“Superman Unchained” #8 starts in the Gobi Desert and ends in the Arctic, with Superman and Wraith punching the snot out of each other everywhere in between. Writer Scott Snyder steps out of the way for much of this fight, choosing to let artist Jim Lee explode all over the pages as Superman unleashes on his well-matched foe and vice versa.
Several images cross the spread while many more panels individually consume no less than one-quarter of their respective pages, but Lee manages to keep “Superman Unchained” #8 from becoming a poster book. While many of the individual panels are worthy of presentation in a grander format, Lee ties them all together, weaving in storytelling and choreographing this bout between heavyweights. Twenty-one pages of fighting, some of it brutal, are brilliantly colored, complete with textures of energy signatures, boiling lava and foaming seas, courtesy of colorist Alex Sinclair. Lee drops a couple beats, like the staging of General Lane’s forces outside the Fortress of Solitude, a point that is compounded when the advancing tanks grind to a halt.
Snyder affords Lee the luxury of stretching across the plot with grand, gestural story beats that pound like a marching band’s drumline. It’s not hard to imagine a soundtrack similar to the one Hans Zimmer composed for “Man of Steel” playing out as Wraith and Superman beat each other senseless. Through the fight, Snyder gives readers a ringside seat and even cracks open Superman’s thought process. Additionally, Snyder crushes any chance for readers to consider comparing Wraith to any of Superman’s pre-existing foes by giving Wraith a mission statement and a desire to have Superman as an ally instead of an opponent. Unfortunately, Wraith’s motivation and Superman’s beliefs are at opposition, a point Snyder makes clear in dialogue and leans on Lee to make clear in the visuals.
“Superman Unchained” #8 brings all of the plot threads back together and adds in a few wrinkles. The issue ends on a cliffhanger, but the story’s flow makes it seem like a down note or an interruption. Snyder and Lee exceed the standard-issue twenty-page story, but not before expanding the threat and bringing Lex Luthor back onstage. With one remaining issue, the creative team seems to have a lot of ground to cover and a whole lot of action waiting for readers, but if there’s any writer that can pull it all together, it’s Snyder. Lee’s artwork is detailed enough to jam in a ton of story, but he truly excels in storytelling big, violent scenes, like the ones in “Superman Unchained” #8. This is a decent penultimate tale, a bombastic Superman story and a rollicking fun adventure. Through it all, Snyder makes it very clear that Superman sees this as his battle, and while he’ll accept help from his allies, he’s the one with the most to lose.