worked closely with the United States military in secret since the late 1930s. He is basically a Superman analogue who made different choices than Superman, and while they attempt to be friends—or at least allies—it's clear from his first appearance he's going to end up spending most of the book in conflict with Superman.
Snyder gives him the not-very-friendly nickname of "Wraith," which was mean to be an acronym of "William Rudolph's Ace In The Hole," which makes me wonder what they called him upon first meeting him, before they knew he'd be their "Ace In The Hole," or their "Aith," as it were (Because he's been "invisible" all this time though, the name does function as an appropriate one for him).
Here's our first look at him:
Also, at one point, Wraith puts on this stupid looking armor/girdle, that renders him immune to a "synthetic mineral" that works on Wraith the same way kryptonite works on Superman:
Wraith's not the only one who puts on armor during the course of the storyline. Batman appears throughout, and most of his scenes find him wearing a specially-designed "stealth suit" that renders him invisible to Superman's many super-senses. And what does a stealth suit look like?
Well, it glows bright yellow, for one thing.
At the very least, I wouldn't have had it glow.
But then, I'm not a comic book artist or a stealth suit designer.
Then there's a scene where General Sam Lane and the military forces he commands attacks The Fortress of Solitude with these neat giant dog droid tanks bristling with anti-Superman weaponry. Superman meets them in a suit of armor with special weaponry of his own and he looks like this:
I think his plan was to make the soldiers laugh so hard that they would be incapacitated long enough for him to round them up at super-speed, but it doesn't work, and he's forced to fight them using his shield and laser ninja sickle and wire thingee.
While various Justice Leaguers get mentioned in passing, particularly near the climax, where every nuclear weapon on Earth is launched at the same time and, later, when an alien armada prepares to invade, the only other Leaguer to appear on-panel aside from Batman is Wonder Woman.
She's instrumental in a scene in which Wraith attacks Batman in the Bat-cave (see above; and note the panel before has Batman asking Wraith, "Penny for your thoughts?").
Wonder Woman's relationship with the Man of Steel and The Dark Knight, as individuals and as a pair, has been portrayed in many different ways over the decades, and she's been romantically entangled with both...just barely with Batman during Joe Kelly's run on JLA (and in the Justice League cartoons), and she is currently dating Superman in DC's comics.
My favorite version of the trio's relationship is the one suggested in the Batman: The Brave and The Bold cartoon, where the three of them are essentially super-best friends. Wonder Woman is just one of the guys...not by being essentially guy-like, but because the three friends' relationship has nothing to do with their genders at all. It's a little like they just swapped out Robin Dick Grayson for Wonder Woman in the relationship suggested by all those fun old World's Finest comic book covers, you know?
As I mentioned in my Robot 6 review, Snyder focuses on Superman's relationship with Lois Lane throughout the book, most intensely at the climax, where he gets a few pages with Lois and only a few short words of strategy over a Justice League communicator with Wonder Woman. Now, Superman's relationship with Lois is just one of great friends here, and it's possible that Superman's keeping his game face on with Wonder Woman at the moment, but it's an odd note to strike.
In fact, I almost wonder if the book would be better without Wonder Woman in at all. She only gets a few lines, lines like:
•"They accessed silos around the world. It's bad."
•"I'll do what I can to help Green Lantern. Still, we're looking at a sixty percent stop rate at best."
•"Superman...it's Batman's servers, they're picking something up in the current running through the cave. An energy pattern."
•"Is it Wraith? Does he have some link to the Earthstone?"
•"So what do we do, Superman? I can tell you have a plan by your tone. Whatever it is, we're helping."
And that's it. Those are all of Wonder Woman's lines in the whole book. Even in the scene where she plays the most prominent role (above), stopping Wraith from kill Batman, she's just playing the role that anyone stronger than Batman could have played. She could have been swapped out for Cyborg, Green Lantern or the New 52 version of Aquaman in that same scene. And she doesn't have any lines at all throughout it.
Superman shows up shortly after to save her from Wraith.
So I'm a little torn. It's nice she's in the book at all, but it's weird how little she has to do, or even say. During the Trinity's fight with Wraith, for example, Batman fights Wraith one-on-one for about seven pages, before Wonder Woman saves him, fighting for about three pages alongside Batman, until Superman arrives for the next issues Superman vs. Wraith throwdown. Throughout it all, Batman gets all the quips.
That said, there was work from a lot of my favorite superhero artists, some of whom just don't seem to get the amount of work they deserve from DC anymore (provided they even want it, of course), and many of whom probably could have really made Superman Unchained sing in a way that Lee couldn't.
These are broken into various categories, and it was especially fun to see the first appearance and Golden Age versions of Superman. Gary Frank, for example, is hardly one of my favorite artists, but I did love his Golden Age style cover, from the look on Superman's face and the particular costume he wore, to the look on Lois' face as she cheers the bemused Superman on in his fight with a lion.
These are probably my favorite of them all though, because each suggests a super-compelling story all on it's own. There are a lot of great covers in this massive variant cover gallery, but these are the three I wish had stories to accompany them:
And Amanda Conner's...oh boy, that's gotta push a lot of Superman's buttons in some rather uncomfortable ways, huh?
Finally, I just wanted to highlight this wonderful Sean Murphy from the "Superman Reborn" era: