Superman Unchained #1

Superman Unchained #1 – J. Lee, S. Snyder; DC Comics; 2013

Because we are nearing the end of the year and I have not done a comic book review in awhile, I figured it was time. Not to mention the INSANE backlog of comics stacked around the premises.  I would show you pictures, but I think it would terrify.  Anyway, I happily dove into the first issue of DC’s Superman Unchained title.  This issue starts a new series and was highly anticipated by readers.  Anything involving Superman generally makes news, however the excitement over this title comes from the creator team of Scott Snyder and Jim Lee.  I think DC jumped onto these facts and slapped a $4.99 on the cover just to see if they could do it – i.e. how much value does Snyder/Lee have in terms of buyers?

The cover is nice.  You can tell immediately that it is Jim Lee’s work.  It features the New 52-style Superman (younger and updated costume) ripping through some sort of technological debris. Superman has a gritty look as opposed to the happy, accomplished look he tends to wear.  I really wonder, though, what DC was thinking with the “Unchained” part.  Is this some cool, youthful lingo?  You know, the dialect in which we would say “this is off the chain” or “no limits.”  But the thing is, the whole concept of Superman is that he is never chained.  He’s unchained, y’all…………

frame, Superman Unchained #1, J. Lee, S. Snyder, DC Comics; 2013

I really like the artwork in this issue.  It has frames from all points-of-view and angles.  I like the coloring – very colorful and sharply defined.  I always think of Jim Lee’s work as being high-definition and highly-sharpened.  Included in this issue (and perhaps to soften the price point) is a tagged-in four-fold “poster” that actually is part of the issue.  This fold-out section is part of the storyline – just the art needed an embiggened format to be shown.  Now, did it? Sure, I guess, maybe.  I am not real fond of gimmicks like this.  I found it a bit cumbersome to unseal, unfold, read, and then re-fold.  Overall, the Superman here is drawn with shadows, while frowning in concentration, with youth and almost a slightly dark feel.

The storyline is okay.  I think that Snyder has proven himself a very capable and interesting writer with his laudable work on the Batman title.  In this issue, there are included several pages of “interview” material with Snyder and Lee and he makes some comments regarding the differences and similarities between the characters Batman and Superman.  I do think Snyder will be writing us a Supes who is a bit heavier and grittier than those 1980s Superman characterizations. Anyway, the storyline is kind of vague.  Satellites are falling to Earth – Superman is reacting to this. Clark Kent and Superman (or do we speak of them as the same?) are “investigating” the situation.  A supposed-terrorist/crime group called Ascension is hinted at – the whole time all the characters tell us “it cannot be Ascension who did this.”  Of course, Superman’s go-to is Lex Luthor (who has a few frames which perfectly depict his arrogance.  There are some threads with Lois’ father and historical events (WWII).  Overall, Snyder is setting up a big storyline for us, so it’s too early to decipher much other than there are a few interesting elements here.

I am going to give this 4 out of 5 stars – for the art, for the seemingly bold direction Snyder is driving toward, and because this feels stronger than the Action Comics and Superman titles’ starts with the New 52.  I own issues #2 – 4, so I will have to see where this goes.  Still, at $4.99 I am not entirely sure all readers will feel they got their value.

4 stars

Superman #7

Superman 7

Superman #7; DC 2012

One of the biggest complaints about comics in the last decade has been about the Superman titles.  They have been awful.  And I think it’s something that has gnawed at DC Comics for a long time and for whatever reason, nothing they do for the title/character seems to work.  Particularly for the last five years, readers have been exceedingly disappointed with Superman and have expressed their concerns by simply not buying or reading these titles.  This is a really sad thing because Superman is so kosmically recognizable that there is just something unsettling about no one being interested, let alone excited, about his comics.

I think that within the deep recesses of the hearts of comic fans there was a, quite natural, hope that with DC’s New 52, Superman would be saved.  Not rehabilitated, but heroically saved.  The complaints of the last decade that Superman titles were boring, scattered, uninteresting, pointless, and stupid were valid and probably hit DC pretty hard.  So, everyone probably expected that the New 52 would solve these issues and send Superman titles to the top of the charts – where he belongs (even if fanboys do not dare admit they believe this).

On Action Comics, DC put the famous, but difficult, writer Grant Morrison.  I’ve gone over that situation in my reviews for Action Comics.  For the Superman title, DC gave the reins to writer George Perez.  Perez is one of those industry-standard writers who has written Wonder Woman and Silver Surfer among other titles. I was pleased that he was selected as I felt that he was a solid choice for a proven, but not extreme writing style.  Now, Superman also appears in DC’s “flagship” – Justice League, which is being written by star writer Geoff Johns.  Surely, with the New 52 and these three writers writing the character, there is no way Superman could fail.

Action Comics may or may not be good. It’s certainly not a “basic” comic read.  Morrison has some different perspectives and ideas as to how stories should be told.  Geoff Johns’ Superman is good – but since he’s a member of a supergroup, he does not get much face time or development.  Superman’s entrance, though, is still one of the highlights of the start of the New 52.  The Superman title penned by Perez looked so pretty. It contained a lot of action, fighting, flying, battling, etc.  However, it felt scattered and disconnected. Some readers felt it was confusing and disoriented.  Ultimately, it was a disappointment. While the character is freshened, the problems with the title still seemed to be present.  We all wanted to love the title. Most of us ended up dropping the title from subscription lists with a dejected, puzzled feeling.

However, it seems DC was willing to do something proactive about the situation.  Starting in issue #6, they added writers Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen.  Both of these writers/artists are also solid creators who are no strangers to the industry.  Issue #6 was nothing great, but I do feel it was better than the previous five.  Finally, in issue #7, I can say that this is a real Superman comic.  This is a storyline that I can follow without frustration or annoyance.  This is art that looks fantastic and the character does not seem like a haphazard mess of confusion.

Superman’s thoughts are presented in a reasonable manner – he does seem younger and bolder.  The opening fight is easy to follow and interesting enough that it does not seem like just frames of action shots.  I like that there is a linear storyline – a problem, a setting, villains, and friends.  The art perfectly matches the story and the story seems, finally, like it is going somewhere.  The first five issues seemed really in media res and random.  This seems like there is a real story going on, which is a nice change. In other words, this issue is a well-organized, linear, solid story.  The artwork is above average and it is not messy.

I am interested in the villain, Helspont.  I know he has history in DC, but I want to see if the New 52 has changed anything – or will change anything. I want him to be a worthy villain that Superman can battle with both physically and intellectually. He’s also drawn to look mighty cool.

I kind of feel bad for those readers who dropped Superman before issue #7.  They probably won’t believe this is any good.  And, well, even though this issue is a solid 4 stars, all readers are probably dubious about believing that anything good will come to pass with this title, anyway.  After all, it’s hard to forget a decade of mediocrity and boring. It is my real hope, though, that Jurgens and Giffen CAN AND WILL make this a worthwhile, interesting title. But, one issue isn’t enough……….

4 stars

Action Comics #7

Action Comics 7

Action Comics #7; DC

Grant Morrison.

I read Action Comics #7 twice and decided to give the issue 4 stars – in spite of it having been written by Grant Morrison. Or, maybe, because of being written by Grant Morrison. I just cannot tell.

Okay, so first of all, it’s difficult to believe we are already on the seventh issue of The New 52!  The Batman title has, more or less, been seen as the greatest success for DC, with most readers finding it to be the best of the whole lot. Sure, some people like what has been going on with Swamp Thing and Wonder Woman – but those titles will never have the powerhouse appeal that Batman does.  Now, where does Action Comics fit in with all of these?  It has always been the flagship Superman title.  DC handed this title over to Grant Morrison, who is probably one of the most talked about creators in comics.  It seems that readers either love or hate Morrison – and usually flip their opinion with every issue they read.  Most of the time, it seems Morrison is, at least, frustrating.

I’ve commented on Morrison several times in this blog. He is known for cryptic details, non-linear storytelling, and daring unorthodox character developments. So, is Morrison really a good writer or does he just know how to get talked about? Is he a good writer or do people just enjoy the “difference”? I kind of wish Derrida were around to comment on Morrison.  And since I’m imagining a little forum of writers, I’d like to add China Miéville to the mix. This would be a good round-table group.

I read Action Comics #5 and shrugged. So did Zarathustra. I read Action Comics #6 and hated it. In fact, I purposely left it off of my comic subscription list at my local comic book store. I was ready to be done with Morrison. I had high-hopes at issue #2, but I hated #6 so much that I could not stand the idea of reading any more Morrison nonsense. I was prepared to write an “enough-is-enough” rant about the madness and drivel that Morrison gets away with publishing.

And then I read #7 and, though it had it’s frustrating-Morrison-moments, I really liked it. After #6, I brought a lot of negative with me to #7, so for me to say that I liked #7 rather pains me. Okay, it contained things that I like about Superman comics, viz. the Bottle City of Kandor and Brainiac.  Maybe I just have too much love for Lilliput or something.  I love the concept of a bottle city.  And then there is Brainiac.  Of course I love Brainiac. I love Brainiac the villain and “Brainiac” 5 of the Legion of Super-heroes. So…. there’s just a lot here that I love on principle.

This issue does have the typical Morrison-style in media res stuff.  However, it’s not as “bad” as in other issues. Somehow, I was able to follow along fairly-well and be drawn into the story. (Who knows if Morrison will continue this storyline anytime soon?) There’s Superman being confident and Lois being abrasive and Lex being two-steps ahead of everyone else.  There’s armor from Krypton and Superman is wearing an airtank when he gets to space (the eternal:  how does he breathe in space aporia).  But Brainiac is updated a bit:  collector of worlds, internet, computo, et al. This is good stuff:  perfect for The New 52.  This is what should be going on in the DC titles.  The artwork is solid (I cannot imagine what drawing for/with Grant Morrison would be like).

….Grant Morrison….. What to do with this guy? I guess I’m all in for a few more issues of Action Comics.

4 stars

Action Comics #2

Action Comics 2

Action Comics #2 cover

 One of the most popular pulls from the DC New 52 titles is the Action Comics series.  There are several main reasons for this, the most significant being the renumbering and rebooting of Action Comics.  1938 – 2011 saw 904 issues of the absurdly famous DC title that features Superman. It’s a shame that we probably will not get to see a 1000th issue of this title, but I do understand that after 900 issues, it may be time to reboot and re-examine. Of course, on such an epic reboot DC wanted to place a really big name writer. They chose Grant Morrison.

For several years, Morrison has been one of several writers to be credited with expanding, renewing, and repopularizing comic books. I’ve read several of his storyarcs and they are indeed different than the standard comic book fare.  Many readers love his work, many dislike it – I think that in general, the best thing Morrison has done has been to bring comic book storytelling into the 2000’s with fresh ideas, intriguing writing styles, and a whole lot of attitude.  I have not fallen in love with his writing, but I do recognize that his efforts are powerful within the industry. I feel he’s a bit of a showman, so I was hesitant to get too excited about him writing Action Comics.

The first issue was okay. We are introduced to a young Superman and a world which is just beginning to recognize him. He’s a bit brash and wild, he wears jeans and boots with his cape, and his powers have been trimmed down from the God-like status that the DC Universe seemed to grant him after the 1980s. However, I was still wary and unsure as to how I felt about all these “changes.”  I was very hesitant to jump on the bandwagon with this title.

Issue #2 starts off where #1 left off.  The first page is the young Superman strapped into a chair. There are all sorts of restraints and wires attached to him.  His muscles look tense, his teeth are clenched, his eyes are glowing red. We discover that Lex Luthor has captured Superman and is torturing him. Doctor Luthor, Doctor Irons, and General Lane (of the US Army), are all in a nearby room watching as Superman is shocked with electricity. There are people attempting to take a blood sample. In a room nearby, similar “tests” are being run on the apparently indestructible cape.

I was unsure as to what to expect before and after reading issue #1.  I was leery and wary. However, this issue starts immediately by presenting a scene, developing the roles of the characters in that scene, and giving the scene tension and purpose. So far, yes, Morrison is doing a good job writing. Things are a bit new and unfamiliar in the New 52 universe, so I am not certain where all the characters stand.  The Doctor Irons from the old continuity was John Henry Irons – also known as Steel. In that continuity, Doctor John Henry Irons was a brilliant weapons engineer for AmerTek Industries, who eventually became disgusted when an energy cannon he had designed fell into the wrong hands and was used to kill innocent people. The company would have coerced him to retain his services, so John faked his death and eventually came to Metropolis. John Henry Irons has no superhuman abilities; however, he is an exceptional inventor and engineer, and wears a suit of powered armor which grants him flight, enhanced strength, and endurance. Obviously, the creators of Doctor Irons pulled many characteristics from the American folklore hero John Henry.  In this new Action Comics, we meet a Doctor Irons dressed in shirt and tie. Irons becomes very upset by Luthor’s torturing of Superman. Irons condemns Luthor’s actions and storms out of the facility. I am rather excited to see more of Irons because I think he’s always been a great character and I am hoping he has a strong role in the new Action Comics.

Luthor is very Luthor in this issue. I know in the old continuity, almost every possible iteration of Luthor seemed to have been worked through.  But this Luthor that Morrison is writing is very classic Luthor.  He appears dispassionate and completely in control. He is clearly calculating and arrogant. The artist, Rags Morales, draws Luthor with an expert understanding the character. When Irons leaves, Luthor makes a snarky comment as if Irons was a mere annoying insect. Morales nails the facial expressions.  Again, this is a young Luthor and it’s actually nice to see Luthor without his creased forehead and crow’s feet. Luthor stubbornly refuses to address Superman as anything but “it” or “the alien,” thus dehumanizing this young fellow who many in Metropolis have begun to see as a hero – particularly, Lois Lane.

Superman breaks out of his restraints and tears up a lot of the facility, but Superman is just as clueless as everyone else, because he seems unclear as to his own origins.  Still, this Superman is brash, active, and a bit unseasoned – which comes through nicely in both writing and art. I realized, I am liking this new take on Superman. I like this slightly wild, slightly impulsive dude wearing jeans and a cape. This is a good Superman for 2011 and I am ready to be a fan of Action Comics for good.

The ending scenes show us that Morrison has some definite plans for the storyarc and he is not just freewheeling.  Some readers speculate that we Luthor is being helped by the entity Brainiac. It’s really cool to watch as the threads that tie Superman, Luthor, Brainiac, and Lois together are being pulled together. It’s exciting to visit these “youthful” times of Superman and Morrison is doing what the New 52 is supposed to be doing – breathing life into a character that has been around since 1938.

Also, this issue is $3.99 because of several pages of sketches and quotations from Morrison and Morales. The quotations describe what and why the changes and ideas are in the new Action Comics. Some readers were grousing about having to pay for these pages – I was thrilled to have them. I found them interesting and helped me get comfortable in the New 52.  I think I am starting to trust what Morrison and Morales are doing with this major character. And I like it.

5 stars

Justice League of America #21 (2006)

Justice League 21

Justice League #21 (2006) cover

 Continuing on in my quest to “catch-up” on the now “defunct” DC Universe circa 2006-2009, I pulled this issue to formally start my adventure into Final Crisis.  This comic has a cover date of July 2008 and was written by Dwayne McDuffie with art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino.  The writer, McDuffie, died in February of 2011 at the age of 49.  Random factoid:  I read somewhere that he had a masters degree in physics.

At first I did not like it very much at all.  However, after reading the story through and spending more time looking at the cover, I think its basically a good cover in concept, but there are some challenges that knock it down from being a great cover.  In the background we see large city buildings, giving us a setting for this issue.  The two characters are not ones I am familiar with at all, and I daresay that most DC readers at the time were probably not too familiar with them either.  In the foreground is Libra and standing in the center of the image is The Human Flame.  Libra is holding a staff of some sort that is topped by a small hanging scales of justice. The staff serves as a visual aid to draw one’s attention to Red Arrow, who’s limp tattered body is being held up by a smirking Human Flame. If you’ve spent this much time checking out the cover, you will probably now finally see Hawkgirl.  Those are actually her wings that are cluttering up the center of the image and appear to be on fire. Hawkgirl is the problem with the image. The wings are messy and at first glance I thought they were just burning kindling. Her left leg is bent at an impossible angle and honestly, she’s not very easy to recognize in this shot. Its not a bad cover, but the art for Hawkgirl is messy.

Anyway, the issue starts at the Hall of Justice in Washington, DC with Wonder Woman and Batman bantering a bit. Superman shows up and we learn that Batman came to the Hall so that the other two could present a secret “slideways” room.  Only these three and Green Lantern know about this room – which is basically just a table and chairs for the big three to sit and discuss/scheme/banter in.

In these panels is one of the best smirking shots of Batman I’ve seen.  In fact the writing and art for this whole section is really excellent. Not only is it amusing and interesting just as it is, but I think it does a very good job of storytelling. (1.) the new reader is eased into the storyline, so this issue could be a good “jumping on point,” as they say.  (2.) Even if the reader is not new, we are given some clues as to what is happening with Black Canary, Martian Manhunter, and Vixen. All of this is couched in the problematic that these three superheroes want to make sure the League is in good, capable hands without requiring constant supervision from one of these three.

Nearby, in Baltimore, Maryland, we are treated to the thoughts of The Human Flame. He introduces himself while he is in the process of robbing a small branch bank.  He explains how he is able to break in using his firepower and explains his motivation.  As he gets outside of the bank with his stolen goods, the police are waiting and Hawkgirl and Red Lantern are on the scene. The artwork for the ensuing fight is excellent. Frequently, I am slightly irritated by fight-scene artwork because it can be confusing and absurd.  Although this will not be remembered as the greatest fight in comics history, it was a solidly written/drawn fight.  I followed along with interest. And though it seems the heroes have the upper-hand, The Human Flame is able to give them the slip – until Hawkgirl catches up to him in an alley.  And here we are introduced to Libra. He says:  “The scales must be balanced, Hawkgirl.” And to The Human Flame: “I’m the answer to your every dream. Call me Libra.”

At a gathering in Central City, we find Libra introducing The Human Flame to an ever-growing group that includes Lex Luthor and other villains.  Libra tells The Human Flame that he can give him his heart’s desire, which in this case is revenge.  The Human Flame wants revenge on the Martian Manhunter whom The Human Flame blames for his life of disaster and failure.  Eight years ago the Martian Manhunter defeated The Human Flame, humiliating him in the process.  The last three frames of the book show Martian Manhunter on an arid distant planet. There is a “BOOM” and Martian Manhunter has disappeared.

It’s par for the course in reading comics to encounter a group of villains who decide to band together and get revenge on the heroes who have defeated them.  This sort of storyline is neither original, nor unique.  In fact, in Marvel Comics’ Dark Reign/Dark Avengers event, we find The Hood (Parker Robbins) attempted to do something similar with the Marvel villains. However, even though the plot device was familiar, I was still interested in the storyline – I wanted to know what had happened to Martian Manhunter. I also wanted to know what was going to come of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and their secret meeting room.

It’s been said that this issue is a prelude to the Final Crisis event, and I can see that now. And it is a very good prelude, because I definitely wanted to read Final Crisis to find out what happens next.  Both the writing and the artwork were top-notch.

5 stars

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