One of the blessings and curses of Big Two superhero comics is continuity. If you are deep into it, continuity can be a lot of fun and keeps you coming back issue after issue. But if you are a casual reader—or someone who hasn’t checked out a series for awhile—it can be confusing.
Case in point: Superman: Unbound. I haven’t followed regular DC comics for years now, much less Superman. But I love these original animated movies. They’re usually self-contained, not too “meta” and can be watched by a casual viewer. They don’t have that high barrier of entry that most mainstream superhero comics have. But Superman: Unbound is set pretty firmly in some continuity, and that threw me for a loop at first.
Let’s see … Superman hasn’t met Brainiac yet (who seems to be some merger of “green” Brainiac and “robot” Brainiac); Lois Lane knows who Superman is, but her and Clark Kent’s relationship is a secret; Supergirl is actually older than Superman, but somehow younger due to a wormhole … huh.
OK. Whatever. It’s comic books, and I’ve been through enough “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and “52s” to roll with the continuity changes. Just be aware that unlike many DC animated movies, Superman: Unbound expects you to know a little bit about modern Superman (depending on your definition of modern. The comic this is based on, Superman: Brainiac, came out in 2008).
The animation style also took me off guard at first.The other characters look great—Supergirl, Lois Lane, and Brainiac all look awesome—it’s just Superman who looks like he wandered in from the wrong cartoon. This design choice is especially odd as I see the original comic was drawn by Gary Frank, who does amazing art. They should have just attempted to preserve his style.
Storywise, Superman: Unbound is a typical Brainiac adventure. Brainiac shows up looking to do some knowledge/world collecting, Superman steps up to the plate to punch him in the face, loses for awhile, finds his hidden strength in his humanity to defeat Brainiac’s cold, emotionless logic, recovers the Bottle City of Kandor and a whole world full of miniature Kryptonians.
Even though I don’t follow modern DC comics, I’ve been reading long enough that I have read this story before—a couple times at least. There’s absolutely nothing new here, just a re-cast of the familiar, a new paint job and some pizzazz. I’m actually OK with that. The new paint is pretty, and there are a few interesting twists. I liked Supergirl as a petulant, vulnerable teenager. She shouldn’t be as “pure” as Superman, because she wasn’t raised in the loving Kent’s farm in Smallville. She’s bad-ass without being a “bad girl.”
I thought the Brainiac update was great as well. Merging the “green” and the “robot” was an inspired choice, making a scary character even more menacing. It was a good nod to the past and future of the Superman mythos. And the final scene—well, I’m not really buying that it would go down that way (I have a hard time thinking a living computer would be so freaked out by bugs), but it was clever enough.
The Blu-ray has a decent collection of Bonus Features, about what I have come to expect by now from Warner Home Video. There are two mini-documentaries on The Bottle City of Kandor and Brainiac that were both fun, but disappointing. Instead of really diving into the history of both, they instead dwelt on their role in the story Superman: Unbound. I thought that was a bit of a waste—we’ve already bought this release, so you don’t need to advertise it anymore. Give us some more depth. Tell us more about the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, all that good stuff. That’s the meat.
As always, there are a few episodes from the Superman Animated show featuring Supergirl and Brainiac. That’s some nice added material if you don’t already own the series. I personally don’t, so I appreciate the extra episodes. On the whole this is standard DC animated fare: I’m rarely let down by DC’s original animated films, but I’m also rarely blown away by them.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack's reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.