Superman as a character has always been popular. So popular in fact that writers tend to have difficulty portraying him in progressive and significant ways as the decades pass. He is the ultimate mythical being; all powerful, the boy scout, the most noble of heroes.
I recently had the pleasure of picking up Superman: Unchained. It was a relatively big title to celebrate the character’s 75th anniversary back in 2013. Scott Snyder, the writer, was noted to have said it would be a character piece, an examination of everything that makes the Man of Steel who he is; similar to how Batman was tested in the Court of Owls storyline.
Special appreciation for the kickass work done by the legendary Jim Lee on Unchained.
Superman: Unchained had an interesting premise; not at all novel, but interesting pertaining to our time. Superman is a being who saves lives on both a national and planetary scale. He is a force for good through and through (and one of the reasons why I found the character uninteresting before Man of Steel). But while having no doubt in his actions, he is constantly plagued by their consequences, and perhaps in inaction itself.
The same is true of the character we see in the movie Man of Steel, and its much criticized sequel: Batman V Superman. We see a Superman who is essentially human in all aspects but his god like invincibility. We see him overcome hurdles, we see him realize that every action has an equal or opposite reaction. We see him stumble, make decisions based on his experience, and then for the better or worse, live with them. Even grow from them.
I find it amusing then that many people reject this version of Superman. They reject a character who has suffered alienation in every way possible, who has had to grapple with the fact that he may not be able to save everyone, but he chooses to make the hard decisions anyway.
Superman, Clark Kent and Kal El deserve to be scrutinized deeper than by merely a count of how many people he has saved in one glorious swoop. Many fans griped that he didn’t save enough people. That he caused too much havoc and destruction, that it was simply ridiculous for Superman to let such things slide. I ask you; did you manage to ride a bicycle on the first try? Did you not scrape a few knees, shed a little blood or take the time to learn from experience?
Unchained didn’t have much character growth in Superman; it was merely a study of how important it is to stand by your ideals, even as Man of Steel was a study in learning to grow from your mistakes and make hard fought decisions.
In the end, if you love a character enough, it’s not enough to simply see them do things. It’s much more fascinating and way more fun to see how and why they do it. I personally am intrigued by Unchained and the DCEU version of Superman, and can’t wait to see where they take it in the upcoming Justice League and stand alone films to come.