(p) Jim Lee
(i) Scott Williams
Was it that hard to produce a non-Grant Morrison Superman book, DC?
Superman Unchained is exactly what I've been wanting from Superman in the 'New 52'. Now, I loved Morrison's run on Action Comics, but it was a high-concept story that was difficult to follow month to month. Then there's the eponymous series that was mishandled from day one, only to be given to Scott Lobdell who has managed to drive the title even more into the ground than it already was. Letting Scott Snyder take a crack at the Man of Steel was a great decision that has resulted in the single greatest Superman issue of the 'New 52'.
** SPOILERS AHEAD! **
My favorite part of Superman Unchained #1 is when Clark is reentering Earth's atmosphere while attempting to divert a falling satellite from crashing into a populated area. While speeding toward Earth, Superman experiences the same sensation of free falling as he did when he was a boy jumping from a silo into a giant stack of hay. It's not the most bombastic or exciting part of Superman Unchained #1, but it's extremely important to the Superman mythos, in general.
Many writers attempt to humanize Superman through the use of the character's inner psychological conflicts. Since Clark is a god among men, a lot of good storytelling comes from analyzing just how he handles himself beyond fighting villains or stopping alien invasions. Superman: For Tomorrow was one of the most successful examples of this kind of narrative. But then it became commonplace. It felt like Superman's emotional turmoil was becoming the focus instead of the lining that gave meaning to Clark's actions.
Snyder's decision to make Clark reminisce about his life in Smallville is meaningful because it rarely ever happens. Sure, there are flashbacks to random moments here and there, and the Kents are always at the forefront of Clark's thoughts, but specifics have been few and far between. The story of the Colder Jump shows Superman's humanity. And not through the lens of holding back his strength or doling out sage advice to mere humans, but through being human himself. Everyone has triggers that set memories into motion -- Superman's are just a little larger than life. For all the times Clark talks about Smallville, it's great to finally experience a real connection to the Man of Steel's life as just a Man.
This scene is one example of Snyder employing a theme that basically juxtaposes the ordinary against the extraordinary. Clark is remembering life in Smallville at the same time he's literally moving a building-sized satellite through our planet's atmosphere. The theme continues into Superman's conversation with Lex Luthor, which takes place in a helicopter that Clark is holding upside down. Both Clark and Lex speak to each other like they're sipping tea at a Parisian cafe even though one is an alien Jesus figure and the other is a hyper-intelligent sociopath bent on destroying Superman. By the end, it's clear that the theme has been present throughout the issue. More or less, Superman Unchained #1 gives readers a good, basic view of what Superman does day to day. Clark never breaks a sweat, his voice never falters, and his step never misses. An extraordinary life is simply life to Superman.
Superman Unchained #1 is what readers have been waiting for: a true flagship title for the Man of Steel. Scott Snyder so fantastically taps into what makes Superman great that I actually found myself disappointed that the issue was over and that there wasn't any more to read. If Snyder can do with Superman what he's done with Batman in terms of overall character development, Superman Unchained is set to be one of the best series of the 'New 52.'