While it is still the best mainstream Superman comic book title being released presently, “Superman Unchained” #3 contains some visual unevenness from penciler Jim Lee, inker Scott Williams and colorists Alex Sinclair and Jeromy Cox. Several panels from Lee are uncharacteristically shy on detail, defaulting to shadows or color effects to add the visual punch Lee usually brings.
That’s not to say that Jim Lee does a bad job with this comic, it’s just not a topnotch Jim Lee comic. Lee does hit the high notes that mark pivot points in the story: Superman and Wraith grappling, Lex Luthor’s escape from the M.A.W., the grandeur of “The Machine” and Superman reeling from Wraith’s blows. What’s missing is the detail of the airplane that Lois Lane brings into a controlled crash landing, consistency in the features of General Sam Lane and imaginative character design for Wraith. Rather than an issue packed with artistic explosiveness, “Superman Unchained” #3 is packed with artistic coolness. It’s still better than a lot of other comics, visually, but it just isn’t on the same plateau as the first two issues of this series. This is accentuated as the colors take on a muted tone throughout the book’s progression.
Writer Scott Snyder does a nice job shoring up the backstory to the new behemoth introduced last issue while also teasing out a trio of subplots featuring Superman’s primary supporting cast. Wraith’s coincidental origin story is packed with eerie parallels to Superman’s own, giving the two alien powerhouses a bond that is set to be shattered by the last page bombshell Wraith drops on Superman’s ears. The story has the ingredients for a standard-issue superhuman encounter: heroes meet; heroes fight due to misunderstanding; heroes team up against greater evil. The difference here, is Snyder pulls those cues out of order and adds subtleties to them all, creating a story that feels fresh with character that feel familiar. Of course, the biggest difference in this version of the team-up tale is that Wraith is more obedient to his commander. The subplots of Lois Lane’s controlled crash landing near Nova Scotia and Lex Luthor’s escape gain new texture with Superman being preoccupied against Wraith.
The codas that conclude the issues of this series shift focus over to Jimmy Olsen as he gets a visit from Lex Luthor to round out the trio of subplots. This two-page story of Superman’s pal doesn’t give readers much more than a straight-up tease, but proves that Jimmy Olsen is that guy we all know and might even be as he tries to secure his dinner plans for the evening. Visually, we are treated to beautiful artwork from Dustin Nguyen with soft, emotive colors from John Kalisz.
All in all, “Superman Unchained” #3 is another successful installment in the adventures of the most famous Kryptonian. It’s not as flashy as the previous issues, but it clearly depicts Snyder and Lee settling comfortably into their story as they make their mark on the Man of Steel. Given what happens in this issue, the next issue ought to be doozy.