Scott Snyder explains the origin of the clandestine organization known as The Machine, as well as the rival Ascension movement in "Superman Unchained" #5, while Jim Lee and Scott Williams give up a few pages to Dustin Nguyen who illustrates several flashback scenes showing a young Clark Kent who is discovering his powers. With everyone's motives now explained, Snyder is now able to forge ahead with the story, and he most certainly does with Ascension now making their deadly next move.
Snyder also brings this story firmly into the DC Universe proper, with cameos from other characters which make this book feel like it really is part of the DCU, rather than an isolated story or one featuring an alternate version of the character. Lee and Williams now get the opportunity to make some other familiar characters appear just as imposing as Superman, if only for one page.
Nguyen's sepia-toned, painted flashbacks add some additional flair to the issue, with one sequence serving as the opening scene that starts off the issue with a more subdued tone than previous ones. The placement of subsequent flashbacks, though, are a somewhat disruptive as the action shifts between the past and present, especially the final one which seems to be an afterthought, placed after the present-day story's cliffhanger. These revelations about young Clark are insightful, but at this point in the story seem to have little bearing on present day events.
Speaking of revelations, Snyder throws in a decidedly surprising one regarding the alien tech the government found in 1938, using it to launch right into the next surprise. It's a clever tactic that gives this story a shot in the arm, as the scope of this discovery is far reaching and by association gives Ascension exponentially greater power than readers have been led to believe to this point. The complicated explanation requires a fair amount of exposition to get through, but it's well-paced and brings together everything that had Snyder had been laying out in previous issues.
Snyder also tackles a couple of major questions past Superman writers have largely danced around, the first being some possible insight into Clark's aging process. There are no definitive answers given, but it's a question worth exploring in future issues, now that it's arisen. Snyder also postulates that Kal-El's rocket ship landing in the United States was not a coincidence; the notion that the ship's destination wasn't just Earth, but actually the U.S., specifically, opens up all kinds of other questions also worth investigating at some point.
"Superman Unchained" #5 has regained the momentum established in the series' first issue, and truly is a Superman comic that stands out and remains far superior its companion titles.