As a writer and an artist, how can you overcome preconceived notions that your audience may have? You do it by creating great art.
I have mentioned here before how much I like the Wachowski Brothers Speed Racer movie. When I started watching that movie I assumed it was going to be absolute dreck. After all, the last two Matrix movies and V For Vendetta were all pretty lousy. And yet, Racer combined spectacular effects with interesting directing cuts/shot and (best of all) a great story of persevering against evil. I loved it.
So what does that have to do with this review of Superman #701? Well, I went into this issue sort of jaded. I have never been excited about the concept of Grounded and wondered how it could be pulled off in any meaningful way. I figured I would be pretty disappointed.
I was wrong.
At the very least, this opening chapter grabbed me, laying the groundwork for what I assume are going to be recurring themes in this arc ... that we all need to do good, that we all need to help each other, that we all need to be heroes, and that even the smallest good deeds matter.
Now a tremendous opening chapter doesn't make for a spectacular arc. I don't know how I will feel when this is all said and done. After all, I was thrilled when New Krypton started only to feel exhausted as it crawled to its conclusion.
But so far so good.
The story starts with Superman walking through Philadelphia. We see Superman help a man figure out that his car's fuel line is leaking. It is a small act of kindness and gives the reader an immediate idea of some of what Superman is hoping to accomplish on this walk. He wants to help.
The Man of Steel is suddenly mobbed by reporters who pepper him with questions about his little stroll. Where is he going? How long will he be doing this? Superman responds in a zen-like manner; he'll know his final destination when he gets there.
The reporters ask a question that I have been thinking about. What will he do if there is a disaster or crisis? He responds that he will pause his walk to deal with the event but then pick up right where he left off.
I think that the inclusion of the pack of reporters was a nice touch. They could be considered the reader's stand in as they asked a lot of the questions that I have been thinking about.
One of those reporters is Lois Lane. It turns out that Clark never ran any of this by her. She basically asks the same questions to him. It was a nice moment of levity when she asks (as the reporters did before her) if this walk is the result of red Kryptonite or magic. Superman's sigh speaks a lot. Yes, he is tired of hearing the question over and over. But he also must be tired of people thinking that a walk across the country aimed to help people has to be the result of red K.
I am glad that JMS discussed the Clark issue openly. After all, how can Clark disappear from the Planet for so long. Easy ... he is one of the reporters following along.
Superman does think that the reporters will eventually lose interest.
That event fatigue by the reporters happens pretty quickly. When Superman stops for lunch, the reporters realize that there isn't any story to report. Of course, that means that helping someone fix their car isn't newsworthy.
Call me cynical, but I don't buy it. Don't you think that the reporters would begin reporting all of the things that were happening while Superman was 'doing nothing'? "In news today, Superman sat and ate lunch while a robbery occurred."
But back to the lunch. When Superman realizes that he doesn't have cash to pay for his cheese steak, he offers to do some chores in exchange. He cleans up the diner's perpetually dirty back room to earn his meal. Superman cleaning a store room? Well, it is helping out.
As he eats, the townspeople tell Superman about a trouble area in the neighborhood which has become overrun with drug dealers.
Superman's walk just so happens to take him through that spot.
Surprisingly, the local thugs don't back down. They figure that Superman's hands are tied both by his own ethics and the country's law.
But this is a different Superman. He seems to be more interested in doing what's right. He immolates the dealer's drug stockpile.
This is a bigger act than fuel lines and dirty stock rooms. Good can come in all sizes.
A child tells Superman that the dealers will just come back and Superman promises to come back every week to do the same thing until they move on.
The child knows this just means they will move to a new spot. I love Superman's response - we can only deal with here and now. There and then must take care of itself. But at some point there must become here. The implication being that everyone needs to help take care of everyone else. Superman might not be there.
Of course, taken to its extreme, he could be implying that local do-gooders light fires ... not good. I don't think he wants to promote vigilantism.
And I also wondered why he would leave a little kid alone in that area of town.
Still, I loved his speech.
In the longest encounter in the book, Superman has a long discussion with a woman threatening to commit suicide by jumping from a building's high ledge. To get her to open up, he promises that he won't help her unless she asks ... he won't save her if she jumps.
Alone, stuck in a dead end job, sad, she wonders what she to live for. She screams that life isn't fair.
Again, Superman sounds philosophical as he says that life is neither fair nor unfair. It just is. Again, it is a nice little speech. It may have resonated more if his examples were more timely. Lennon? JFK? Castro? Manson? It lost some impact because it felt a bit dated.
One thing I did like was that the impetus for this walk is hinted at. When the woman yells at Superman that he can't save the world, he pauses and seems forlorn. She's right. He couldn't save New Krypton.
But that said, everyone needs to do there part. Even if you save one person, that is enough. I really loved the flashback panel to Superman's own rocket. He was that one person saved at one point.
Superman gives the woman all the time she needs to think about her decision. There is no timetable to his walk, no deadlines. He stays until it is late at night and finally convinces her to not jump.
The scene plays out just right in terms of length. I liked how it read a little long to enforce the sheer length of Superman's vigil. It also helped affirm everything we have learned so far about this crusade ... everyone should do the right thing, everyone should help each other, and sometimes that takes time and effort.
The suicide averted, Superman begins his walk anew.
A man chastises Superman for 'going for a walk' while the world descends into hell around them. Shouldn't Superman be doing something?
In a great bit of 'turnabout is fair play', Superman slings the argument right back at the man. Shouldn't HE be doing something? Superman can't do it alone. Everyone needs to be grounded, everyone needs to be part of a community and do their bit.
I have to say, I liked this issue a lot. It definitely laid the foundation of what this walk is going to be about, what Superman's message is going to be. The format of small vignettes works well as we see various levels of problems none of which are too small to be noticed.
And Superman helping the common man has always been part of his make-up. From the earliest stories by Siegel and Shuster, to small scenes I remember growing up of him helping charities or curing blindness, to scenes in the movies where he pulls kittens from trees.
The bigger question now is where do we go from here? These scenes worked well; Superman's speeches, asking everyone to pitch in without turning it into a sermon, showcased his character and ethics superbly. The speeches might be a bit too precious, but they sound right coming from him. It was a very good issue ... I just don't know if I can read 12 issues just like this. There has to be more to Grounded than this ... doesn't there?
Hmm ... it looks like I still have some preconceived notions that I am going to have to overcome. But I'll say it again, I liked this issue. I really think it showed just who Superman is.
Eddy Barrows art is surprisingly effective here. I picture him doing bigger than life, super-stylized scenes. He seems at home here on a smaller scale as well.