Superman Unchained, Unfolded and Underwhelming

So Superman Unchained came out last week, and while I'm always interested in a Scott Snyder story, the book is bringing up all sorts of "ugh" as I once again struggle with Jim Lee's art. There's something aggressively irritating about an artist who's obviously talented, and yet has so many story telling inadequacies. And something even more annoying in knowing that artist is a "big gun", not only in popularity but in his role at his company, and that he likely can't be reigned in. Jim Lee seems like an artist in love with his own work, in service of himself and his manufacture of collectible pin-ups, rather than in service to the story the writer is trying to tell. No, Synder isn't perfect in this first issue (Lois' ability to control Daily Planet ad space is about as ridiculous as Batman's feats of dentistry during the Court of Owls storyline, and I'll let Snell fill you in on the other plot problem), but the art... the art...

Ok, before we go any further, and because I don't really like to go negative on this blog, here's Paul C's positive review of Superman Unchained over at Last of the Famous International Fanboys. Call it the counterpoint.

Now let's talk art, specifically art that bugs the hell out of me. First and foremost, I suppose, are the giant fold-out panels that proudly proclaim THIS IS AN ART OBJECT, which is a good way to get me sighing when I'm reading the book primarily out of loyalty to its writer. Frankly, these panels are rather underwhelming. Jim Lee's a good pin-up artist, but these aren't his best in the issue (the sequence where the atomic bomb turns out to the a superhuman is much more interesting than either gimmick panel, for example). The first of the images actually DISTRACTS me by making me question what's happening:
If a giant inhabited satellite is going to fall from the sky, why is Superman's first step to crash through it? It's huge, and as it turns out, still needs to be steered and slowed down... It can't possibly be worth the danger to its crew to break it up like that. It's like Lee just wanted to draw some detailed destruction or something. It's probably not "something" though.

Other questions the art asks: How wide is that prison copter?
We're looking out the front cockpit window and there's room for 4 or 5 guys on the width axis. So does this image make sense then?
I'm not sure the chopper even has the LENGTH to hold 8, never mind the width to have a battle spread in there.

How did Luthor build an momigami city from a book's pages while holding it like this?
It was more important to hide the momigami Metropolis from the reader than working out how to stage it believably. The distance Jim Lee puts between the book and Luthor's nose, there really isn't any room for the city's spires.

Now let's talk about THIS screwy thing:
What's wrong with this picture? Well, Lois Lane's inappropriate office attire, for one thing. The bizarre treadmill of people behind Lois, for another. But I'm more concerned with the magical floating screens that make the Daily Planet look like Legion HQ. Yeah, fine, it's now a cliché to see this kind of fancy tech in movies about superheroes and spy agencies, but at a newspaper? Really? Don't tell me it's not a dying industry in the DC Universe as well - Morgan Edge was poaching print reporters for his cable channel only a year and a half ago, and if THIS tech exists, who would want to hold a dirty print paper? Even the super high-tech military underwater base in this story uses conventional consoled screens. For all I know, Snyder asked for these. They might even have been established in other Superman comics and I'm being lazy not checking. Then again, they do speak to an aesthetic championed by Mr. Lee.

Am I nitpicking? Such is the nature of pet peeves. But sell me some hype, and I'll feel the need to compare it to the actual product.


Anonymous said...

In full agreement about the artistic criticisms, and how they've recast Lois Lane as a hooker who works in the Enterprise's stellar cartography department. I would have been much happier seeing her working at a desk with more monitors that can comfortably fit and a few different keyboards. Also, wearing pants.

That said, I loved the story, or rather, it feels like a "right" place to start the series. Not a whole lot happened plot-wise, except that we got to see Superman being the "real" Superman for the first time in nu52, and the first signs of a mystery are afoot. (When I say "real" I mean the confident, competent, reassuring figure that Superman is "supposed" to be in my head, and probably other people's heads too.)

Insert inevitable comparison to the first issue of Snyder's "Batman" arc, which introduced a dark counterpart to Batman who has been working in secret for years.

But ... didja notice that they got the date on Nagasaki wrong? Nagasaki was bombed on August 9, 1945. If Snyder got the date "wrong", I bet it's a clue that Snyder can cash in on later -- and it will turn out that Nagasaki was bombed, in part, to cover up atrocities that Mystery Government Mystery Man X had been committing.

Siskoid said...

Nice catch, and yes, that would be a good way of keeping history intact while also putting superhumans in the mix.

Like you, I did enjoy the story, at least, as a script. Snyder gives Superman some inventive uses for his powers, writes an excellent point of view for the Man of Steel, and believable or not, I loved Lois' ad negotiation with Perry.

But when I look at the artistry in the first chapter of Batman's Zero Year, how things are hidden and revealed, there's a definite sense for me that the finished product doesn't fulfill the script's potential.

Always been a writer-first comics reader, I guess.

Anonymous said...

I'm writer-first as well, and will tolerate just about any degree of bad art, provided it succeeds in telling the story. (I started reading DC in the era when your choices were Don Heck, Dick Dillin, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, or Carmine Infantino in his cube-head phase. So I learned to roll with the art.)

Speaking of "Batman: Zero Year", I will be disappointed if Bruce Wayne didn't go to college. The Goddamn Batman knows things, it's part of his super powers. He's not going to be any good against the Riddler if, say, the Riddler can say "April 5 1945" and Batman doesn't pick up on it.

snell said...

Brave heart, Siskoid--Jim Lee is annoying but short-winded. Soon we'll have regular fill-in artists, and then he'll move off to the next "big" project that DC wants to give an artificial boost to...

Siskoid said...

Won't Bruce already have been to college by Zero Year? Oh I guess in the flashbacks.

As with Unchained, what is problematic about Zero Year (damn it I keep wanting to write Year Zero) is the New52 set-up. Expressly saying Bruce wasn't Batman yet a mere 6 years ago reinforces the whole too-many-Robins thing when it would have been so simple to say 5 years ago (Justice League #1) was when superheroes went public, with Batman operating for a while in secret before then. A while being more than a year, surely. But Snyder makes the best of an editorial decision, which I suppose is the key to his success at DC.

Unchained's emphasis on splashy art, super-science Daily Planet and overuse of secret organizations (to get around the fact superheroes shouldn't exist more than 5 years ago) are all New52 tropes I suppose one has to work with.

Siskoid said...

Snell: Correct. Even this first issue has a 2-page fill-in epilogue.

snell said...

Wondering: if Jim Lee is so good for sales, why keep putting him on projects that will sell well anyway? Why not put him on some low-selling titles, to try and boost them?

Siskoid said...

I think that's part of the sacred cow problem. Jim Lee works on high profile books because second and third tier books are beneath him. If you wrote your own ticket, would you pick natural big sellers, or low-sales non-starters? Remember, your contract pays you a bonus based on number of copies sold.

Paul C said...

Thanks for the plug dude. :)

Siskoid said...

Always a pleasure :).


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