I haven't been very kind in my reviews of 'Grounded', finding the whole thing something of a mess. Just when I was hoping we would returning to some sense of normalcy in the Superman titles post-New Krypton, we were treated with Superman's stroll around the country. The impetus for this walk, way back in Superman #700, didn't seem valid or plausible.
What's worse is that in the early chapters, Superman just is acting all wrong, not acting like Superman at all. Then JMS jumped ship leaving Chris Roberson holding the bag. And then we had last issue, an issue where Superman allows a corrupt factory to continue to break EPA regulations because they pay their workers. Supes even goes so far to grab Lois and tell her to kill the story. That felt completely wrong ... completely. The whole title seemed to have jumped the tracks, careening out of control. I consider myself an easy grader in reviews and I gave Superman #707 a 'D'.
What a difference a month makes.
Superman #708 came out on Wednesday and was easily the best issue of 'Grounded'. It actually felt like a Superman comic. And it also felt like the tipping point for this arc, as though the creators wanted to completely break down Superman before building him back up. Hopefully the arc has reached the other side of the fulcrum, that we are heading downhill rather than uphill, that the light is finally seen at the end of the title.
Now given all I have said before, you might think that 'the best issue of 'Grounded'' is damning with faint praise. But this was a very good issue. Writer Chris Roberson finally explains some of the motivations of the Man of Steel, something much needed. But he also stuffs the issue with wild ideas, great innovative stuff. And it was good to see Eddy Barrows back on pencils.
Last issue, the Superman Squad arrived in our time to talk to Superman about his problems. The first half of this issue has the Squad talking to Superman about the crisis he is dealing with. It is here that Roberson really stretches his imagination.
The unnamed Superwoman brings to the Fortress of Solidarity, a place where all the Supers can come together. While they each have a Fortress of Solitude, it is here that they meet and defend the timeline. The Squad was an idea that Grant Morrison talked about in DC 1,000,000. It was spectacular to actually see it.
And the Roberson gives us some very Morrison-like concepts. Not only does the Squad have men and women of all apparent races, it also includes aliens and more, all inspired by Superman and his heroics.
So we see a super-gorilla named Titano. We hear about a Super sentient solar system which deals with massive threats. We hear about Supercilia, a one-celled hero who defends the microscopic world. There is even Superego (how Freudian), a 'good idea' that defends the collective unconscious.
And then we see Kan and Layna (hmmm ... related to Zan and Jayna?) the super-twins. And Superbatman. And we see a group of heroes all fighting the Infinite Man in 'Crisis in Infinite Eras'.
Wow. First off, great rapid fire ideas of all the members of the Superman Squad. I mean a sentient solar system? A conscious 'good idea'? That's fantastic. And it is such a magical place, that Barrows is really able to go wild, making many different versions of the classic Superman costume.
But really it is the bigger concept here, that Superman is such a hero that he has inspired so many different beings to become heroes themselves is just wonderful. That is what my Superman is. Not someone manhandles his wife or yells at the police for not recognizing an abusive husband.
The Squad has found Superman at this point because they know that he is lost right now.
Superwoman tell Superman that she wanted to show him that his principles of truth, justice, and the American way live on ... that his defense of those principles was the example which lives on in the Squad.
The American Way ... that beings have the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ... it was good to hear those words again, those ideal again. But Superman seems unsure if they mean anything.
And it is here that Roberson finally pulls back the curtains a bit, finally giving us some insight into why Superman is acting the way he is.
Superman has basically had an emotional breakdown. Faced with the joy of New Krypton, followed by the war and the destruction of his newly created homeworld, and the celebration that Earth had when New Krypton was destroyed, Superman fell into a deep depression.
Maybe it sounds odd that I am cheering Superman having a nervous breakdown. But one of my biggest complaints about 'Grounded' has been that Superman wasn't dealing with New Krypton. Unlike Sterling Gates wonderful exploration of Kara's feelings in the fallout of New Krypton in Supergirl, Superman simply started walking. Superman should be a mess given all that happened.
Maybe it was denial on Superman's part? But the fact that all of this was born from Superman's feeling makes sense. Superwoman adds that an outside influence is making things worse, giving me a convenient heavy to blame Superman's odder moments on. Superwoman even explains that this has effected Superman's perceptions. This explains why he is seeing scowling faces when people are really smiling, excited to see him.
With a throng of the Superman Squad surrounding them, Superwoman explains to Superman that he is going on his walk to try to reconnect with his values.
When Superman asks what will happen if he can't regain his faith in those ideals, Superwoman responds. Must there be a Superman?
I have to say that those 9 pages, in the Fortress of Solidarity, are the best Superman pages I have read in a while and clearly my favorite part of this arc so far.
Of course, 'Must There Be A Superman' was the title of Elliot S! Maggin's classic story from Superman #247, an issue where the guardians feel that Superman's interference in events on Earth is retarding humanity's evolution.
In many ways, 'Grounded' echoes some of the beats from that story. As I have said before, however, 'Must There' was done in one issue. 'Grounded' is already 8 issues deep with lots more to come.
Superwoman sends Superman back to Earth, to Lincoln Nebraska, because here someone will be inspired by him.
There he finds himself in the middle of a natural disaster. The city is rapidly flooding, leaving people standing on the car roofs and in danger of drowning. In the distance, a F5 tornado is bearing down on the city. Superman is stuck in a Catch-22. If he saves the stranded people, the tornado will do massive damage to the city and its populace. But if he stops the tornado, these people will die.
Do the good of the many outweigh the good of the few? (We could always ask Spock?)
Luckily, there is someone who can help. Superman sees 'a flying woman' who seems 'so familiar'. It's Wonder Woman. He doesn't know Wonder Woman. So suddenly I have a continuity headache I need to treat.
But her presence helps. He asks her to save the people while he deals with the tornado.
Both heroes are able to accomplish their goals. Superman stops the tornado while Wonder Woman scoops people to safety.
One of the people doesn't want or need to be saved. It's the possessed teacher, the outside presence exacerbating Superman's psychological woes. He set up the flood and tornado scenario to set up a lose-lose situation for Superman. And Wonder Woman's presence screwed up her evil plans.
The two briefly fight before Wonder Woman leaves her to save other people.
And then this Wonder Woman tells Superman that he has inspired her to be more than just a warrior. That there is a level of heroism she now sees. I thought this was a very nice moment. This Wonder Woman is a young angry person. Just like the members of the Superman Squad, she sees in Superman an ideal she should strive for.
Now I know that this has upset Wonder Woman fans ... that her inspiration being Superman (rather than her mother, or her Amazon sisters, or her own intrinsic heroic principles) diminishes her in some ways. And I guess I can understand that response.
For me, I didn't even see it.
Maybe it's that in my mind, Superman is an ideal for everybody man or woman, should be the inspiration for all superheroes.
Or maybe it's because it is this Wonder Woman saying these things, a Wonder Woman from a warped timeline which will probably cease to exist in a year. When the real Wonder Woman comes back, my guess is it will be Hippolyta and her Amazon sisters and her own principles that will spur her to be the hero she is.
Or maybe it's that I felt it was really semantics. This Wonder Woman has been acting like a hero in her own book. She already is a hero. Maybe she just sees Superman as being on another level that she should strive for. And given she is an inexperienced young hero, that is easy to see.
Again, I can understand the angry response of Wonder Woman fans. I have certainly looked very carefully and with a jaundiced eye at the way Supergirl is treated all the time.
But this isn't over. While Wonder Woman flies off, the possessed teacher promises that she will continue to drag Superman down.
What a great issue.
As I said before, this issue felt like we were finally turning a corner in 'Grounded'. We have some understanding of why Superman is acting so strange. And the fact that it is based on his emotional response to New Krypton makes sense. Finally, we see that New Krypton isn't forgotten, swept under the rug. We get to see how Superman remains an inspiration for many heroes far into the future. And we got to see Superman act like a hero, stopping a disaster. And we get the added bonus of all the nifty ideas we saw in the Fortress of Solidarity.
Whew ... that's a Superman comic. Roberson really did a great job here. The first half is a lot of dialogue, Superwoman talking to Superman, and the back half is all action, but action which meshes nicely with all that was said earlier. Superman as an inspiration, as a hero was discussed and then seen. That was very effective.
Eddy Barrows continues to shine whenever he is able to be on the book.
So I hope .... HOPE ... that 'Grounded' continues from here. I hope the momentum continues.