When this series launched, nobody was quite sure what the title meant - Superman Unchained. Unchained from what? Issue #5 poses an answer to that question: Superman unchained... from Clark Kent. "No More Hiding" is the refrain that opens and closes this comic as Superman is repeatedly forced by two different villains to put aside the charade of his human persona and fully embrace his true nature as a god. Dustin Nguyen illustrates the scenes set in Superman's youth in Smallville as he and Lana stand atop a silo and prepare to test their abilities of flight by leaping off of it. Meanwhile back in the present, Superman takes Wraith to his Fortress of Solitude as they attempt to locate the cloaked ship belonging to the terrorist group Ascension and where Lois is being held captive. Superman Unchained #5 is the first comic in the series that I haven't loved outright, which is disappointing because I'm a huge Scott Snyder fan. You might've heard of a conspiracy theory explaining how mankind has developed so much technologically in the last 60/70 years compared to mankind's relatively slow development previously: because of alien tech. Snyder has heard of this conspiracy theory too because it's now a large plot point in the story. I've never liked the theory because it discounts mankind's ingenuity and downplays our potential as a species to better ourselves, generation after generation; I like it less now that Snyder's saying it's true in the DC Universe, partly for the reasons I mentioned but mostly because it's unimaginative, a quality I hasten to add is not indicative of Snyder as a writer. In a lengthy expositional scene between Ascension and Lois, we learn that Wraith and his alien ship gave humanity an equation that enabled us to develop the wondrous gadgets we possess today, and then find out their goal of reversing humanity's advances (helped by little green men or blue, in the case of Wraith), making them luddite/Unabomber figures, which, again, feels disappointing that such a cliché bad guy goal would appear in a Scott Snyder book. We all know Superman's weakness is kryptonite but Snyder has found another weak spot for the Man of Steel: Clark Kent. Superman is god-like and ages at a far slower rate than the rest of us do while his disguise of Clark Kent is superficially human. Wraith asks Superman what will happen to Clark in 20, 30, 50 years' time when Lois and Jimmy are much older, Perry'll be dead, and Clark will still look the same? Superman will outlive Clark, even if he adds makeup to look older, so he must choose to drop the charade of being human despite adopting human ideals and embrace his true self. It's definitely an interesting idea but something of a non-question for Superman. The rules of reality do not apply to comic book characters - they don't age. Lois has been a thirty-something for 75 years! Jimmy's been in his early 20s for decades! Comics are all middle story. Occasionally a character will die off - even Superman once - but they always come back and things go back to "normal", ie. characters remain a certain age, so that the comics can continue to come out. Only in this comic will Superman have to contemplate Lois getting old, dying and leaving him alone, which is something that would never happen anyway because she's too popular to kill off. As long as we have Superman, we'll always have Lois and the rest of the gang, and of course Clark Kent too. I do like how Snyder's developing Wraith as a character so that even if he looks like a villain, he's much deeper than that. His politics and philosophy are explained more here in his conversations with Superman and, even if his final action in this was predictable, I feel that Snyder's not going to fully commit to Wraith as a unanimous bad guy like Ascension, and this ambiguity is what I like most about Snyder's writing, especially with regards to some of his villains. Superman Unchained is undoubtedly an excellent Superman series, made all the more impressive knowing that this is Snyder's first Superman book, but #5 is the inevitable less-than-great issue I was expecting. It's certainly not a bad comic but compared to the high quality of the previous issues, it's decidedly average. Though by the final page, Snyder has recaptured the energy and tension of earlier issues by raising the stakes exponentially. Despite this issue's lull, the next issue promises to be enormously exciting and inventive, and I look forward to discovering the fate of Clark Kent. Published by DC, Superman Unchained #5 by Scott Snyder and Jim Lee is out now
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