Advance (Spoiler-Free) Reviews: Superman Unchained #1 and Batman #21

Man Of Steel” swoops into theaters this week, and it already looks destined to be one of the summer’s biggest hits.  Department store shelves are filled with action figures and other tie-ins, promo spots are running every few seconds on TV, posters and advertisements are everywhere you look.

And DC Comics is making the most of this time in the spotlight – on Wednesday, they’ll release a pair of comics that are perfect jumping-on points for new readers: the debut issue of a new Superman series, and the first chapter of a major new storyline in the Batman titles.

Superman Unchained #1 will be a blockbuster, pure and simple.  Scott Snyder is one of the most popular writers in comics and Jim Lee is one of the medium’s top artists, and they hit the ground running in this issue – from the opening panels, it’s clear that this is going to be a Superman comic for the ages.

Jim Lee has been producing quality work for so long, it almost seems silly to talk about how beautifully designed his pages are, how well he depicts action sequences, and how perfectly his pencils and Scott Williams’ inks fit together – but when he has room to stretch out, as he does here, he can create work that’s truly awe-inspiring.  And Scott Snyder is on fire, setting up spectacular set pieces and adrenaline-loaded action sequences, and still allowing plenty of space for characters to breathe – most of the classic supporting cast get chances to shine, and there’s a brief interaction between Supes and Lex Luthor that nails their dynamic as well as anything I’ve ever seen.

When people come stumbling out of their local cineplex, overstimulated and exhilarated from two hours of superhero excitement, and go looking for similar thrills to take home, this is exactly the comic they should be handed.

Batman #21 kicks off ’Zero Year’, a look at the earliest days of Bruce Wayne’s war on crime.  Scott Snyder writes this title too, and he handles the earthbound mania of Gotham City every bit as handily as he does the massive-scale insanity of the Superman saga.

This introductory chapter establishes the time and place: Gotham, some years ago, as Bruce Wayne is just beginning his war on crime.  We speed from scene to scene with young Wayne as he clashes with criminals, flashes back to childhood memories, and develops the methodology he’ll eventually use to become the city’s protector.

Particular praise is due to Greg Capullo’s art in this issue.  He’s doing the best work of his career right now, playing with panel layout and pacing, selling the story with gestures and facial expressions, using camera angles and background details to create a fully-formed Gotham in just a few short sequences, giving each character their own posture and body language.

Though this is just the first piece of a larger storyline, it’s compelling on its own merits, and contains a ridiculous amount of bang for your buck.  There’s a couple pulse-pounding fight scenes, some well-crafted emotional beats, some nice new twists on established history, and a couple nods to classic stories that should make the devoted Bat-fan quite happy.  It’s a fascinating glimpse at a crimefighter-in-the-making, how he began, and how he became the man we know today.  It’s not just a great Batman story, but a great Bruce Wayne story.