Superman Unchained #9 review

An alien armada is fast approaching Earth, one so powerful there may be only thing that could stop them – the death of Superman. Lex Luthor has given the Man of Steel a vial of solar fuel which, when injected in the vicinity of the invasion force, will make him explode with unimaginable power.

Batman and Wonder Woman are desperate to help, but there’s no time. Lois Lane wants Superman to not rush off, there may be another way.

But there isn’t.

Scott Snyder wraps up his Superman Unchained novel with great style as we see that this isn’t simply a Superman story, it’s his statement on the character. We view Superman through the eyes of Lois, of Lex, of his friends, and while all have insight, it’s what the man himself does that shows who he is. No one wants to lose their own life, but worse for Superman is the prospect of killing others – even enemies. We see how deep his reverence for life goes with a staggered flashback to his Smallville childhood and an incident with odious neighbour Jed Colder. But to save Earth’s billions, Superman will face that terrible choice, even if it betrays the man he wishes to be, the man he’s always been.

This issue is all about light, both as tool and metaphor. It’s light that is key to beating the extraterrestrials. It’s light that gives Lex an insight into who Superman is at heart. And it’s light that is the best parallel for what Superman is, a beacon of inspiration. The exchanges between Lex and Lois sizzle as perhaps the two most important characters in the mythos – the defining love and the defining foe – discuss the man each believes they know best.

Great as the Lois/Lex interaction is, the absolute best moment in this book is the page preceding Superman’s suicide mission.

Just beautiful. The New 52 revamp may have seen Superman and Lois dating other people, but if this issue isn’t a statement by DC that the romance remains core to the characters, and will reassert itself, nothing is.

Heck, not only is this scene written by the writer of DC’s biggest-selling book, Batman, it’s pencilled by the co-publisher. Jim Lee turns in some excellent pages, shining both in the big, splashy action scenes and the more focused drama of the character moments. And a full-page illo of Superman flying off towards space – with a clever narrative juxtaposition – is simply gorgeous, for which we should also thank inker Scott Williams and colourist Alex Sinclair.

We’re also treated to some very different, but differently superb and equally appropriate, art in the flashback scenes. Illustrator Dustin Nguyen and colourist John Kalisz eschew the superheroic clarity of Lee and Williams for a more impressionistic approach, a place where memory meets nightmare. Perfect.

The book ends with another wonderful conversation between Superman and Lois, though this time he’s in Clark mode. Snyder gets playful with one of the accusations thrown at Superman, without over-egging the pudding. And then there’s the final page, which will have every Superman fan grinning inanely, as the John Williams theme wells up in their head.

I realise this was a special project, but I shall be truly disappointed if Snyder doesn’t eventually take on an ongoing Superman title; he has a fine handle on the character, and is unashamed in his love and admiration for him. And I cannot wait to see more of his take on Lois, Lex, Jimmy and Perry, and how he’d approach the likes of Lana and Krypto (someone needs to save that so-called-dog from his current status as weird sabre-toothed tiger thing).

For now, though, I have a terrific tale of Superman to enjoy again and again. 

4 thoughts on “Superman Unchained #9 review

  1. Disclaimer: This is *only* my opinion.

    I think, in the New 52, the publishers wanted to decouple Superman and Lois and I'm not talking about the marriage. I think they wanted to remove Lois as the end game if you will and remove their romance as part of the foundation of the story. I think that is why after the reboot Lois was moved to a producer position and we didn't see her interact with either Superman or Clark very much. There was no triangle for two which in my opinion, can be written in a respectful way for all three parties in the equation. We saw that in Waid's Birthright and in the flashbacks during Busiek's run .

    I think in stories like this (and some others) are showing that the publishers are beginning to realize that no, sidelining Lois and trying to minimize this 75+ connection doesn't work. The characters were created together, and their relationship was a fundamental part of the story for decades, albeit the dynamic evolved as attitudes toward women change, but at the core of it we're left with the inevitability of the two of them.

    Yes, the publishers wanted to explore a Wonder Woman/ Superman relationship, and personally I think the stories are showing why that will never work. Wonder Woman when paired with a human (and I'm old school, I really like Steve Trevor) has to adapt, adjust and learn about humanity in a way she doesn't with Superman. She is also the alpha of the relationship and I think especially in the modern world this offers really interesting stories to explore gender dynamics. It can't be easy for a military guy like Trevor brought up in a culture where the men are on the front lines and seen as the protectors to have to stand back and be protected by his lover. Nor would be easy for Diana to understand why that would matter because she grew up in a society where it was the norm.

    Sorry, I digress! This story and small glimpses elsewhere give me hope that the publishers are beginning to understand that they can't isolate Superman and try to turn him in to Batman lite. This is what I think they were trying to do when they rebooted the story and I don't think it worked.

    My two cents as it were!



  2. Many thanks for the terrific insight, Maya. I do think DC has re-realised how important Lois is – she also gets a wonderful cover in this week's Future's End and the character feeds into the latest JL3000 too. I'm hoping for big things in the future.


  3. My review is up this morning so I wanted to comment on yours.

    What I found most interesting about this story was Lex's realization that helping people a little everywhere makes Superman more of an inspiration than him always taking out the big threats and taking over (clearly what Lex would do).

    That idea of Superman as an inspiration is powerful. Even the Wraith is effected.

    And like Maya, this book really highlighted just how powerful the Lois/Superman dynamic is. I can only hope that Johns brings this back. Because it is missed. And seeing it here reminded me how much it is needed.

    Lastly, I am sad to see this book end. The early issues set everything on a slow boil. These last 2 issues felt rushed, as if Snyder just needed to sprint to the end because the book wasnt coming out on time and DC was pulling the plug. A shame. I hope Snyder gets another Super book in the future.


  4. I did like that Lex came to understand Superman a little more, even if he did mostly retain his wrongheaded take, as you say over at Supergirl Comic Box Commentary.

    The inspiration and Lois, these are the big takeouts from the issue – love it.


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