It's been a bumpy rocket ship ride for Superman since DC Comics' New 52 relaunch nearly two years ago. Meanwhile, under the steady guidance of writer Scott Snyder, DC's other flagship character has largely been humming along like the Batmobile after a tune-up. So perhaps DC's editors did the math and came up with the perfect formula to give the Man of Steel the kind of first issue that he should have had all along in "Superman Unchained" #1 -- and with fan-favorite artist Jim Lee stepping up as penciler, DC has done found the right creators to make Superman great again.
With the same kind of gosh-wow, cinematic synergy that Lee and writer Jeph Loeb mustered for "Hush" in "Batman" a decade ago, Lee, Snyder and inker Scott Williams (who was also around for "Hush") once again make Superman the larger-than-life, iconic figure that he was always intended to be. Nowhere is that more true in this issue than in an awe-inspiring, four-page fold-out spread that is likely the largest rendering of the Man of Steel ever seen within the pages of a comic book. But centerfold aside, the character's selfless and heroic deeds early on serve as just an important a reminder of how great Superman is.
Where Snyder excels is at not only capturing the grandeur of the character, but at reconciling the inspirational presence Superman instills in many people with the mysterious distrust that he creates in others. The do-gooder boy-scout image wisely remains absent, as it has in the other New 52 titles, but the sheer sense of awe is there on every page the character appears; a sense frequently is lost in the other titles.
When the focus is on other characters, Snyder and Lee both ensure that readers recognize them. Lex Luthor remains the cool, calculating genius; Lois Lane is perfect as the critical, multi-tasking over-achiever, and the classic Jimmy Olsen is clearly back in style again and cooler than ever. Snyder is smart enough to know that characters don't always need to be reinvented; sometimes they just need to be refreshed.
Snyder's handle on the character alone would be enough to bring readers back, but he introduces multiple mysteries that will probably have readers with their faces pressed to the door of comic shops everywhere awaiting the next issue. Of course, Lee and Williams make it look great. Snyder also throws in a short back-up piece, nicely rendered by Dustin Nguyen, which adds a little dimension to some elements from the main story.
The only downside to this issue is the cost: 32 pages for five bucks. Yeah, there is that fold-out, and all creators involved do everything they can to make it worth it, but it's unfortunate that such a great comic is the first to reach that dreaded plateau that undoubtedly will keep some readers at bay.
Nonetheless, this is the Superman that fans really wanted at the dawn of the New 52. It's not about what's different about the character or about what continuity is and isn't there; it's about the essence of the character, and everything that makes the Man of Steel great. Free from these distractions, this debut issue really is Superman unchained.