Lex Luthor

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

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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

52 #8

52 8

52 #8

I continued my DC Universe catch-up reading this afternoon starting with 52 issue #8.

The cover was done by J. G. Jones and is fairly representative of the storyline inside the issue. I don’t dislike the cover, but it certainly won’t go in my favorite covers list anytime soon. The cover reminds me vaguely of vintage industry posters. That’s John Henry holding the sledgehammer, with Lex Luthor on the left. The upper right is, I think, a portrayal of statues found in a Cult of Connor hideout in Star City.

I liked the tension – misunderstanding between John Henry and his niece, Natasha.  Natasha is a really cool character – given to the typical teenage impulsive behavior on one hand, but on the other she’s totally dedicated to her goal of being a hero.  There aren’t many teenage girls willing to spend long hours in the basement creating their own armor.  Its easy for the reader to see her frustration when she discovers a connection between her uncle and Lex Luthor’s new “metagene” program.

I also like the little “mystery” behind the new hero who is quietly rescuing people from danger.  Its amusing how its affecting Booster Gold. Also, I was tickled by the one incident where the new hero saves a child at the beach – the child’s mother is wearing a Wonder Woman costume swimsuit. This tickled me and I spent a moment considering what a beach would look like if it was “dress like a superhero” day or something. Of course the cameo of Clark Kent interviewing Booster Gold – and Skeets – is pretty fun, too.

Overall, I liked the issue because it moved the story along – which, really, is the point of the 52 volume.

3 stars