God. Jesus. Saviour. Superman.
I think we can all agree that Superman has had religious themes in a number of his stories, or at least in the movies. In the last two Superman films, he’s basically been portrayed as a pulpy incarnation of the Judeo-Christian Christ figure with 2006′s Superman Returns all but making Superman the second coming – Space Jesus!
And it seems Scott Snyder can’t avoid the association either as Superman Unchained #3 shows. The title of the issue – Answered Prayers – is taken from a famous quote by 16th century saint, Teresa of Avila, the full quote being: “there are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers”. An ominous message especially when the origins of the scary-looking chap on the cover – Wraith – are revealed.
In 1938, scientists sent a “prayer” into space and seconds later that prayer was answered with a fiery ball inside of which was Wraith, a more powerful version of Superman, long before anyone knew of Superman. But is Wraith an angel or a demon? So far it would seem to be both – he was responsible for Nagasaki (he only seems to work for the Americans) as the US military had only one A-bomb, the other massive explosion being Wraith (as readers of the first issue will recall). He was also responsible for diverting the falling satellite (again from issue #1) from hitting any populated areas, instead landing safely in the sea.
It turns out Bruce Wayne was right in the last issue as, after a brief fight in this issue between Superman and Wraith, it turns out Wraith is the more powerful between the two. But with the obligatory superhero fight sequence over with, we get into the meat of the issue, finding out just what General Sam Lane is hiding underneath the desert and what all of this is about. If Superman gets physically beaten by Wraith, his ego undergoes a sound thrashing by Sam Lane who calls him a coward and a mass murderer!
Going back to the religious theme, this scene is basically what any faith-less human would say when confronted by God. Imagine you’d suffered tremendous loss and God was stood before you – wouldn’t you yell at him? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do you allow so much suffering in the world when you can prevent it? This is the jist of what Lane asks Superman, and, like I imagine God’s response to be, he says nothing (though I’m certain Snyder will get back to addressing this in later issues as Superman remarks “this isn’t over, General”).
Which isn’t to say Lane is right, not by a long shot, but I won’t go into why, mostly because I’m sure everyone reading this knows why he’s wrong and Superman’s right. And if you don’t, think about it for a minute (incidentally, if you want to see what would happen if Superman ran the world, check out Mark Millar’s excellent Superman: Red Son). And I will say kudos to Superman for not pointing out that even with Lane and Wraith’s agenda to depose dictators, etc., there are still large spots on the map Lane proudly shows off that remain troubled areas.
An argument could be made that with this issue the series has fallen into the template of all superhero stories, where the hero meets an antagonist who is more powerful, loses to them, and then inevitably overcomes him. Except Snyder has so many other interesting pieces in play that I wouldn’t be so quick to make that call yet.
Lois is looking into a terrorist group called Ascension (there’s that religious link again) who were responsible for the construction robot going nuts in Dubai in the last issue, as well as blinding the poor man who got fished out of the ocean in the epilogue to the first issue. Her small plane gets sabotaged and she heroically tries to land the plane on water, Sully-style, before encountering yet another mysterious superbeing. Meanwhile everyone’s favourite bald baddie Lex Luthor has successfully broken out of prison and sets off to make a new friend – in Jimmy Olsen – and of course to “save the world” which will likely mean another attempt on Superman’s life.
I don’t doubt that the series will likely feature a winner-take-all fight between Superman and Wraith, but I think there are going to be some interesting twists and turns along the way that might make it a less than straightforward superhero battle between two powerful beings a la Man of Steel. And speaking of Man of Steel, it’s almost like General Lane saw that film because among the things he calls Superman, one of them is a mass murderer! And then there are the drones Ascension hijacks that look almost identical to the World Machines Zod tried terraforming Earth with. I really hope this is the extent to the similarities this series has with that film.
I would liked to have found out more about Wraith (whose name at first seems like a bad 90s villain name until Snyder reveals it’s a brilliantly barmy acronym!) but as the character gets enough focus in this issue, it would have upset the flow of the comic if he had taken up more space. Snyder’s playing this one with his cards close to his chest but he’s been delivering this character’s story in dribs and drabs in a perfectly controlled method suited to the story, ramping up the narrative tension.
What do all of the religious signs mean – will Superman die for humanity at the end (only to be resurrected, partly as per the myth but also because this is comics)? Or is it just a facet of the character Snyder is acknowledging? Watch this space to find out.
Superman Unchained continues to live up to the hype by being not just the best Superman title of the year but one of the best comic books of the year. The third issue is no less brilliant than the other two, with high quality writing and art from Snyder and Jim Lee respectively, wrapped up in an absolutely brilliant story. Superman Unchained is one of the best books DC is publishing at the moment and if you like Superman at all, you need to check out this series!
Superman Unchained #3 by Scott Snyder and Jim Lee is out now
This article was first posted on August 21, 2013