Superman: Unchained #1 is a good comic, period. Having said that, it’s not quite what I expected. With the magnitude of having Scott Snyder and Jim Lee team up on a book, and release it the same week as the franchise re-starter, Man of Steel, the story was surprisingly more or less a Superman “case of the week” that didn’t strive to redefine the character for new audiences.
Rather than have Kal-El question his moral compass and identity right away with this installment, Snyder humanizes the character like he typically has in other series. He gives the lead character narration from their past that draws on a common experience for the reader, than juxtaposes that with the character’s superpowered exploits.
Snyder does this in the character’s introduction to the issue as he launches through space. Snyder successfully grounds the character in doing this by not building him up as a god or symbol, but rather a farm boy who happens to be super strong. We even have Superman admit in this issue that he was longing to “take a breath.”
The introduction to Superman’s supporting cast is fine, but in some cases, such as Lex Luthor, his behaviour comes off as stereotypical. He explains to Superman his plan for harnessing energy, conveniently illustrating the idea through means of a pop-up book. It comes off as humorous, especially with the upside-down visual Lee draws, but I’m not sure that’s a great way to introduce new readers to someone who’s considered to be Superman’s most menacing threat.
Jim Lee’s work is top notch in this issue, capturing the scope of the character that may be lost in the script. He’s that artist that’s been around for most of our lives, and he continues to please the eyes. With a stunning fold-out poster, clever binocular two-page spread and undersea explosions, spectacle shines magnificently in this issue.
The last page reveal feels pretty left-field and contrived, but I can see how Snyder is trying to use an “even bigger threat” to further his humanization of Superman. Superman: Unchained #1 doesn’t tackle the over-arching themes that define the character, but it delivered on a solid start for the new series. For new readers seeking a typical Superman action tale, this is for you. For a greater look at how Superman inspires, check out Adventures of Superman #1 that was released last month in print.