Weber Has Issues: Superman Unchained #1 and Batman #21

Welcome to “Weber Has Issues”, which is a weekly look at a newly released comic book or trade paperback collection.  Each week’s column will highlight a title that is accessible to readers who are looking for something new and fresh, without being bogged down in years of muddy continuity.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve been drowning in Superman this past few days, and here at WHI we’re here to contribute to your overload. The big blue boy scout made his big return to the big screen in a big way this week, and DC Comics is hoping to capitalize on renewed interest in Krypton’s last son by publishing a brand new series featuring Kal-El.  Coincidentally, a new story featuring a “lost” year in Batman’s history is also starting this week and is a terrific jumping-on point for new readers, so I’m taking a look at both.  Lucky you!supermanunchainedSuperman Unchained (DC Comics, $4.99-YIKES), written by Scott Snyder and drawn by Jim Lee, is DC’s third current ongoing Superman series, but it’s easily their most prestigious of the three.  Rarely does top-tier talent take on the titanic pressure involved in keeping the Superman mythos up-to-date for long; more often, journeyman writers like Roger Stern, Marv Wolfman and Dan Jurgens stick around for many years chronicling the adventures of the man of steel. I’m predicting, based on both Snyder’s massive workload and Lee’s track record, that we’ll only see 10-12 issues of this run.  It should be enough to generate two  top-notch trade paperback collections, and DC has to be thrilled with how well this issue sold, even with the ridiculous $5 price tag (more about that later).

The issue starts symbolically in 1945 Nagasaki, Japan.  Since I am a product of the American public education system, this didn’t ring any bells, should it have?  We move to the present and catch Superman doing super-things, looking super and being super.  Somebody is punching manned satellites out of orbit, and the Metropolis Marvel does his best to save the lives of the astronauts.  If you were raised by wolves (Hi, weird uncle Raymond!) the issue fills you in on the super-basics, his super-status quo and his super-powers.   There are some tweaks (Clark is no longer working at the Daily Planet and he can overdrive his x-ray vision to gamma vision – can he make his own Hulks)?  Snyder even has Superman say “Dammit”.   Really?  Superman shouldn’t curse, dammit.  This issue’s dialogue was pretty exposition heavy, but if you’ve been away from Metropolis for awhile, it’s necessary just to understand whatever version of Lex Luthor and Jimmy Olsen they’re using now.

Minor criticisms aside, I’m along for the ride and excited to see where the story goes next.  I read almost everything Snyder puts out,  and so far this is as solid as most of his work and I’m looking forward to the rest of the story.  The art however, is bloody lovely.  Jim Lee was my favorite of the initial wave of Image artists in the early ‘90s and has really returned to form.  I cannot praise enough how great this artwork is.  I’m not even an ‘art guy’–I tend to prefer good storytelling to bombastic pin-ups.  This is just so nice to look at.  Kudos to Jim Lee and his longtime inker Scott Williams, who together illustrated a gorgeous funny-book.

My main gripe:  $5 is too darned much for a 22-page story!   Three page-turns in, we have to unfold a mini-poster that opens up to be a two-sided print that is the size of four comic pages!  It is gorgeous, but there’s adhesive all over the folds and you’re probably going to crinkle the pages just to open it up and close it back up.  Arggh!  DC also did a ton of variant covers in limited quantities if you’re into that sort of thing.  No judgements here, you’re helping to keep the industry afloat.

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Batman 21(DC Comics, $3.99 also written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Greg Capullo) also came out this week with a lower profile than “Superman Unchained” but was a very cool comic book.  This is the first issue of Batman’s “Zero Year” storyline, which promises to fill in some important gaps in the origin of the caped crusader.  Unofficially taking place around the same time as “Batman Begins”, the story delves further into the backstories of Bruce Wayne, the Wayne and Kane (Batwoman’s) families and the chaotic city of Gotham itself (which has always been the most important co-star of Snyder’s Batman).  We start in media res with an intriguing look at a short-sleeved guerilla Batman on a motorbike and then we back up a few months to see just how Bruce got there.   There are some early looks at developing villains and hints of more early looks at familiar characters to come.
With a great story, and decent (sparse but clear) artwork, Batman 21 is highly recommended.  I think this run of stories is going to be right up there with Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One”, but I haven’t been sleeping all that well lately and can only sometimes be trusted.

Other new comics I purchased this week:  Batgirl #21, Deadpool #11 (see, I don’t totally hate Marvel!), Star Wars #6 and The Walking Dead #111.

To buy Superman Unchained and Batman, I recommend supporting your local comic book brick-and-mortar store (though I acknowledge reading stories like this through the DC Comics app on an iPad is really kind of fun).  To find a specialty comic shop near you, call 1-888-COMIC BOOK or search Yelp.com

Author: Todd Weber

Old Man Weber, he just keeps rolling along. Send Todd an email