‘Superman Unchained’ links present with characters’ classic past

(CBR) With its most recent installment, it’s become clear that Scott Snyder and Jim Lee’s DC Comics series “Superman Unchained” isn’t simply a spotlight for the Man of Steel; it’s a tour of the entire Superman franchise. And as the pair continue their story in December’s issue #5, they’ll be hitting grace notes involving even more members of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s cast as well as the DCU as a whole.
“The idea was to try and take the classic pieces and tell a story with all of that, and one new piece, which was Wraith,” Snyder told CBR News. “We wanted to do it in a way that added to the mythology in a fun way while also doing something modern. I wanted to do an investigative reporter story with Lois. I wanted Jimmy to be there as Superman’s pal. I wanted Lex to be behind a lot of things. Perry will have a scene later, and Lana will have a scene. Even Bruce has more scenes coming, and so does Diana.”
Of course, the so-called “WW2 Superman” that is Wraith has already provided some interesting moral wrinkles for Clark Kent’s caped persona. “We wanted to provide an antagonist that wasn’t a mustache-twirling villain,” the writer explained. “We wanted someone Superman sees as a kind of ghostly reflection of himself. The idea of Wraith is that he has the weight of history behind him because he’s made a choice that Superman wouldn’t make, but it’s not a choice that you immediately see as bad. In a lot of ways, it’s meant to harken back to the material where Superman did fight in World War II. You did see him destroying Nazi subs back then. Is the world different now, where things aren’t as black and white in terms of warfare? Is that something Superman would do now if we had a mission against a particular country or terrorist group?
“What is different in Wraith is a mission that’s wrapped in some of our desires for who Superman is. What I mean is that a lot of us want Superman to go change the world in ways that are more aggressive. We want him to change the political nature of countries that are despicable or dysfunctional. Wraith does all those things, so is he the world’s real Superman? Of course he’s stronger and has been here longer and is more charged, so if nothing else, he’s a real threat. I wanted someone who could fight Superman and cause him real trouble.”
Meanwhile, Lois Lane’s investigation into the paramilitary group called Ascension will provide some twists of its own as she interacts with the mysterious crystal called the shard. “One thing about the crystal is that we’re having fun creating a new element in the story. While it may look like a crystal from the Fortress, it’s actually something very different. Issue #5 really explains that in a big way,” Snyder said. The writer also noted that all the threads involving Lois and her father General Lane will tie together as the series progresses. But his end goal is not upending or redefining Superman’s origins. “It’s very personal to me. It all loops together in a big way, but it’s not so much about their personal histories being looped together or secrets that will tie to Superman’s arrival. Instead, there are things that characters have done that they don’t want to admit. They have plans they’ve been hiding, and when all that explodes, you’ll see how it all comes together.”
And as Lex Luthor and Jimmy Olsen’s fate hand behind the scenes, the next issue will focus on the breaking of the uneasy alliance that Superman has with his military counterpart. “It’d be boring if it lasted and they just became friends,” Snyder joked of Wraith. “I hope people are starting to see the shape of how things will crash together, but next issue will make it really clear how everything will flip. I don’t want this to be something as simple as Wraith saying, ‘I’m an evil alien, and I want to destroy Superman.’ It’s much more compelling if he wants an ally in Superman and Superman wants an ally in him. But there’s an ideological divide between them that can only mean war. At the core, Superman stands in the way of the interests of a country who has Wraith on their side. He disagrees with what they do with him, and so now they’re going to take Superman down. Part of the lesson of issue #4 was that there are countries capable of making weapons that can take Superman out.”
In addition to tying “Unchained’s” opening salvo together in the new year, a major return for Snyder’s Vertigo work is on the horizon as well. The writer explained that series like “The Wake” with Sean Murphy and “American Vampire” with Rafael Albuquerque will be horrifying readers on a regular basis very soon. “It’s a little bit more fluid in terms of how we work. It’s not exactly the month-to-month grind [like in the DCU,] but that said, once the books start they’re meant to be relentlessly on schedule. With ‘The Wake,’ the reason issue #5 ended up getting scheduled later than we thought was because Sean and I decided to put six extra pages in. It wasn’t a delay because we’d fallen behind; it was us wanting some more room for the story. The great thing about Vertigo is that they were receptive to that. In the long run, they want the books to be what we want them to be.
“I try to be very aware of what Sean or Rafael think would be the best issue, and they can use me as an attack dog if they need it,” Snyder continued. “Because I have a foot in the DC world, I’m a little more muscular in terms of being able to say that we need more time for new pages or whatever. I always get them a script for 20 pages, but like with issue #6 of ‘The Wake’ which we just finished, I always say, ‘There’s a lot of room in here for an extra spread or an extra splash. If you want it, you tell me, and I’ll fight the fight for it.’ That’s maybe more sausage-making than I should say, but it’s the way I’m always working with Sean and Rafael. If they want more room, let’s get more room. It’s a great place to work at, Vertigo, honestly.”
And while he was shy to reveal too much about “Vampire’s” next arc, the writer did agree to whet fans blood-soaked appetites a bit. “I can’t wait for you guys to see the next arc of ‘American Vampire.’ It’s going to be crazy, and it doesn’t come out until March, so you may forget all this between now and then,” he said with a laugh. “It has Skinner working in the borderlands for the cartels, and at the same time, Pearl is back on her family farm with a secret mission. And the V.M.S., Felicia and Gus and all those characters come back in a big way. The first arc is meant to be as big and crazy as we can get.”