“Out of Time”

I’m guessing most Batfans haven’t been following Superman Unchained up until this point. The salient points to get you grounded for this Bat-centered issue are as follows: Superman has just thwarted yet another worldwide apocalypse with the help of Batman, the Wraith, and a schmancy doo-dad called the Earthstone. Mostly it was the Earthstone that did the trick, which is why Wraith now wants it, but Superman isn’t interested in handing over so much power to spurious curatorship. In issue No. 6, Batman anticipates Wraith’s betrayal (because he’s Batman) and equips Superman with the means to prevent Wraith from getting what he wants (for the moment).

SupermanU_06_01

From issue No. 6: no idea about that toodly little sound
Bats is making there, but it’s nice to see him having fun

Unfortunately, this just puts Batman on Wraith’s “destroy with impunity” list, so it should be no surprise when Wraith shows up at the Batcave ready to rumble.

Issue No. 7 alternates between the Fortress of Solitude and the Batcave: Superman and Lois prepare for Lois’ evil military father to attack with a buncha Go-bot looking Mechas (they also want the Earthstone), while Wraith and Batman duke it out with with hi- and low-tech toys of their own. An that’s pretty much it for the “plot” as such. Everyone wants to control the Earthstone (Lois has it), and there’s not a lot of reasonable negotiating going on. Jim Lee does what maybe Jim Lee does best: spectacular double-page spreads of methamphetamine action: explosions, punches, and so many creative sound effects you could develop a whole new onomatopoeic dictionary.

Sounds awesome? So what’s the problem? What’s with the sad panda score? Before we get into that, let’s look at the things about this book that make it a win.

SupermanU_07_02But really: “Ding-dong”? And that’s Page 1

The Good

There are three things that make this book pretty cool.

First: oh heck yeah that Jim Lee cover! There are some alternates floating around out there by Jock and Kubert, but the Lee is the best cover of the week for me. So literally exploding with action that the words are knocked right off the page. It’s not a new gimmick, but it really works–when you have a fight of this magnitude, you want it to blow the lid off. To temper my enthusiasm, I will add that the cover is a bit misleading–but on the light side of that oft-seen offense. The book delivers big action, which is what the cover promises.

Second: Batman! Everything is automatically better with Batman. In the previous issue, Batman appeared in a couple of moments mostly behind-the-scenes as he assisted Superman. Here he gobbles up half the pages while he fends off Wraith. Still, the book has a nice balance–it’s Superman’s comic and Superman is still front-and-center.

Lastly: great big splashy action pages.  Again, if Jim Lee action is comic gold for you, then you have hit the bonanza!

The Bad

I have to say I’ve never read anything quite like this from Snyder. It’s genuinely…silly. Maybe that’s intentional, but it sure didn’t feel like the tone of issue No. 6. Mild spoilers, so I’ll drop this below a cut:

Spoiler

  • General Lane is reduced to a wise-cracking jarhead in a robo-suit.
  • Batman dons a convenient stealth suit that apparently has no applications in his usual day-to-day crime-fighting (was he just saving it for Wraith?).
  • Lois channels her inner gelfling to become a cosmic force for the team (yeah, I said huh? too). And this is really the only significant plot advancement in the book.
  • Wonder Woman shows up at the Batcave to help Batman, which is kind of great, but feels totally like just an excuse to shoehorn another Justice League member into the fray.
  • Cliffhanger ending means you have to read the next one to see the actual fight depicted on the cover of the book. Poop.

Now I will confess that I only read the previous issue and some synopses to catch up, so there may be nuances that I am missing, but for those buyers seduced by the stellar cover, this is what you get, plain and simple. No additional context provided (and far less than I am giving you here).

The Ugly

It’s all going under the cut. Brace yourselves and remember–if you just really like loud flashy comics, your mileage may definitely vary:  

Spoiler

  • Superman suits up in a Shogun Warrior Raydeen suit with idiot horns. Seriously, I laughed at the page. Designing something to offset Lane’s many-missile death attack makes sense; designing it with antlers is just asking to be mocked. He loses the helmet rather quick, so if it had any necessary functionality, we may never know.
  • I had flashbacks to the 90s while reading: colorist Alex Sinclair creates a lot of throwback glare and confusion that feels over-processed throughout. Particularly in the Batcave you can’t tell Wraith from the walls from the Batmobile from the explosions–everything is just grey and red and blue and orange. And with Batman in a near-invisible stealth suit it’s like playing Where’s BatWaldo on every page.
  • Worse still for the compositions, there are so many sound effects you can barely discern the action in some places. It’s just overwhelming.
  • Did Lee really draw a giant gaping cloaca on the T-Rex? It’s mechanical–it doesn’t need sex organs. Also, that’s just nasty-looking, even if unintentional.

SupermanU_07_03

Seriously: we get it–they’re beeping and flashing and…oooo, ‘66 Batmobile roughly 2 o’clock

Maybe my expectations were just too jacked up. Maybe this suffers from mid-battle syndrome. I am disappointed with the goofy costumes and the hi-tech baloney. I appreciate that writers have to find ways to raise the stakes for characters this ridiculously powerful, but Snyder has always written a clever, thinking Batman and issue No. 6 set the bar a lot higher (go read that one!).

Recommended If…

  • It’s time for a mindless knock-down drag-out brawl (and yes, sometimes you just need one).
  • You like seeing the Batcave get totally wrecked.
  • You can never get enough of Superman/Batman team-ups.

Overall

With so many double-page splashes, you can read this in less than five minutes. And as I mentioned above, if that’s enough for you, give this an extra point (heck, give it two; it’s worth an 8.5 for big stupid fun). But for me, the almost total emphasis on eye candy makes this all sugar and no protein–and therefore a lot of empty calories. Will keep an eye out for issue No 8 to see if the book comes down off all this adrenaline and returns to form–we’re not done with Batman yet in this arc!

SCORE: 6.5/10