Comic Review – Superman Unchained #9

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.

Slightly more major spoilers than normal.

This week saw the finale of the Superman Unchained series with issue #9. The whole arc was published by DC comics, written by Scott Snyder with pencils from Jim Lee, inks by Scott Williams and colours from Alex Sinclair, and in this issue the lettering was done by Sal Cipriano, with the flashbacks interspersed throughout illustrated by Dustin Nguyen, amd colours from John Kalisz. Back when this series started in June last year I was particularly excited, so I thought it would make sense to review the final issue.

Superman Unchained is a stand alone tale with the Man of Tomorrow facing off against a terrorist cell known as Ascension, Lex Luthor, the army and their own superhuman Wraith: an alien being with abilities similar to Superman, yet more powerful and knowing seemingly more about Kal-El than he does. Throughout the series, Superman fights and teams up with almost all of these characters, none of whom are particularly trustworthy. Luckily he does have his fellow Justice League heroes Wonder Woman and Batman lending some assistance, as well as Lois Lane, none of whom are useful at all in this finale. Wraith’s people are on their way to Earth to take it over, having seeded it years ago with Wraith himself. This fact is relayed to everyone by Luthor, who appears via a hologram from the comfort of a high back chair sipping wine to pontificate, sneer and suggest a way of stopping the huge alien armada – providing Clark with a solar fuel injection that will cause him to explode amidst the fleet, with a strength “six thousand times the power of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.”. Superman being the hero that he is, he flies straight into space to do just that. However, there he is met by Wraith, who takes on that burden himself and throws Clark free, detonating himself and saving the world.

There was a lot happening here, and I’m not entirely clear on everyone’s motivations. Wraith remained fairly unknown right up to the end, and I don’t think I really understand why he took Superman’s place and attacked his own people. His whole life Wraith had been a weapon, aimed by the US government. Maybe his end is his opportunity to make his own choice, not to be used as a tool to hurt innocents again. The issue itself and the story felt somehow incomplete, possibly due to a lack of significant action. Perhaps the huge brawl Superman had against Wraith a few issues back should have been closer to the end, but this feeling may actually be due to the various delays that the release of this book has had throughout its run. I think that is probably the main complaint I have about this series, as it has taken nearly 17 months for all 9 issues to come out, without any specific reason for the delay (though I think I have a pretty good guess). My own terrible memory and attention span means that I don’t actually remember a great deal of this series, and I think my overall impression of this issue would probably be much more positive once I sit down and re read the whole run.

Luthor’s monologue about Superman, only briefly interrupted to allow for the final showdown to breath, was particularly enjoyable. While told from Lex’s bitter outlook, it does still hint at what I liked most about this series as one of the most likeable, interesting Superman stories since the New 52 started. It certainly feels the most spot on for characterisation, allowing Clark to shine as the hero he really is. I’ve always enjoyed Snyder’s character work, so that didn’t really come as a surprise to me. I will say that as this series seems largely unconnected with the rest of the DCU at the moment, more risks could have been taken with the ending. In superhero comics it is rare that the hero actually dies at the end, mainly because there is no real end, but in this case it could have remained a possibility. Jim Lee’s art was very enjoyable here as usual, with the close up full page splash of Superman crashing through some asteroids, immediately followed by the second splash page now pulled back to see him roar through space, being my particular highlights. The inks and colours brought all of this to life with a clear vibrancy that really stood out from the page during the big action scene with Superman, Wraith and the ships. The flashback sequences by Nguyen, while very different, looked great too, but broke the flow of the read a little bit. Overall though the art was very strong.

I did enjoy this issue, and I worry that I have been too harsh on it. As a series overall I would give it a 9/10 (and you should definitely pick the collection up when it comes out next month), and with a re read I may feel more generous towards this issue too with the rest of the story more fresh in my mind. It is still a decent end to a great series, and I wish that it was going to carry on as an ongoing (just without the delays!). Check this out at your LCS or digitally.

7.5 Bagels out of 10

Comic Review – Superman: Doomed #2 (Finale)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.

Actually fairly full spoilers because I rambled.

This week I picked up the finale of the recent Superman crossover, Superman: Doomed #2, from DC comics. This is a storyline that has been running since April/May, crossing over into Action Comics, Superman/Wonder Woman, Superman and Supergirl. The story was written by Greg Pak and Charles Soule, with art from Ken Lashley, Szymon Kudranski, Cory Smith, Dave Bullock, Jack Herbert, Ian Churchill, Aaron Kuder, Vicente Cifuentes and Norm Rapmund (that is a lot of artists!), colours from Wil Quintana and letters by Taylor Esposito.

Briefly, the plot of Doomed started the rampaging villain Doomsday turning up. After various attempts to stop him, Superman decides that the only course of action is to kill him, as violently as possible apparently by fully ripping him in half. Superman somehow becomes infected with a Doomsday virus, and constantly battles with a primal Doomsday version of himself in his psyche that wants to destroy everything, eventually transforming into a fully formed creature himself. As he succumbs to the virus, he becomes an enemy of the state and leaves the planet to avoid hurting anyone else. It turns out this was all an elaborate (and circuitous) plan from Brainiac to get rid of Supes, allowing him to come and steal the mind energy from everyone on the planet. Using a mind controlled Lois Lane, with psychic powers that he also gave her, he paralyses anyone without adequate shielding as energy erupts out of their eyes and into his giant mothership nearby.

In this final part, Superman has finally given over to the ‘Superdoom’ personality (actual name used) and goes to destroy the ship and free the 7 billion captured minds that Brainiac has stolen. As Brainiac invades his mind, he uses the opportunity to convince Clark that his plan to remake the universe can give him and all his friends exactly what they want. Superman doesn’t bite though, and with some help from Lois (now free from Brainiac but having retained all the powers he gave her) and Wonder Woman (still in the phantom zone, this part seems fairly important but little attention is given) defeats him and saves the world, seemingly sacrificing himself to dispose of Brainiac through a black hole. The final page has been commented on a fair bit online already, with a confused Brainiac seeing images many of which seem to be of a pre-new 52 DC universe.

That wasn’t at all brief. I stuck with the Doomed storyline because I liked the concept and have largely enjoyed the plot, and I wanted to read a bit more Superman. And this finale is good, Pak and Soule have given a decent and well written action comic. A few parts of the narrative didn’t make total sense, in particular as I mentioned before I felt that given the importance of Clark and Diana’s relationship throughout this crossover, her appearance in this issue was minimal and inconclusive (though I assume this will be followed up in Action Comics or Superman/Wonder Woman). Considering how infrequently I read Superman comics too, Brainiac seems to turn up way more often than he should, which lessens the impact of any big reveal of when he is behind the curtain.This isn’t even unique to Superman titles, as it happened in Futures End too. I feel like there must be other villains that can be used, or new ones can be invented, before reverting back to the same big bads. And considering this was a crossover largely themed around Doomsday and the infected Superman, it felt odd that the Brainiac storyline was there at all rather than as the main story in Action Comics. Which leads me probably onto a point that has been made by most people already, that this crossover has gone on far longer than it should have really. The quality has stayed pretty high throughout, but around 15 issues across various titles (not including the prologues) over 5 months has led to the plot dragging a great deal, with Superman beating and succumbing to the Doomsday virus at least 3 times.

Mostly minor complaints though, and I did enjoy this issue and the arc in general. I might just be bitter because I was really enjoying Superman/Wonder Woman as a series, and it seemed to get entirely derailed and sucked up into this plot. Regardless, well written story and dialogue. The art was a little bit all over the place at times, mainly because there were 9 pencillers and inkers which gave the art a fairly disjointed feeling. However, none of the art was bad by any means and I would have been happy for any of them to have done the whole issue. The tease of the existence somewhere, somehow of the pre-new 52 universe will certainly be tantalising for many of the new 52’s detractors. Personally, I don’t hate the current DC universe on the whole, in fact I like a lot of it, but I understand a lot of the yearning for the way things were. It will be interesting to see if that goes anywhere, and how messy continuity will get if it does!

Overall I did enjoy Superman: Doomed. It probably isn’t for everyone, but it kept my interest going and I made me want to keep up with Action Comics to see where things go next. If you like Superman, but wish he looked like he was covered in sharp rocks and growled a lot, then this will be your bag. Check it out in your local comic shop or digital comics platform.

Score: 7 Crises out of 10

Comic Review – The New 52: Futures End #14

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.

I thought I would finally do a review of Futures End this week, as I have been reading it for 3 1/2 months now and everything else I’ve bought this week is eiither part of the Superman: Doomed event, or a series I have already reviewed. Also, I know, third DC comics review in a row. I’m sorry, next one with be creator owned or Marvel, I promise (don’t hold me to that, money is tight). Futures End is the second weekly DC book this year, the first being Batman Eternal and the last being Earth 2: World’s End. Writing duties are apparently split (unclearly) between Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen (more on that later), with pencils from Aaron Lapresti, inks from Art Thibert, colours by Hi-Fi and letters from Taylor Esposito.

Futures End is set (mostly) 5 years into the future of the current DC universe. The story started in the Free Comic Book Day Futures End #0, 35 years from the present day. In a bleak apocalyptic future, Brother Eye (a sentient satellite) has taken over and converted most of the world’s heroes and villains into grotesque cyborg-zombie creations, having achieved near complete control of the globe. The last remaining heroes mount a final desperate attempt to thwart him, it fails, leaving Batman (of course) to his backup plan – travel back in time to the present day, to prevent this from ever happening. However, Brother Eye’s forces arrive and wound Bruce before transport is ready, forcing him to send back Terry McGinnis (Batman Beyond) in his stead. Unfortunately, things go awry and Terry arrives 5 years too late, with things already in motion that will lead to the terrible future his is trying to prevent.

Issue #14 picks up with Big Barda and Emiko facing off against Deathstroke and Fifty Sue, agents for Cadmus trying to round up ‘unregistered super-powered alternate Earth fugitives’. We also see some more from Grifter and Fifty Sue (apparently she can be in two places at once) investigating the stealth OMAC on Cadmus island, there is a small check in Terry and the folks he plans on breaking into Terrifitech with, but this thread doesn’t really move forward a lot (considering it is ultimately what I would consider the main plot), and an even smaller catch up with Cal (ex-Red Robin). The main revelation comes right at the end, with Lois Lane being shown a mysterious vision of an alternate world or strange future. Not a lot is really made clear from it, it is more a cliffhanger ending that all of the Futures End issues seem to end on. There is also a nice little tease about what is going on with Superman which should be pretty interesting.

The writing in this issue is fine, and while the dialogue is a bit shaky at points it isn’t too noticeable (though I am getting  a bit bored of all the references to ‘the war’ that happened at some point in the 5 years with Earth 2). The quality of both the story and dialogue has varied greatly from issue to issue,  with it being particularly bad in a couple of them. Writing duties are split between 4 well known writers, and we don’t know who is writing each but it doesn’t make for a totally cohesive experience.  The art is pretty good here, with the action in particular looking nice. Occasionally the faces are a bit off, in particular the first panel with Cal in it. That is not what a beard looks like on someone’s face., especially as the amount of it changes in the next panel.

Overall I am enjoying the story, but I care a great deal less about some story arcs (for example, Grifter’s internment on Cadmus Island) than I do others (I find Cal’s story and beard oddly compelling, plus I really could do with more from the 35 years in the future era) so find it frustrating when an issue focusses more on something that, at the moment, doesn’t seem to be advancing the plot much at all. I’m also not completely clear on why everyone needs to be a dick in the future. I feel like if this was a monthly comic, with each of the many story threads (some of which don’t appear at all in this issue) moving at the same pace in between issues, I would have dropped it by now. The story moves at a decent pace as a weekly book, but the drawback to that is that you are shelling out for it much more often. This issue was fairly average, some have been borderline terrible while some have been particularly good.  I’m going to stick with it, mainly because I am invested at this stage and want to see how it all plays out. Next month are the one-shot Futures End comics for each of the regular monthly DC books, to see where each of the characters are in 5 years. If you don’t really care about DC books, or are only really interested in a few characters, maybe give the series a miss. If you are interested in what that is all about and aren’t already reading it, check out Futures End. I think it should be relatively easy to pick up from any issue, but back issues are probably quite easy to find anyway (or go digital).

Score: 6 OMACs out of 10