Superman finally learns what the United States government has been hiding for decades, and Lex Luthor escapes his maximum security prison cell in his bid to save the world in Superman Unchained #3 — an issue that tells the story of the nuclear bomb known as Wraith.
Wraith — the name which stands for William Rudolph’s Ace in the Hole — is a being sent from outer space who has secretly helped shape the world politically and socially for decades. Having landed 75 years ago, Wraith came as a bundled package that included formulas and codes which pushed America into the forefront with its technological marvels.
With a base of operations hidden under the Salt Flats, Wraith works around the world to change regimes, protect the United States, and get rid of various threats. He knows plenty about Superman and has even worked covertly alongside him without showing himself.
Superman Unchained #3 is a dialogue-heavy issue that finally issues some answers, but unfortunately, it’s much ado about nothing. Wraith is compelling enough as a character, but this issue feels hollow without a more intriguing basis.
What readers will get, besides the name and origin of a new characters, is a concept that seems plucked from the Man of Steel movie’s controversial ending that divided people into opposing camps over whether Superman should or would ever kill. General Lane, an advocate of using murder to forward the purpose of world peace, calls out Superman as a coward who doesn’t have the sense to do what’s necessary to improve the world.
So far, three issues into the series, things do not look good for Superman Unchained. Unlike Scott Snyder’s work on Batman, there’s a conspicuous lack of depth, and plot points feel like blips on a radar that appear for a moment but make no real impact. Part of it has to do with the issue format. If Superman Unchained were a trade paperback, things wouldn’t feel so much like they’re dragging in the mud, though about 60+ pages in, there’s still no real meat to this story. There are allusions and things coming over the horizon, but the journey to get there is beginning to look like a slippery slope downwards.
As far as art goes, things look like they’re maintaining the status quo. There aren’t any brilliant pages or panels here, and for a Jim Lee book — that’s a disappointment. Lee has been known to draw over the top pages with poster-worthy art, and this month’s issue feels uncomfortably like Jim Lee lite. Inker Scott Williams and colorists Alex Sinclair and Jeromy Cox continue to do their jobs very well, but their efforts can’t make Superman Unchained #3 more interesting.
For a series that was so heavily anticipated, there’s a disturbing lack of urgency. Introducing a new foe for Superman looks great on paper, but if there’s no real challenge or depth, it’s a bandaid that covers the biggest problem of all — writing a Superman story that makes people realize how great Superman is.
Snyder made his mark on the Batman series with the Court of Owls story arc that didn’t feel routine. Snyder ran Batman through a wringer, and there was palpable fear mixed in with psychology, horror, and a sense of testing on Batman’s character.
Superman Unchained has none of that. It feels rote and underdeveloped. A heavy round of editing could have shortened the books and sped up the story.
If it’s not too late, the creative team of Superman Unchained should consider what needs to be done to put this story into a higher gear.
Superman Unchained #3 (2013)
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Writer: Scott Snyder
Pencils: Jim Lee
Inks: Scott Williams
Colors: Alex Sinclair and Jeromy Cox
Letters: Sal Cipriano
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