Superman Unchained: The
best Superman book in the
A little over a week ago I thought my love and collecting of a Superman title was coming to an end. The new 52 hadn't been able to wow me after Superman couldn't get me on board straight out of the gate and Action Comics, after twenty one issues of trying, finally rubbed me up the wrong way and I dropped it after realizing that it was a book I couldn't enjoy (see my what I thought of the last issue here). However, this week all that changed and success was snatched from oblivion as Scott Snyder and Jim Lee brought out Superman Unchained #1 which, compared to the sister titles, was pretty damn good.
The story opened with a flashback to Japan 1945, and the hint that it might not have been a bomb that the US dropped but something a little more 'Superhuman'. Then the issue returns to the present as the Man of Steel has another 'day in the life' moment as he tries to prevent several satellites from crashing into the ground and causing many deaths (which, once done, he instinctively believes Lex Luthor to be responsible). However, when an unknown hero stops the one satelite he didn't reach and leaves credit to him, he goes to investigate this final crashsite, only to face off against the forces of General Lane.
The Man of Steel has never looked
cooler (or wetter I guess)
However, it's not the story that makes this book better in my eyes than other Superman titles, but the writing. Unlike the others, Scott Snyder seems to have a better handle on what makes Clark Kent tick, both in and out of the blue and red tights, making him much more direct, wholesome and with a never give up attitude; as Superman should be written. Unfortunately, the writing isn't perfect and the cause of this is the worry that Snyder has been on Batman far too long, as the story does feel more like a Batman book as it progresses. However, that could just be down to the writer just finding his comfort zone within Superman's world and is a small niggle on an overall flawless book, made better by Jim Lee's ever impressive art. The only fear there is that Lee will be gone by the first arc as he was with Justice League. That said, in my eyes no one draws Superman better.
I'm grateful that this book came out when it did. I was beginning to lose faith in DC's ability to write Superman (or rather find creators who could write him) and while this isn't quite him for me, it's a pretty good start that I'm sure could surpass my views on the character as the series continues, and that praise should go to the writer. I always hear good things about Scott Snyder and think "I should read one of his books", well here I've been convinced to stick with it and do just that.
I don't know what's going on at the moment, but it seems as though the Man without Fear is going through something of a renaissance period. Not only is he currently starring in his own title, which is what I can only describe as the best comic book series on shelves right now, but he also has just finished up the fantastic limited series Daredevil: End of Days by Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack; the two writers who kinda defined the modern day Matt Murdock. So, with his stock at a high, I don't think it's unexpected to see Marvel bring him out in yet another book in the hope of bleeding readers wallets dry with yet another good read. Fortunately, I don't think Daredevil: Dark Nights #1 disappoints when it comes to looking for a good read.
The plot seems to revolve less around an alternate future like End of Days and instead has more of a one night of Daredevil's life focus as the story takes place within a snow covered Hell's Kitchen (kinda like the plot of the first Max payne game, which totally sprung to mind as I went through, expect with a superhero). After being caught offguard by some thugs, Matt Murdock finds himself in a hospital suffering from memory problems. He doesn't remember who he is or what he does or even why he has such enhanced senses. However, he does, quite instinctively, remember how to use his enhanced senses. Meanwhile, a helicopter is attempting to traverse the bad weather to transport donated organs in the hopes of saving the life of a little girl but ends up crashing en route. From there is where the main focus of this story looks set to go; a memory impaired Daredevil must re-learn how to use his abilities while going through the bitter cold in order to retrieve the organ which will save a little girls life.
Now, I'll be honest and say that I've never heard of Lee Weeks before, however after reading this I'm wondering if that was a mistake on my part. Weeks sets the scene for an incredibly compelling story that looks set to focus less on DD battling a supervillain and more on DD facing his weaknesses, in this case the snow inhibiting his senses. However, the main draw of this book is the art. Weeks (who both wrote and drew) builds a real old-school Daredevil feel into every his panels, as the art is very reminiscent of the Bendis run (which I think is still the golden age of the Daredevil title), which is enhanced by Lee Loughridge's great use of the browns and greens for differeniate the cold and warm. Of course, there is a downside to the title, and that being the opening pages, which I found were difficult to get through, especially as Weeks juggled multiple storylines. However, once I powered through those early pages and those individual plot point merged together to create the main body of story, I found the whole reading experience much more enjoyable, with fantastic pacing and a nice tight plot.
I'll be fair and say that, after the ongoing success of Daredevil and the incredible Daredevil: End of Days, Daredevil: Dark Nights is going to struggle to reach the heights of their quality. Also, with eight issues slated for this book, I'm curious as to how far Weeks can stretch this story to fill every single one before the book begins to suffer. However, when all is said and done a new book needs to have some degree of faith placed in it for the future and I think issue 1 has earned enough to see where it goes.
Update:At the time of me writing this, I assumed that Daredevil: Dark Nights was an eight issue mini-series. Well, it turns out it's actually an anthology series, with Weeks' story lasting only three issues before he is replaced by David Lapham. That makes me a little less concerned about the title and a little more enthused about picking it up, not that I wasn't to begin with.
I've no idea why, but at the moment Earth 2 can do no wrong. Though there have been the odd bump in the road James Robinson and Nicola Scott's New 52 rendition of the Justice Society has been an enjoyable ride, culminating in an end of a first year which promised big action moving forward as the Flash, Green Lantern and Dr Fate intending to take on Steppenwolf after hearing he was still alive. Now, in Earth 2 #13, Robinson takes a step back from the action to focus on another hero and another threat which could pale in comparison to the coming war.
So, if the cover doesn't kinda tell you who the main focus here, this issue brings the new 52 Captain Steel to the forefront as he is tasked by the World Army to investigate the deadly fire pits that are scattered across the planet. How does he investigate them? Well, with the help of the Red Arrow (apparently another new hero), he is to enter one of these pits, which it seems is lethal to a normal person, and take a look around. However, when he returns, it seems he has found something that could be a grave threat.
Now, despite the issue seeming like it was taking a step back in terms of pacing and it being a little annoying of the tangent it went of in given where the book was heading in issue 12, I actually really liked this issue. It seemed like an appropriate move to just let the book take a moment to prepare for what will no doubt be a lot of action in the coming issues and just focus on other parts of this world. In truth, this is an exposition book and, while very talky, I enjoyed it as it gave deeper insight into Earth 2 and its very unique difference to the world the rest of DC's books inhabit. The art also continues to be fantastic is Nicola Scott's great work being more than competently covered by Yildiray Cinar, whose own work looks very similiar to Scott and who steps up to the plate with solid, epic-feeling panels from start to finish, giving a seamless transition.
However, if there is a downside to this issue, it's many of the concepts that are introduced here. Once again the new Batman makes a brief appearance during the issue which keeps a small notice of Hawkgirl's whereabouts, and I gotta admit, while I'm still not impressed with his inclusion over in Earth 2 (see my thoughts on the annual here http://acomicbookaddict.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/reviews-earth-2-annual-1.html), there is an implication of him being a more mystical being which has me a little intrigued. However, my biggest problem is the end which reveals the new big bad being known as "the Red Lantern". While I like the idea of hinting at more villains while finishing up with other ones, I don't get why so many of these "franchise" concepts are being dolled out. First Batman, and now a Red Lantern, should we expect Deathstroke to make an appearance? Maybe Superboy(I hope DC don't read that and actually think I'm being serious)? I suspect that DC are trying to impart more control on this book, though why I'm not sure as they should be trusting the creative team who have been doing good so far.
That said, the issue is still a great one, further pushing along the this titles' almost epic feeling within it's ongoing story. This is indeed very much a step back from many of the action storylines it's offered of late but I'm thinking it's a "calm before the storm" kinda thing and, if that's the case, I like what is being setting up and am looking forward to next month when 'War' begins (or so solicits tell us)
It breaks my heart to admit it, but I've finally lost my patience with the Action Comics series. What is (at present) my only Superman title included within my pull list, Action Comics #21 is a vast improvement, in my eyes, than almost all of the series but at the same time it is also nowhere near as good as a lot of other titles, many of which I don't have the funds to collect at present.
Action Comics #21 by Tony Daniels
This issue essentially finishes off the Andy Diggle/Tony Daniels arc of the book, finishing the story which pits the Man of Steel against creature born from a man made virus and his own genome, which then goes on to infect many of Metropolis' citizens, merging them into the creature itself. However, this issue finishes the tale by bringing on a big match between Superman and the creator of this creature; Lex Luthor.
Now, in terms of the art I loved this book from start to finish as Tony Daniels stuff is still solid. Superman looks like how Superman should (even without the trunks) and even Lex Luthor looked bad-ass in his classic green and purple armour, now updated to look a little more deadly. The colours are vibrant, the panels are incredibly detailed, this, for the most part (a few of the last pages look a bit rushed, but then the guy is doing two jobs), is a beautiful book from start to finish.
Supes vs. Luthor
It's just a shame then that the story itself is, in my opinion, what really lets this book down. It's not so much that this story is impossible to follow as the story is simple enough (well mostly), the problem here is that the book is just impossible to get into and muster any real enjoyment. I couldn't get into this book at all as the pacing was off, exposition was in the wrong places and, I dunno, the book just felt dull. I have to admit that this issue was an improvement on the last, but in the end it's still a major drop in quality to Diggle's only contribution to the series, returning the series to Morrison's run which I (for the most part) dislike.
Like I've said, I'm sorry to say this but this book and I may have reached the point where we part ways. I'm in serious doubt as to whether to pick up the next issue, even though there is a new creative team, I am tired of believing anyone can write Superman the way (I certainly think) he should be. But, at the end of the day, I spent three quid on this book and I have a serious belief that if you buy something you sure better enjoy it. Goodbye Action Comics, it's been (not very) fun.
Now, I get that DC are in the money making business, and many of the big names have large rogues galleries but isn't this a little bit overkill? I remember, back before the New 52, DC did a similiar thing where the villains took over the main titles for 1 issue. Why couldn't they do that again? Instead, I will have to pick up at least two Earth 2 titles, or three if the main series is included and (if I'm still picking it up) I'll have to get five Action Comics issues. Now think about all those who pick up the lion's share of their collection in DC titles, they could wind up paying four times what it usually costs them to keep up with their favourite books and in this financially troubling climate that's a bit of an ask.
I just hope that when the time comes for these books to be released, I find out that they aren't important to the overall story and I can forgo picking them up, even if it's just to make a point. That said though, in reality I just know I won't be as strong willed enough for that.
Now, I think annuals are a mixed bag. For one, an annual is an extra issue that, while maybe not part of the main series, can give serious insight into the story that you wouldn't learn otherwise. On the flip side though, an annual is just a waste of money, there with no purpose and created with no other reason than to bleed cash off of me, the dedicated fan. So Earth 2 Annual #1 is both good and bad because it seems to fit somewhere in between.
This annual gives insight into the life of Al Pratt, the military hero known as (Captain???) Atom who has been a bit of a background character as well as a bit of a villain so far this series. Here though he is centre of attention as he is sent on a mission to a black market city to hunt down and bring in a war criminal from the previous battle with Apokolips. As he prepares for this he reflects on the time since the first issue and now, as he has (literally) grown from soldier to weapon. This annual also takes the opportunity to introduce new characters as an interlude in Pratt's story introduces Captain Steel while an epilogue re-introduces Mister Miracle and Barda from their brief reveal a couple of issues back as well as an all new Batman.
Don't let the cover fool you
(seriously) this is an Atom story
Now, despite some problems, I am glad that this annual was realised as The Atom deserves to be centre of attention after spending most of the series so far relagated to bit player and occassional antagonist to Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkgirl. James Robinson portrays Pratt as an everyman who, depsite pride in doing his duty, knows that he is part of a situation that his morals can't completely stomach. While appearing to be quite an ass early in the series, it is here that he seems much more likeable while not entirely having his personality altered from earlier appearances. The thing I liked about this issue most though was the interlude, where during a part of the Atom's story where he is knocked out, the interlude is used to intro Captain Steel and set up his future story plans, only for Al's story to resume shortly after with a "now, where was I?" moment. It's story plotting at its best right there and that alone made good for all the other problems.
Which is a good thing as these problems are a bit numerous. The main story's main culprit being Cafu's art which, while moderately consistent, did have problems in certain panels toward the beginning, especially with Atom spending half the issue missing an eye (I'm not sure if it was meant to be shadowing or intentional). Now, that's not to say I didn't like the art here but the simple fact is this art isn't Nicola Scott's!!! Of course this is only a small quibble compared to the epilogue which seemed totally unimportant. While I liked the ideas Robinson is setting up for future episodes, why, oh why, did Batman have to be included? The character, which was heavily implied in previews and cover to be an important figure in the issue does absolutely nothing, although he helps establish the future plot points. It does make me wonder though if this new "Batman" could be the reason for Robinson's recent departure, as I bet DC held a gun to his head to get a new Bat in the book because Batman sells so we need to have him in every book (I didn't disprove that though, I bought the damn thing). Then there is the final page reveal of Mister Miracle and Barda which, while I won't spoil, feels to me as though it leaves a big plot hole in the series proper.
So, has this annual changed my views on annuals in general? Probably not is the honest answer. I think annuals should be optional extras for a regular series but this one isn't and while I think that overall this is a good book, it's the final pages having greater influence on the overall arc that make me dislike this annual. Earth 2 Annual 1 IS essential reading, but only because of the info it includes. But that revelation shouldn't be allowed to spoil a great Atom story.