With the long 2 years of New Krypton behind us, I think many readers have been looking forward to the new directions that the Superman titles will be taking. And, of course, J. Michael Straczynski's Grounded storyline is at the forefront of that anticipation. Straczynski has a comic pedigree of excellent runs on comics for both established characters (like Spiderman) and newer characters (like Supreme Power and Rising Stars).
As for me, I have a bit of trepidation about this arc but I am trying to go in with an open mind. The idea of Superman trying to reconnect with humanity after the War of the Supermen makes perfect sense for the next big storyline. But the 'walking across America' part has yet to grab me .... yet. Without having read any of it, it just felt a little forced. But I also worried that this walk across America is going to take Superman as far away from his world as New Krypton did. No Lois. No Jimmy and Perry. No Metropolis. I was hoping to see Superman go back to being Superman.
Despite, these preconceived notions I am still intrigued with the arc. JMS talks about returning Superman to his roots, his earliest adventures in the 30's were centered around the smaller issues of the citizens around him - spouse abuse, unsafe mining conditions, innocent men wrongly imprisoned. Of course that Superman could be hurt by a bursting shell. How will this Superman deal with smaller issues.
Superman #700 included the prologue to Grounded. On to the review. (I'll review the other stories in the issue soon.)
The story starts with Superman in Washington D.C. answering questions about his role in the War of the Supermen. He is peppered with questions by the throng of reporters who ask him some tough questions. Is Earth his second choice for home planet? Has he lost touch with humanity? They aren't easy questions to answer and Superman doesn't have any pat responses. He seems almost lost here and that is understandable. He is grieving. He has lost New Krypton and his people. He has had to deal with all the devastation on Earth. I am not surprised that he seems emotionally drained and lost.
The interview is interrupted when a woman breaks through the crowd and slaps Superman across the face. Initially Superman seems to think that she is responding to the events of the New Krypton war.
Instead she says that while Superman was on New Krypton and fighting the war, her husband lost his battle with brain cancer. Had Superman been around he could have operated on him with his heat vision. Superman wasn't there for her when she needed him to be.
Superman looks surprised and maybe a bit dismayed. Has he lost sight of the common man's problems? Is he only seeing the forest and not the trees?
The truth is hasn't he dealt with questions like this before? He knows he can't be everywhere; he can't be everything to everyone. Is it just the timing of New Krypton that makes him respond this way?
Because it wasn't that long ago in 'Saving Thomas' that Supergirl faced the question of trying to save someone with brain cancer and got chastised by Superman. Back then, he thought she was getting too close to people's problems, promising things that she shouldn't.
On the Justice League satellite, Batman seems proud of the new satellite surveillance system, powerful enough to cut through cloud cover and see 'anything important' that is happening on the globe.
Of course, the bigger philosophical question is 'what is important?' Is the Royal Flush Gang robbing a bank more important than that man's brain cancer? Or is this view from above too removed to understand that?
Maybe Superman doesn't want to be that high anymore. Maybe he wants to be more grounded.
The scene reminded me a little ofAlan Moore's Saga of the Swamp Thing #24 when the Floronic Man leads a vegetable revolt against humanity. The Justice League seems powerless to stop him leading to this great response from Green Arrow who wonders why they weren't watching the small town where it all began ... who was watching Lacroix, Lousiana?
Who watches out for the common man?
With the idea of flying above it all suddenly questionable, Superman wonders if staying on the ground, running from problem to problem is a better solution.
He stops the Flash (I assume it's Wally but who knows ... it sounds like Wally) and asks him what he sees when he is running from disaster to disaster. The Flash says all he sees is a blur.
That isn't what Superman wants to hear. He wants to gain focus not lose it. He wants to see all the problems facing everyone. So if flying isn't close enough to humanity and running is too fast, that means he has to walk.
It reminded me a little of the absolutely fabulous Flash #91 by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo.
In this issue, Wally cannot deal with the fact that he wasn't fast enough to save someone so he adds Johnny Quick's speed mantra to his own. He ends up moving so fast that the world literally stops. Max Mercury is able to run fast enough to talk to Wally for a little while and shows him that no matter how fast you are, no matter how powerful you are, you can't be everywhere ... you can't save everyone. You can only do your best.
That lesson was learned in 22 pages.
With the events of the day reeling around him, Superman remembers a lesson Pa taught him about rotating crops.
He says the same can be said of people. They need fresh ground. If not, people can emotionally dry up and become a shell of what they were.
You need to shake things up every so often or you can 'fall asleep' in your life, droning on through life.
That is unless something wakes you up. And that slap was Superman's wake up call.
And so begins the walk across America. And if Superman is walking it must be important.
So after this prologue, I have to say I have the same reservations. If Superman is upset he didn't burn away that man's brain cancer, I can tell you that many people will be dying the same way while he strolls through across the nation. If he is upset that he hasn't heard the problems of the common man and he thinks that walking across America will help, I wonder what geographical path he will take. He won't hear the problems of everyone who isn't on his travelogue. And is he planning on stopping and helping people whose problem he does hear? Which ones? All of them? Only the 'important' ones? And important to who?
I guess all these questions will need to be answered within the story and I am interested in seeing how JMS pulls it all off as he explores a Superman literally grounded and trying to become more emotionally grounded to his adopted planet. It is an innovative storyline that has a lot of potential.
Overall grade: Incomplete and pending
It all sort of reminds me of Superman #247, a famous issue from the Silver Age written by Elliot S! Maggin and drawn by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson. In that story, the Guardians tell Superman that he is impeding human evolution because the people of Earth are relying too much on him. The citizens of Earth need to help each other not rely on Superman. He is too grounded!
Within the story, Superman actually helps some mistreated migrant field workers. The workers plead with Superman to remove their boss and help them get better wages and more rights. Superman finally refuses saying that he can't help everyone. Interestingly enough, an earthquake happens leveling the workers' squalid town forcing Superman to rebuild all their homes. It isn't easy being Superman ... where does he draw the line.