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.
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.