Friday, August 13, 2010

Review: Superman #702

Superman #702 came out this week and was the second chapter of the much-hyped 'Grounded' storyline by J.M. Straczynski. While last month's introductory issue was enjoyable, I wondered if this style of 'vignettes across America' was going to work long-term. I think I have heard that this arc runs at least a year.

This month's issue didn't answer my concerns. Last month's issue showed many brief interactions between Superman and 'ordinary folk', showcasing what the story arc was going to be about. This issue also had multiple encounters, although one clearly stood out as the 'main' vignette.

And while this issue is fine, I worry that the 'walk across America' plot is going to lead to some lazy story-telling and happy endings that seem a bit too easy. I'll explain a bit more in the review to illustrate what I mean.

I do think that John Cassaday is a fantastic artist and his covers are pretty engaging. This cover really evokes that feeling of 'Truth, Justice, and the American Way'. It even reminded me a bit of the Fleisher Studio Superman and that is never a bad thing.

Superman's travels take him through Detroit where he happens by a basketball game. As he passes, he hears that one of the players, Markey G, is being mocked for his lack of skills and is relegated to the bench.

Superman decides to challenge the group en masse. While flying was not allowed, it is clear that Superman has some serious moves. That is some nice form there as Supes throws down the dunk.

Of course, Markey G ends up stealing the ball from Superman, suddenly cementing himself as a local hero and legend. The coy smile on Superman's face says it all. Superman let Markey steal the ball. He helped out the little man.

I think that this is part of the draw of 'Grounded', seeing Superman interact with folks on the ground. I have talked about how this is similar to the countless 'rescuing a kitten from a tree' moments that Superman has had throughout his history. It shows how he is a nice guy and no problem is too small. He helped Markey get off. Maybe Markey will be more confident now. That said, these moments are best when doled out  in small doses. Will I feel the same about an episode like this 6 issues from now? Or will it all feel like a repeat?

As his walk takes him through a Detroit neighborhood, Superman hears a strange hum. It leads him to a house where the owner's breathing sounds more like respiration through gill-like structures. When Superman is invited inside to investigate, he is suddenly attacked by someone in a battle suit.

It leads to the first sort of 'super-heroics' in 'Grounded' as Superman fights the armored being, ripping through the house. Another thing that I like about Straczynski's take on Superman is the confidence Superman has. Yes, he is somewhat worried that he has lost touch with the problem of everyday people ... but he knows he can take out a battle suit. I thought this line ... 'the hard part is surviving me' ... is just what I want to hear Superman say.

But this is where I worry about lazy story-writing. Had Superman turned left at Chicago he would have never walked by this neighborhood, never heard the noise, never had this fight. There just happens to be an alien presence in the Detroit suburb he is walking through? At some point, if Superman keeps 'luckily' running into threats like this on his walk, is it going to feel too choreographed?

It reminded me a bit of the Daring New Adventures of Supergirl. In that series, someone in Supergirl's apartment building is running money for a mob boss. The landlady's daughter is an insane super-villain. Supergirl's professor is an evil super-evolved telepath. After a while it started to feel too easy ... all this stuff just happening right next to Supergirl.

Once defeated, the housemates decide to talk to Superman. Dropping their illusion, they share their story.

They lived on world where the government was oppressive. Rights were revoked. People's actions where being recorded. If you stepped out of line you were punished. It sounds fascist.

Fearing for their lives, the aliens fled to Earth. When Superman challenges their right to stay, the aliens compare their flight from a 'doomed world' to his. I thought that was an interesting spin on their story.

It leads to a brief discussion on illegal immigration and a quick reference to the current controversy here in America.

Despite their 'right' to survive, and their ability to be self-sufficient, Superman challenges them. They do have the right to stay in America, on Earth, but they need to give something back. Yes, his origin story might mirror theirs but he is helping his community. They need to do the same. As before, this is something that I want to hear Superman say. People need to help themselves and help others. That is what everyone should strive to do.

Unclear of his next move, Superman leaves the house saying he may come back to figure out what to do with these beings later.


Walking by a closed automobile factory, Superman has a chat with the night watchman, a former employee of the plant. The worker is proud of what he accomplished in that job and sad that the place had to close.

Again, as luck (or unluck) would have it, the worker suffers some sort of medical arrest just as Superman is talking to him. Superman scoops him up to try to save him.

Well, again this just felt too easy. The man's medical condition just happens to go critical just at that moment? A turn in the road a few blocks earlier and Superman would have never met the man. Five minutes earlier or later and Superman wouldn't be there. There is just too much serendipity here ... maybe anti-serendipity. But isn't it strange that all this drama just happens to be unfolding on the path Superman is on?

With the man's condition beyond Earth medicine, Superman brings him to the aliens he met earlier, hopeful they can save him. They happen to have brought along a healing chamber when they fled their planet. While there are no guarantees, they believe they can save the man.

Hmmm ... maybe they can give something back to the community after all?


We then learn that a new company is opening up in Detroit. The FDA has allowed the aliens (in their human guise of course) to start up a medical research facility. Of course, it helps when Superman recommends you as a viable corportation. The story is covered by Clark Kent who, remember, is following Superman on his journey.

So just like that, the man is saved, the town is saved; there are new jobs and new healing technology to be had by all. This also maybe felt maybe a wee bit too simple.


With this chapter in his walk across America closed, Superman calls Lois and chats. I am so glad that Straczynski put this in. One thing that I did not like about the transition from New Krypton to Grounded was that it meant that Superman and Lois would again be apart. So I am glad Lois is not forgotten here. I especially liked that she talks about meeting up with Superman somewhere. Their dialogue flows nicely, showing how much they care about each other.



The book ends with a nice cliffhanger. Batman is also on the road. Now I have to assume it's Dick Grayson. Would Dick ever challenge Superman about this walk? I wonder what their interaction is going to be like.

Just one more thing ... I find it hard to believe that all this is sort of happening in a vacuum. . I think that the more cynical news agencies would still be following Superman, pointing out all the evil that is happening while Superman is playing basketball. Wouldn't someone see him enter that house and hear the bedlam that ensued and call the cops? Wouldn't someone see him enter that house with the dying man? Would he really still be walking alone ... or would a bunch of regular citizens join him, a la Forrest Gump?

I like Eddy Barrows' work here. The fight scene with the battlesuit really crackled. I also like that he makes the S-shield huge. That is how is should look.

I am not ready to give up on this storyline. Some of the moments in this book were really great. And I can't get caught up with what may be. I have to stay in the now. That said, despite the great moments within the book, my overall reaction to this was somewhat tepid.

Overall grade: B

15 comments:

Saranga said...

As you know, I disliked this issue immensely. I felt it was cackhanded and I came away not liking Supes. that's not a good thing.

But, I agree that the Lois/Clark and Batman scenes were the bext. You're right, the walk shouldn't be happening in a vacuum. The other heroes should pop in on him.

mathematicscore said...

I totally agree with the serendipity angle. Also, the nature of the dialog is a bit off. Whether its the moralizing or the exposition, it seems like most of the characters are broadly drawn characters. I've always heard of JMS being a good writer, and truly, I enjoyed his Thor run, but here there is just so many holes in his game, I couldn't bring myself to spend the 2.99 on it, beautiful art aside.

I think his idea is actually a pretty good one, but Superman helping people with social problems can be done much better. Just look at the first volume or two of Superman Chronicles, it's all right there.

I would love to see a quality update of those concepts, but it's a hard pill to swallow with the generally hamfisted approach.

mathematicscore said...

Oh yeah, Batman... Pet peeve of mine, this is totally the Bruce costume. Three fins on the glove, no logo on the buckle, even the posture. And this doesn't even work from a "takes place after his return" angle because he's going to have a new costume. It doesn't work as before final Crisis because this clearly comes after New Krypton... Oh, editors.

Kandou Erik said...

I HATED that comment of Superman's about having to give back to the community. So if these aliens didn't have advanced healing technology, Superman would have been, like "You're just not worth keeping in the US. Get out, you illegal bums!" And then the topic of Kal-El coming to earth as a baby -- which he finds perfectly acceptable!

Superman doesn't support illegal aliens seeking asylem, but he does support planet exploded Anchor Babies!

For me, if those aliens where doing nothing wrong, or not bothering anyone, I'd think Superman would have left it up to them what to do with their lives. It's liberal facisim at it's worst, to force people to do what you think is right.

Saranga said...

Erik has got it spot on. What makes Superman such an authority? Who is he to dictate to people what they can and can't do? Where's his humanity gone? I know he's on the walkabout to try to reconnect, but he hasn't suddenly undergone a personality transplant.

Anj said...

As you know, I disliked this issue immensely. I felt it was cackhanded and I came away not liking Supes. that's not a good thing.


In some ways I am jealous. You at least had a strong reaction to the book while I was simply luke warm.

Anj said...

I totally agree with the serendipity angle. Also, the nature of the dialog is a bit off. Whether its the moralizing or the exposition, it seems like most of the characters are broadly drawn characters.

It does at time ready heavy handed, as though the characters have prepared speeches.

I think his idea is actually a pretty good one, but Superman helping people with social problems can be done much better. Just look at the first volume or two of Superman Chronicles, it's all right there.


Agreed that Siegel and Shuster explored this angle ... but with a very different Superman in a very different world. I love those storie.

Anj said...

Oh yeah, Batman... Pet peeve of mine, this is totally the Bruce costume. Three fins on the glove, no logo on the buckle, even the posture.

I totally agree. When I first saw it I thought 'Bruce' but then remembered he is still dead. But you're right, even the pose is screaming Bruce.

Anj said...

I HATED that comment of Superman's about having to give back to the community. So if these aliens didn't have advanced healing technology, Superman would have been, like "You're just not worth keeping in the US. Get out, you illegal bums!"

I didn't read it that way, although on rereading it I can see how it can be interpreted that way.

I thought that Superman, regardless of immigration status, thinks people should give back to their community, that everyone should help each other.

But I didn't think he came off as exteme as you feel he did. He said they should give back and then walked away, not sure of what to do. I don't think he was ready to deport them or force them to help.

Again, I didn't think it was great by any means.

Anj said...

Erik has got it spot on. What makes Superman such an authority? Who is he to dictate to people what they can and can't do? Where's his humanity gone?

I don't think he was ready to dictate anything (although it is left open with his 'I'll be back' comment).

When the aliens say they just want to stay hidden, Superman sighs ... as though crestfallen that people still don't want to help each other.

But maybe I was reading it too optimistically. I'll go back and reread it again.

Anonymous said...

'illigel immigration' comments have a sound in-story explanation,what with Earthling genocidal xenophobia at its peak,even though we all know
it's a fourth wall breaking comment.
Quite aside from all the hypocrisy
(Kal,Powergirl,Supergirl etc.)
Reminds me:Are Kryptonians still banned from Earth ?

Batman:Maybe it is Bruce...his ghost or timeshifted projection or soemthing like that.

Mart said...

I found the 'I'll be back' comment a veiled threat. That's not my Superman.

Anonymous said...

how come we can suspend our disbelief on things such as bottled cities and skull-faced ships but not on supes being at the right place at the right time?

Anj said...

I found the 'I'll be back' comment a veiled threat. That's not my Superman.

It is so interesting that we read it sooo differently Mart. I just thought he was so weary from the discussion that he needed to leave but hoped to come back to talk more.

I think, in the end, this is might be a problem for JMS. If people have such different reactions to a scene, he isn't being clear in his writings.

Anj said...

how come we can suspend our disbelief on things such as bottled cities and skull-faced ships but not on supes being at the right place at the right time?


Thanks for the post.

It's a slippery slope. If I buy shrunken cities I should be able to buy anything. But if it starts to rain pickles, that makes no sense.

It just seems a little too easy for everything to happen around Superman.