The scope of the story has been expanding since the series’ first issue, and now culminates in near-apocalyptic fashion in Scott Snyder and Jim Lee’s “Superman Unchained” #9. Even as the events build and conclude, though, both Snyder and Lee symbolically bring the story back to its beginnings, poetically capping off their run on the title as they bring it to a close. Having set up everything prior to this final issue, the creators simply roll out the story’s very loud and cinematic-style conclusion, giving themselves both plenty of room to stretch out and deliver a satisfying sendoff and a wrap-up that sums up the essence of both hero and villain.
As he has in past issues, artist Dustin Nguyen also contributes to the story with a flashback to Clark’s youth, where Clark demonstrates perhaps his first act of heroism. It’s an act that’s in the aftermath of Clark’s actions, though, which shows he’s still just a human who makes mistakes. This is a theme that Snyder addresses more than once throughout the issue, making it very clear that while Superman is a super hero, he’s not perfect — but he still learns from past mistakes. Moreover, Snyder cleverly voices this supposed foible through the words of Lex Luthor, whose narration implies that this characteristic is a negative trait, while the voiceover ironically takes place as Supes prepares himself to make the ultimate sacrifice, to achieve the noblest of victories.
When Luthor’s voiceover pauses, Snyder also steps aside and lets Lee do the talking with a grand, five-page wordless sequence that shows — perfect or not — Superman acting every bit the super hero that he is. Lee uses inset panels over a series of impressive and dynamic single and double-page spreads that both evoke the enormity of the threat facing the world as well as The Man of Steel’s heroic bravery in confronting it. It’s a wonderfully laid-out series of pages that are beautifully colored by Alex Sinclair, only matched by the subsequent climactic pages where a possibly unexpected ally steps in to help. Snyder’s words are poignant, and Lee and Sinclair’s art give the story’s climax a big budget, space opera kind of feel that make eight issues of story building all pay off.
Nguyen chooses a soft, washed out look for the flashbacks that’s in total contrast to Lee and inker Scott Williams’ tighter, more pristine style. Colorist John Kalisz uses little beyond standard sepia tones that likewise contrasts with the largely primary colors used by Sinclair. The difference almost serves to illustrate the stark differences between the comparatively pedestrian kinds of threats Clark faced as a child to the massive extraterrestrial ones he faces now. All the while, Snyder carefully shows that despite the changing times, Clark’s inherent desire to do the right thing is unwavering.
The conclusion brings symmetry to the nine-issue story, as the explosive ending to the battle recollects the Nagasaki bombing shown in the arc’s opening scene in issue #1, and brings The Wraith’s involvement in both to a redeeming and positive close. “Superman Unchained” #9 brings the entirety of the series to a positive close, as well; a series that has consistently outshined the other Superman titles during its run.