DC Comics’ Superman has always faced tough opponents and unbeatable odds. But in writer Scott Snyder and DC Co-Publisher and artist Jim Lee’s oversized final issue of “Superman Unchained,” the Man of Steel isn’t just battling alien forces for the fate of the Earth — he’s battling for his own fate as well, questioning what role Superman should play in an increasingly complicated world.
Today marks the finale of “Superman Unchained,” the limited series that launched last year as part of Superman’s 75 Anniversary celebration. Originally solicited to end in March 2014 but delayed until this month, the ambitious story comes to a conclusion within “Superman Unchained” #9, throwing every single one of its characters together as Superman, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, General Lane and Wraith — an alien who landed on Earth decades prior to Clark and worked as an alternate version of Superman for the military — face an extraterrestrial invasion decades in the making.
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With the fate of the world in the balance, and the issue available as we spoke, CBR News and Snyder dove into a discussion about the series, looking back at the story as a whole, the reasons behind the publishing delays, and settling, at least to Snyder’s mind, what Superman should mean in a modern context to writers and fans.
CBR News: The last issue of “Superman Unchained” is out today, and as the writer and half of the creative team I have to imagine it must feel pretty good to have your whole story told and finally all out in stores.
Scott Snyder: Yeah, it really is — it’s been a great year working with Jim [Lee]. It’s sad, but it’s also really exciting to see it all collected, or all done and on the shelves.
This story all started last year with Superman’s 75 Anniversary, and there obviously were some delays in production. For you guys, looking back, do you feel that your story or perception of Superman has really changed from what you first pitched? Were there things you guys realized you needed to do differently coming into the big conclusion?
There were, I think, little things here and there. The middle changed for me, where there were certain elements I was going to focus less on, or focus more on, and really I ended up trying to underscore the central theme more than I thought I was. But that’s pretty much the same on every book I work on. For me the middle is the place I try and explore a little bit, and leave a little for myself to play around in.
It’s not different from anything else I worked on in that regard, but for us and the schedule it was a matter of — halfway through we realized it was a real grind for both of us to do it the way we wanted and get it out. Jim and I really like adding pages and interacting with things and making it as big and fun for [Lee] as possible, so we decided we were going to let it go as long as it was going to take, and to go as hard as we could on it, but just give ourselves a little more room so that he and I both could make it the best book that we could for people.
So I totally apologize to people, but that said I think the book is much better for taking more time on it — and it’s also bigger for you guys! [Laughs] Twenty-five page issues, twenty-six page issues, all of that for the same price is a lot of fun to get to do, and so Jim could have enough time to do this.
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Looking at the full story, it’s interesting that you said you realized halfway through you were going to underscore the themes more, because issue #9 really reinforces the idea that it’s not just Superman and Wraith who differ on how to save the world. It’s every single character, from Ascension to even Lois Lane.
With all these different philosophies intertwined in the series, is this last issue a vindication of the way Superman sees things? Or is it more complicated than that?
No, it’s what I wanted it to be at least — that you realize all these different people, aside from Lois, really, have visions of what you are supposed to do if you are Superman that are monolithic. “You’re supposed to do this, you’re supposed to do that, in doing what you’re doing don’t you see that you’re doomed and you make no sense? You’re Clark Kent and everyone around you is going to age faster, or you’re Superman but you don’t align yourself with any one country or ideology, and in doing so you’re going to turn everyone against you. So all of those things are stupid and you should do it this way!”
Instead what you realize is that Superman doesn’t have a way he does it. He doesn’t think of Superman as something he made to inspire people the way they’re talking about, how Superman “should” mean this or that. What I’m trying to say about Superman, and I think what he reaffirms in this issue, is that Superman doesn’t mean anything to Clark in terms of being a beacon to people. He’s not trying to show us the right way to be, he’s trying to live life the way anyone does: day-by-day, situation-by-situation. He doesn’t presume to know the right thing for anyone else but himself and he makes it up as he goes along with the strongest moral compass he can follow.
That to me is much more inspiring than someone who thinks they are acting as a symbol for all of us, or that they stand for something. He’s saying, “No I’m trying to live my life the best way I can, and sleep well at night with the decisions I have to make. It may not make sense to you, but in my heart of hearts I know this is the right way to live.” I find Superman inspiring and fascinating in many regards. So that’s what he’s supposed to be in this issue. Superman doesn’t stand for anything; he’s doing the best he can, and in doing that he stands for the best of us.
And then by the end Wraith is inspired by that to do something more heroic than just protect America.
Right, exactly, that’s what Wraith realizes and what Superman has been saying to him, “You never make a decision about yourself. What you do might make the most sense on paper, might make perfect sense, you might have the longest, most rewarding life some ways as opposed to me. But that said, try making a decision for yourself once when you don’t believe in what you’re doing.” You know what I mean? To do something you think is right, even when it puts you at odds with other people — that’s the kind of people friends are.
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A lot of times when we talk about Superman people ask the question, “How do you modernize a Boy Scout, how do you make Superman count in the modern day?” While “Superman Unchained” was going on Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr.’s “Superman” run began and they are also tackling very similar ideas of who Superman is, bringing in their own alternate version of Superman with questions of how best to save the world. Do you feel that this personal approach to Superman is how contemporary writers have to fall into thinking about the character and writing about him in a modern context?
I don’t know, and that’s a good question. It’s hard to say, and I don’t want to put any words into anyone else’s mouth; Geoff is one of the people who I think writes Superman best, his origin of Superman, his whole run with Gary [Frank] on “Action [Comics]” is some of my favorite Superman stuff. I know that he thinks of Clark as somebody who is deeply human and vulnerable and again tries to do the right thing. But I think for all of us when we write him, the big twist on him is you think, “He’s going to be easy because he always does the right thing.” That’s kind of how I’ve heard that phrased from some people and readers, “He’s always easy because he’s always right.”
Then you realize the world is a place today where the right thing is very muddy. There is no right thing, there’s just the thing you choose to believe is the right thing in that case. That makes Superman really interesting and nothing like a Boy Scout. I think when you write him you realize that pretty quickly, but we wanted to do a story with “Unchained” where we say, “Look at how silly the decisions he makes are! How is he supposed to be a symbol for us when his decisions will lead to his own downfall in the next few years, probably?” But then we realize he is a symbol because he’s not trying to be. Superman says you make your own decisions even in the face of adversity or your own fears and you do what you think is right, and that can be inspiring.
Though you’re done with “Superman Unchained,” you’ve clearly spent a lot of time thinking about him and what it means to be Superman. Is there a chance you’ll come back to do another limited run Superman series or miniseries in the near future?
Yeah, I’d love to! I really had a blast writing him and he’s a character I’d like to come back to at some point, so I hope so!
“Superman Unchained” #9 is on sale now.
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