“Superman Unchained” has had several different plots interweaving, which made sense considering that it was originally announced as an ongoing series. But with Scott Snyder and Jim Lee’s series wrapping up in just three more issues, the book has shifted a bit. Some plots are winding down, even as others continue to wait in the wings. And the end result is certainly interesting, but could also use a bit of polish.
I like the way that Snyder hasn’t lost sight of the rest of the DC Universe in “Superman Unchained” #6. With all of the nuclear missiles on the planet being launched at the end of the last issue, it makes sense that Superman wouldn’t have to try and stop them all himself. The familiar faces that are being called in to help helps ground “Superman Unchained” as part of a greater whole; the series has sometimes felt a little isolated from the rest of the line, and the scenes with the missiles here go a long way towards reconnecting. It’s no coincidence that Batman in particular is strong here, with Snyder connected with the character for so long.
It is still a little hard at times to try and make “Superman Unchained” connect with the rest of the company’s output, though. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but trying to reconcile Sam Lane’s actions in this issue with the other titles is difficult. It’s the sort of thing where you may just have to chalk it up to publication delays and move forward to just enjoy the book for what it is rather than how it fits in with other comics.
Snyder has done a good job of creating Wraith as a Superman analogue, and with this issue he makes it even more overt as Superman and Wraith go toe-to-toe. It’s a battle that’s been a long time coming, with Wraith’s overt hostility from one issue to the next getting harder to ignore. What’s nice is that Snyder doesn’t lost sight of the idea that Superman’s always supposed to have been smart; his reporting abilities aren’t just from his super-powers, after all, and there was a certain level of deduction also in play here in order to be on equal footing with Wraith. It’s a good bit of plotting.
Interestingly, the two parts of “Superman Unchained” that I’ve never been that crazy about — Ascension and Lex Luthor — are lessened a bit here. Ascension’s plans seem to be over for now, and the subplot with Lex Luthor and Jimmy Olsen is happily nowhere to be seen. The one good thing about the Ascension storyline this month is that it gives us a chance to see more of Lois Lane as someone who won’t just take adversity lying down. Lois’s position in the DC Universe has felt mostly minimized over the past year or so; having Snyder continue to write her as a strong and capable person (who is in a little over her head here, to be fair) is a nice antidote to the otherwise lack of Lois.
Lee’s pencils in “Superman Unchained” #6 feel a little messy, though, and they’re pulling the book down just a bit. There are some inconsistencies that pulled me out of the story. Superman’s forearm being wider than his head on page 4, for instance, just looks stranger and stranger every time you look at it. And on page 5, it’s actually hard to tell exactly what’s going on when Lois headbutts an Ascension member. What are all those after-images of everyone’s arms? Whose arm belongs to whom? Are they moving forwards or backwards? I feel like this is a problem that we see with Lee’s pencils whenever he’s on an ongoing series for too long; until he gets regular breaks to catch up, everything starts devolving just a bit. When your hallmark style is crisp and detailed art, any sort of rush job is hard to ignore. As much fun as it was to get Dustin Nguyen drawing the flashback scenes last month, having just two pages with him at the end is a bit of a shame. I understand that there wasn’t anything similar here for Nguyen to draw to help Lee out, but I’d have loved to see a bit more from the always talented Nguyen.
In the end, “Superman Unchained” #6 is a solid comic that is let down a bit by the art. Snyder’s moving everything forward with a strong pace, and I feel like he’s on track to give us a satisfying conclusion in the last third of the series. But honestly, I’d like to see some more publication delays if it means Lee having more time to pencil those remaining issues. With some stronger art, there’s no doubt that this would have been a better comic. Lee’s a talented artist, but it’s just increasingly clear that he’s not someone who should be drawing an ongoing series. I’d rather see him have the extra wiggle room to do justice to the scripts that he’s drawing.