Scott Snyder and Jim Lee continue to unwrap the mystery of Wraith, revealing more to the reader just as Superman himself begins to expand his knowledge about his erstwhile ally in “Superman Unchained” #4. Given the span between “Superman Unchained” #3 (which hit in August) and this issue, I really had to stretch my memory to settle back in to the adventures of the Man of Steel and Wraith.
Snyder presses forward with the story, sparing the reader of any sluggish recaps and escalating the menaces facing Superman and his supporting cast. With anti-particle wind and red-solar energy emitting bullets, the battle between Ascension’s drones and the dynamic duo of Superman and Wraith begs the reader to suspend disbelief and soak in overseeded comic book science.
Anti-particle wind is a new one on me, but it works in the story and illustrates Snyder’s attempts to add to the legend of Superman. As far as the subplots go, Lois’ story is disjointed in “Superman Unchained” #4. Following the plane crash in Nova Scotia, Lois is left with a passenger who is visually similar to Lex Luthor and also at the edge of passing out or dying. Later in the book, he and Lois are on the run. How the guy suddenly got mobile is unexplained and a bit distracting, indicative of the artistic inconsistencies that really hurt “Superman Unchained” #4.
Jim Lee gets in a couple money shots and establishing widescreen scenes, but is visually shaky throughout the book. One panel, in particular, changes Jimmy Olsen’s facial structure and hair length so dynamically that I had to double-check credits to make sure Lee didn’t receive an assist from J. Scott Campbell. Additionally, the paper dolls, such a critical plot device for “Superman Unchained” #4 are shapeshifting without being affected by any hands. The shifts are both in detail and color, which compounds the artistic frustrations with this comic book. Alex Sinclair’s colors are filled with texture early in the issue, but towards the end of the story they exchange texture, depth and luster for volume and brilliance, shading towards oversaturated magentas, purples, turquoises and reds. There’s no shortage of visual punch, but those punches are closer to glancing blows that knockouts.
The two-page teaser focuses on Lois Lane. Artist Dustin Nguyen and colorist John Kalisz bring plenty of dark hopelessness to the sample story, giving readers a nice taste of things to come, but not enough to get those readers demanding more.
In “Superman Unchained” #4, the stakes are raised. The threats take deeper dimension, revealing their texture as they begin to connect into a larger beast. I hope I can retain the gist of this story before the next issue and double that level of hope that Lee is able to sharpen up his consistency for that issue as well. I’m still enjoying this book and it is DC’s best print-first Superman comic (the “Adventures of Superman” weekly keeps producing exemplary results) despite its flaws. If the timing and the art can be tightened up, “Superman Unchained” would be more powerful than a locomotive.