Saturday, November 20, 2010

Review: Superman #705


I can remember when 'Grounded' was first announced, when the theme of Superman walking across America and getting in touch with the little people was introduced in Superman #700 that I thought it might be J. Michael Straczynski doing a modern day version of the earliest Superman stories. Those stories by Siegel and Shuster had Superman dealing with the problems of the everyday man ... unsafe mines, men framed for murder, men fighting in meaningless wars, and even someone who physically abused his wife. There weren't super-villains back in those days.

Unfortunately, 'Grounded' just hasn't worked so far. So far, Superman seems to be alienating himself from the people rather than getting closer.

For me, Superman represents everything we should be, someone selfless who is always working to help others, someone who should be inspiring the people around him to do the same. The best Superman stories show that while he faces threats that typical people can't handle. I guess the most recent example would be Superman: Secret Origin where the very nature of Metropolis was changed because of Superman.

Throughout 'Grounded' we haven't seen that. Instead we have had a condescending Superman preaching to an unappreciative and progressively distant humanity. But even if that growing chasm is because of the 'jewel' threat from last issue, it doesn't change one fact.

I want to read about the Superman who inspires.

And frankly Superman #705 is about as far away as it gets.


The issue starts with Superman's trek bringing him to Chicago.

As he strolls through the park, the people there begin to back away in fear. Some people tell him he should leave before something terrible happens.

And then a young mother compares Superman to a gun.

What?

I barely was able to stomach reading after that panel. People are supposed to want to be like Superman, to appreciate him, respect him, emulate him. To have someone compare him to a weapon is wrong on so many levels.


And if that wasn't bad enough, Superman actually experiences some self-doubt. He tells Lois, who has caught up with him, that he wonders if the people should be scared of him.

Yes, the possessed teacher from 2 issues ago is lingering and so might be influencing people telepathically.

But do I really want to read about a Superman who has such feet of clay, such a lack of understanding who he is and what he represents?


Later that night, Lois wonders if it is time to pull the plug on this experiment. Maybe Superman should just 'declare victory' and say that he was a flawed America with a lot of potential.

I was screaming 'yes'! I mean, I would not shed any tears if this storyline simply ended and we went back to Metropolis. Unfortunately, no luck there.


While asleep that night, Superman has a dream where the possessed teacher taunts him for not being to save anyone all while her three-headed demon pet pounds him.

When Superman awakes from the dream, he has bruises over his face, physical manifestations of the beating he took in his dream.

The lone bright spot in this book is the Eddy Barrows art in this scene.


Meanwhile, we have seen scenes of a young boy obviously abused by his father. He hopes that the presence of Superman will stop the madness, that his father will love him and stop hurting him and his mom.


The boy actually shows some inner strength, asking his mother about why his father is angry, why he hates them, why he hits them. The mother struggles with the answers.


And when the father actually arrives and tries to hurt the mother, this brave kid actually steps in the middle, protecting her.

At the very least, this kid is a hero, brave and selfless.


The father thrashes him and locks him in the basement.

As has been the case in much of 'Grounded', Superman happens to walk by the boy's house, hearing his cries from the basement. Breaking into the house, Superman frees the boy and brings the father to the police department for justice.

In a decent moment, the boy sees Superman's bruises and asks Superman if he gets hurt by his father too.


At the station, one of the police officers tells Superman that the next steps will be arraignment and a restraining order but those sometimes don't work.

Superman gives the boy a business card and says if he doesn't hear from the boy daily he'll worry that something has happened and he will mete out his own justice on the father.



Remember when I said how much I hated the 'you are a gun' scene? I hate this scene more.

The police thank Superman for uncovering this crime and Superman again acts haughty saying anyone with ten cents worth of compassion could have solved the problem. He walks away.

He doesn't call the boy the real hero because he stepped in to protect his mother regardless of the consequences. He doesn't say how we all need to watch out for each other, that the warning signs were there. He doesn't even sympathize with the mother who most likely felt trapped and traumatized. My Superman would have done some or all of those.

No, instead he shows scorn and turns his back on everyone. That is not my Superman. That is not a Superman I want to read.

I am not saying I need formulaic stories. Every arc doesn't have to be 'Superman beats bad guy'. I don't mind shaking things up, pushing the envelope, or exploring tough themes. But it is as if J. Michael Straczynski doesn't have an inkling of how to write Superman.

This was the worst Superman book I have read in a long time, the antithesis of what a Superman adventure should be.

And after bringing us to this point, JMS has decided to move on.

Overall grade: D-

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love the work JMS has done in comics and television, I was one of the people really looking forward to his run on Superman. But you're right, he's really been off his game on this series. There's an interesting story going on there, but I'm not sure who this guy in the blue suit is supposed to be.

His self-confidence should be shaken, but the way he reacts to the world shouldn't have changed. His ability to sympathize with the down-trodden, to provide comfort, and understand the needs of others are too much at the core of his character to be stripped away completely like this.

Mart said...

I don't get why J Michael Straczynski is being allowed to get away with this - yes, he's a big name writer, and Dan Didio comes from TV, but surely, at some point, DC needs to remember to protect the character? Is it really selling so well?

Anonymous said...

Hi, Anj, thanks for maintaining this amazing blog. I am a long-time reader, and I love the current "Supergirl" title.

This issue of "Superman" was terrible. To make matters worse, DC Comics seems to worship the ground that JMS walks upon, and there seems to be no end in sight for this awful, awful storyline. Superman deserves better than this! I just want to read about Superman, the real Superman! Is that too much to ask?

I had to endure 16 months of reading about Mon-El and the Guardian in a book called "Superman." I had to endure 16 months of the "epic" New Krypton crossover that ended with a giant re-set button being hit. And now this? DC Comics needs to wake up! Superman is their flagship character, for God's sake. Why is it that DC can put out 20 Batman titles in December, but can't even get Superman's main title right? It's time to put a stop to this rancid "experiment" in character assassination, and put Superman back where he belongs: in Metropolis, acting heroically.

Anj said...

There's an interesting story going on there, but I'm not sure who this guy in the blue suit is supposed to be.

Good way to put it. My favorite JMS stuff was Supreme Power which was a deconstruction of the JLA.

But this is Superman, not a knock-off.

Anj said...

Hi, Anj, thanks for maintaining this amazing blog. I am a long-time reader, and I love the current "Supergirl" title.

This issue of "Superman" was terrible. To make matters worse, DC Comics seems to worship the ground that JMS walks upon, and there seems to be no end in sight for this awful, awful storyline. Superman deserves better than this! I just want to read about Superman, the real Superman! Is that too much to ask?


Thanks for the kind words.

I also agree with what you say. It has been a while since we had Superman being Superman.

valerie21601 said...

What DC Comics should do but I know their not going to do it. Is set up "product testers/reviewers or focus groups" of fans old and fairly new and those like Anj, who have proven themselves good steady blog reviewers.

Where outside of getting to read possible future issues and minor reimburstments, they get to read and evaluate the stories and the art work. Tell DC Comics what is and isn't working in the story line or future story lines they want to do. Why the art work is good, so-so, bad or too muddled.

Really good writers should be able to change the direction when it's clear things aren't working in their current stories. DC Comics should stop hiring prima donna writers who think their words are carved in stone! (Even then someone else with a hammer and chisel can come along and wack those words off of the stone and replace it with their own chiseled in words.)

DC should stop catering to prima donna's too much especially when they have an unproven track record in the field. Just because they had success in one field doesn't mean it will translate well in another like it did in JMS's case. When they have proven themselves to fans, with positive reviews and sales increase, then start catering to the writers.

gearym said...

In animation they use Character Model Sheets that define every physical aspect of the character being drawn so that any artist working on a drawing can stay "on model". It almost seems that this idea is missing from comics today, both in the art and the writing. Superman in this series is "off model" for me, exhibiting traits and characteristics that don't align with how I've grown to expect him to behave. It's jarring to the senses, and I keep looking for explanations even if I have to fanwank them. Then I can feel relieved that maybe JMS has a plan that he just hasn't gotten around to explaining it to us yet. And I've followed JMS for long enough to give him a lot of rope, he's always brought it home with a satisfying bang in the end. But now he won't. Or can't. Grrr....

If this were the Silver Age they'd blame it on Red Kryptonite, or a wizard, or a super experiment gone temporarily wrong. Or something. The answer they'd give the reader might be pretty goofy but at least it was an attempt to double-talk their way back. Today they might just pretend it didn't happen, unless the new writer is someone like Gates who will work all the broken pieces of the character model back into a reasonable whole by telling us it's low-level long-term Kryptonite poisoning. If they did that I could just nod my head, smile, sigh, and happily fork over my cash for the next issue knowing they're trying.

Give the fans a few bread crumbs and we'll make a feast of it. But I'm really starting to get hungry, they just changed the cook, and I think our order got lost.

Saranga said...

On first read I didn't mind this issue as much as other bloggers have. I think domestic violence needs to be talked about and I'm glad it was highlighted in
a major comic.

But. It has been a long long time since a Superman title took my breath away. It has been a long time since I read one and felt the heroism, relatability, kindness and awe sinspiring aspect of Superman. That's wrong. These issues have bored me and Superman should not be boring.

Anj said...

Superman in this series is "off model" for me, exhibiting traits and characteristics that don't align with how I've grown to expect him to behave. It's jarring to the senses, and I keep looking for explanations even if I have to fanwank them. Then I can feel relieved that maybe JMS has a plan that he just hasn't gotten around to explaining it to us yet.

Another great way to put it.

It just doesn't jibe with Superman.

Anj said...

On first read I didn't mind this issue as much as other bloggers have. I think domestic violence needs to be talked about and I'm glad it was highlighted in
a major comic.

But. It has been a long long time since a Superman title took my breath away.


I think it is an important topic and I don't mind seeing it in a comic book, another place to raise awareness.

It is Superman's response to the problem that I dislike.

Kandou Erik said...

I actually though this issue wasn't half bad, just because of the whole message it was trying to give.

Oh - btw - why the heck does DC have to do yet another fill-in issue? Was the drop off of JMS that sudden, that they couldn't get his replacement working soon enough. I hated that fill-in issue with Lois; I'm just skipping whatever they want to do with Perry White.