Remember how Superman Unchained #5 ended, and you couldn’t wait to find out how it was going to be resolved?
Yeah, me neither. It’s been three months since the last issue of this series came out, and that’s a huge disappointment in terms of the narrative flow of the story. It’s hard enough to keep track of story lines and their various clues, Easter eggs, and foreshadowing when they come out once a month. But a three month gap is a real killer.
Most people seem to be putting the “blame” for the long wait on Jim Lee and the pace at which he creates his comic art. Whether he’s entirely to blame, I’m not sure, but his layouts and detail work are true to form, and that’s a good thing. There are some who might not like Lee’s style, but there’s no denying he’s a talented and dedicated master of his craft, and he brings that artistry to bear in this issue. It’s mainly a tense-ridden action-packed story, and Lee’s layouts pay off in the scenes well. Lee’s Superman is powerful, dynamic, and majestic – he’s not just a strong guy in a cape who can fly. And yet it’s Lee’s depictions of Lois Lane in this issue, particularly at the end of the story when we see her in Superman’s menagerie in his Fortress of Solitude, where the art really shines. Lee has given Lois a plucky, no-nonsense style befitting of an ace reporter willing to do whatever it takes to get her story. When we get to see her showcased against the alien background of the menagerie, while she hangs out in her workaday slacks and shirt with her sleeves rolled-up, we are reminded that Lois is our viewpoint character into this strange and weird world. It’s a small, almost throwaway touch, but so refreshing in a medium that’s dominated by “women as sex symbols.” In this manner, she’s not unlike the role played by the character of Lana Lang in another current Superman book, Action Comics.
Speaking of Lois hanging out in the Fortress of Solitude, we get to see some really great, one-on-one interactions here between the two characters that are reminiscent of the days prior to the New 52, before DC nuked Clark and Lois’s marriage and chose to put Superman and Wonder Woman together as a power couple. The scenes here are subtle, and someone without the background of these two characters’ history over the past few decades might not pick up on it, but there’s definitely a tension during their discussion that has more to do with attraction than it does with the aftermath of Superman’s recent interactions with Wraith, Ascension, and potential nuclear disaster.
Batman makes a fun cameo at the beginning of this issue which pays off near the end. Then, in a short two-page epilogue to the story, Snyder teams up with artist Dustin Nguyen to feature Batman as the exclusive hero character, and set up a bit of a cliffhanger that hopefully can be resolved over the remaining three issues of this series. Nguyen’s artistry here is amazing – it’s a completely different style from Lee’s, but then again it’s fitting as it’s a separate little epilogue story. But Nguyen has also proven that he has the ability to completely switch around his style depending on what’s called for in the story. I for one wouldn’t mind seeing this series continue with him at the helm of the art duties.
Snyder’s done some interesting world-building with Superman Unchained so far, with Ascension, General Lane, and Wraith as the main antagonists, and does some really nice work with showing how Superman doesn’t operate alone – as mentioned, Batman shows up briefly in this issue, as does Wonder Woman, but ultimately there are some things that only Superman can take care of. It’s a nice way of exploring why all potential threats aren’t just handled as a team by the Justice League. However, given the sporadic publishing schedule and the short-lived nature of the series, this particular issue seems to rush to the conclusion in order to set up the final three-issue story arc. It’s unfortunate, as given Snyder’s other work it’s clear that given some more space to work with, he could have fleshed these characters and stories out a lot more.