By Jarrod Jones. Before I dig myself too deep a hole during this review, I should probably state that I am a tremendous fan of Scott Snyder. I’m also a fan of Jim Lee. What I am not a fan of, however, is what has become of their first collaboration, the 9-issue maxi-series, Superman Unchained.

What’s most frustrating about the series is that it ultimately failed its purpose, shortly after arriving when the Superman books needed it most. With flagging sales, a revolving door of creative teams, and operating with seemingly zero direction, the Superman books were easily the most half-baked of all DC Comics’ New52 initiative. And then from the heavens arrived the all-star, big budget team of Scott Snyder (Batman, American Vampire) and Jim Lee (X-Men, Justice League) to rescue Superman from the narrative doldrums the hero seemed doomed to endure. However, what benefits the team of Snyder/Lee could have brought to Superman Unchained were quickly diminished by the book’s lackluster execution. Unchained’s nigh-invincible pedigree quickly began to show signs of deterioration.

Pockmarked with delays, the book has suffered more than mere scheduling issues. Its story poses troubling canonical dilemmas for the Superman books (is it canon? did Snyder bother to read any Superman books after Flashpoint? why does this feel like a sequel nobody asked for to For Tomorrow?) It constantly forges its own mythos for our Man of Steel, neglecting or downright omitting the New52 status quo. (Which, oddly enough, is something I yearn for.) Also contributing to the matter of the series’ obsolescence is DC’s execution of yet another Super-team in Geoff Johns and John Romita, Jr., called in to do the job Superman Unchained was originally designed to do: imbue the Man of Steel with a contemporary relevance. Now that their Super-saga, Men Of Tomorrow, is almost four issues deep into its already critically-approved run, one question remains: what is left, if anything, for Superman Unchained to accomplish?

Finally hitting the shelves after a four month absence, Superman Unchained #8 picks up shortly after the events of #7, finding Superman and Wraith, our mysterious villain du jour, kicking each other around with the usual Jim Lee bombast. And though the wait between books has diluted the anticipation for the titanic bout between Superman and his military-grade nemesis, the only task this issue has is to deliver a fluid, bombastic tussle. Does it succeed? It does, and it doesn’t: Massive freighters get tossed around like bricks. Mountains shatter. The moon crumbles. Snyder drafts this battle with his typical Hollywood showmanship, with an enthusiasm that Lee’s pencils have a hard time keeping up with.

There’s no arguing that Jim Lee has an artistic strength that cannot be paralleled (his splash pages are reliably stupendous), but there are sections of Unchained #8 where one can’t shake the feeling that – whether it’s because of time constraints or a lack of enthusiasm – Lee’s pencils leave a lot to be desired. (There are more than a couple of panels where it appears Lee left the majority of the grunt work for inker Scott Williams and colorist Alex Sinclair. The resulting work has an unmistakable laziness to it.)

What makes Superman Unchained work so well is, refreshingly, Superman. While it’s true our New52 Man of Steel is younger, brasher, and more naive than his Post-Crisis forebear, Snyder keeps the classic elements of the Metropolis Marvel at the forefront of his story. In Snyder’s Unchained, our Clark Kent is a thinker, ever thoughtful of battle strategies he’s gleaned through his relationships with Batman and Wonder Woman. Watching Superman actively suss out that those strategies won’t help him win the day is easily the best moment of the book. (“… down here, neither of us has anything but our speed, and our wits. Or put more simply… WELCOME TO A FAIR FIGHT!”)

With only one issue left to Snyder and Lee’s run, Superman Unchained #8 does some quick, last-minute catch up in its final third. There’s still the villainous Lex Luthor to contend with (so, pay no attention to current issues of Justice League), an impending alien invasion to quell, and a mystery to solve. Whatever ideas and themes Snyder has hoped to instill with his Superman tale have quickly taken a wayside to his needlessly convoluted plot, a sci-fi potboiler that has all but swallowed Unchained whole. Fortunately, Snyder is storyteller enough to keep us guessing to the (bitter?) end.

With Superman presently facing three separate crises in his own books – Doomed, Men Of Tomorrow, and (still) Unchained – it’s difficult to place any serious drama onto the contemporary adventures of Superman. Perhaps once Unchained‘s saga has met its end , Super-editor Matt Idelson will take the time and care necessary to join all of the Man of Steel’s adventures into one cohesive Neverending Battle. With a solidified status quo, Superman’s fans may finally have something to look forward to, maybe even something worth waiting for.

DC Comics/$3.99

Written by Scott Snyder.

Art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams.

Colored by Alex Sinclair.

6 out of 10

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