‘Superman Unchained’: Scott Snyder, Jim Lee want to knock you over

April 04, 2013 | 8:00 a.m.
jim lee snyder Superman Unchained: Scott Snyder, Jim Lee want to knock you over

Artist and DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee, left, and writer Scott Snyder are teaming on "Superman Unchained." The first issue is scheduled to hit stores June 12. (DC Comics)

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A look at Superman in the new series. Lee has previously worked on the character in his recent "Justice League" run and earlier in "Superman: For Tomorrow." "Unchained" joins "Action Comics" and "Superman" in starring the Man of Steel. (DC Comics)

sm unch poster Superman Unchained: Scott Snyder, Jim Lee want to knock you over

A look at Jim Lee's pencil work on the closeup side of the four-page foldout that's part of "Superman Unchained" No. 1. The issue's price will be $4.99, higher than the company's usual $2.99. (DC Comics)

batman 22 Superman Unchained: Scott Snyder, Jim Lee want to knock you over

A look at the cover of "Batman" No. 22, the second issue in Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo's "Zero Year" saga. (DC Comics)

av cv1 jim lee 100dpi Superman Unchained: Scott Snyder, Jim Lee want to knock you over

Jim Lee did this variant cover for the first issue of Scott Snyder's "American Vampire," which debuted in 2010. (Vertigo)

Think Superman and Batman are intimidating to criminals? Try writing for both of them.

As Scott Snyder adds the upcoming “Superman Unchained” to his duties on the acclaimed, high-charting “Batman” and other projects, the Eisner Award-winning writer says he has to put on “horse blinders” to focus away from the pressure. He cites the “golden rule” of the class he teaches at Sarah Lawrence College: You can only write the comic that you’d like to read.

“And with a story like this,” he said, “or with Batman, you have to follow that rule … and believe that because you love the characters enough, that in the DNA of that story will be the things that everybody else loves too – hopefully.”

The new series, drawn by superstar artist and DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee, arrives in Superman’s 75th anniversary year. Its first issue is set to hit stores June 12, two days before the latest big-screen take on the hero, “Man of Steel,” flies into theaters.

Considering the Last Son of Krypton’s iconic status and the great expectations that come with putting him in the hands of two popular comics creators, it’s not surprising Snyder told a panel crowd that he’s “super-super-nervous.”

Jim Lee and Scott Snyder are teaming up for a new Superman title, out next year. (Jim Lee / DC Comics)

Jim Lee and Scott Snyder are teaming up for a new Superman title. (Jim Lee / DC Comics)

“If you stop and think about the great stories that came before, it’s paralyzing,” the Newark, N.J.-based writer said during an interview at WonderCon in Anaheim alongside Lee to discuss their hotly anticipated collaboration.

The artist is confident that the writer is up to the challenge.

“One of the hardest things to do with a character like Batman or Superman who have had decades’ worth of stories is being able to introduce new lore into the mythology that feels organic and feels like it could have been there all along,” Lee said. “Hats off to Scott, because I think he’s doing it on both iconic characters.”

Lee also says it’s “a little liberating” from those decades of history to be in DC’s New 52 continuity revamp, which allows the company’s creative teams to innovate new details in the characters’ pasts (including that Lois Lane and Superman alter ego Clark Kent aren’t — and haven’t been — a couple), something Snyder is doing soon in “Batman” with artist Greg Capullo in their “Zero Year” story line.

“In my eyes,” Lee said, Superman has “75 years of history, but at the same time, our take on it is somewhat new and redefining, but redefining by building on all the core elements that we all know and love about the character.”

Snyder says he hopes readers will “… open the book and see things both artistically and story-wise that are going to knock them over and say, ‘I’ve never seen Superman done this way before, ever.’”

The “Superman Unchained” story centers on a mystery that’s frustrating the hero in both the Superman and Clark Kent aspects of his identity, and it will reveal a brand-new villain. Snyder says the challenges the hero faces are physically “ready to almost split the Earth” and are also psychologically and emotionally perilous. It will threaten his life, and the lives of those he cares about.

The writer’s work in the DC titles “Batman” and “Swamp Thing” and his original series “American Vampire” on the company’s Vertigo imprint has earned him a reputation for stories that severely — sometimes shockingly — test his characters where they’re most vulnerable.

So what, other than kryptonite, makes the Man of Steel vulnerable? Look to his true-north-pointing moral compass, “the thing,” Snyder said, “that makes him Superman.”

That commitment to always doing the right thing could prove his undoing.

“You don’t always have to threaten him with giant physical threats – although there are plenty in it,” he said.

(DC Comics)

Jim Lee’s pencils for one side of the four-page, double-sided foldout in “Superman Unchained” No.1. (DC Comics)

Indeed, the debut issue includes a four-page, double-sided foldout – an idea Lee conceived after Snyder described the scene to him, and one that has forced DC to figure out how to actually do it, a testing process that included printing dummy books. It finds Superman fighting a foe of incredibly immense size. One side shows what Lee calls a “God’s eye” view that will “pull the camera back and show how this little man-size figure can make such a huge difference”; the other is a closeup that Snyder says is “intimate, and it’s like we’re with him, and we’re rooting for him and we feel emotionally connected to him.”

In addition to the feature stories, the series will also have backups written by Snyder and drawn by his “American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares” miniseries collaborator Dustin Nguyen that focus on Superman’s supporting cast.

Lois Lane, of course, and Lex Luthor figure into the main story. (And, Snyder told a panel crowd, Batman will make an appearance early on.)

Snyder, who says he’s trying to show Lois’ work as an investigative journalist in the series,  sees in her something he also sees in Clark, and which Clark admires in her: that dedication to doing the right thing. “She does it her own way,” he said, “and she does it with different style than Clark, and you’ll see that from the first issue on.”

Luthor isn’t the major heavy here, but he can still get under Superman’s skin. Lee says the familiar nemesis’ exchange with Big Blue in the first issue shows some of the new series’ humor, and the artist is having some fun with Lex’s look, modeling it after “Batman Inc.” writer Grant Morrison.

This creative team is clearly enjoying collaborating.

The writer said that when he was at his parents’ house for Thanksgiving, he opened his old comic long-boxes and still had all his copies of “X-Men” No. 1, a blockbuster 1991 comic drawn by Lee that had variant covers. Snyder took a picture of the comics and sent it to the artist, whose artwork on “Superman Unchained” he says inspires him to first show the penciled pages to his wife, a fan of Lee’s work on “Batman: Hush,” and then make changes to “up my game.”

Jim Lee, left, and Scott Snyder. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times; DC Comics)

Jim Lee, left, and Scott Snyder. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times; DC Comics)

Lee’s pages “pull you in immediately and they’re so deeply emotional, you know what the character is going through on the page beyond it just being an amazing sequence or scene,” Snyder said.

The San Diego-based artist is making some tweaks to his style for this series, doing fewer full-bleed pages, where the images fill the entire page instead of having a white border around them. “I wanted to pull back so that when we do bleed it’ll have more impact,” he said.

Lee said he chooses projects based on the writers he wants to work with, and tries to learn from reading their scripts. Of Snyder’s, he said, “There’s just stuff in there that you just go like, ‘Where did this thing come from?’ Like, he’s got a thing about bagels. And it’s just a throwaway line, but at the same time, you go, ‘This adds so much depth and it makes it feel so real and so perfect for the scene it’s written into.’”

Wary of fan speculation, Snyder laughed: Superman “doesn’t fight against a giant bagel in this story.  … That’s not the villain.”

All joking aside, this is a high-stakes series, and not just for Superman.

“It’s a very personal story for me,” Snyder said. “If I got one chance ever to write Superman, this would be the story I’d tell.”

— Blake Hennon

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex


His original name? Kal-El. His legal name is Clark Joseph Kent. (Jim Lee / DC Comics)

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6 Responses to ‘Superman Unchained’: Scott Snyder, Jim Lee want to knock you over

  1. Audrey says:

    Can’t wait for this book. The new 52 Superman has been nothing but a huge letdown at this point.

    Glad to see Lois getting some much needed attention. Frankly, the refusal of DC to explore the love between Lois and Clark/Superman has been nothing but a detriment to the character. The character and mythos feels empty without the influence of The Kents and without that love story playing out in some form. I hope it’s a good book.

  2. Sonny Crockett says:

    For the most part…the books and whole "New 52" thing have put comics back on the map again.
    They've sold well and gotten people interested again. You can't hit a home-run with every issue, but DC has done REAL well. The thing they SHOULD dump immediately, is Superman's high-collar. Kinda reminds me of the Nehru collars of the 60's….

    • RSDhillon says:

      While I agree that the New 52 was pretty good (I like a lot of the titles), most of the Superman family books ARE a letdown. Superboy being the worst, Supergirl being mediocre or average at best and the main one, "SUPERMAN" has had so many creative team changes, I don't even know. The best one is Action Comics, but even to some that's debatable. Scott Snyder has proven himself worthy with his great Batman stories, so I hope Superman Unchained is just as good.

  3. Ed Northcott says:

    I agree. I like what's been done with the stories, but the costumes for the most part have been… meh. The high collar on Supes can go: a broader, lower collar emphasizes shoulder girth — looks good on a character like him. Also, not a fan of the red belt. What they did with the colour scheme for the costume in the movie costume is a fantastic twist; I'd love to have DC make something similar his canon costume.

    I'd like to see Wonder Woman get a visual re-working, too. Her costume in the Injustice video game is a step in the right direction. Even something more Greco-Roman in flavour would be great. But with every male Superhero being covered up even more, and Wonder Woman still running around in a glorified swimsuit — along with the treatment Starfire received — DC's approach to female characters feels lacking.

  4. Sabishiihito says:

    I miss that guy in the last picture. The REAL Superman/Clark Kent, who is married to Lois and still has at least one of his human parents around. And yes, has the red strongman trunks.

  5. Dru says:

    I must be the only one who has enjoyed Scott Lobdell's Superman as well as Superboy. Action started out mind-blowing but definitely lost steam as of late. It seems like they just made it weird for the sake of being weird. I get it, Superman is an alien, but at some point it stops looking like alien stuff and starts looking like the land of Oz. I like Lobdell's ability to tell a story and still keep a lot going on in each book. Superboy has been weak, but then it again that is kind of par for the course. They can never seem to get him off the ground as a stand-alone hero. I really enjoyed the Superboy books from the 90s so that's why I've stuck with it. Really looking forward to unchained.

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