The Superman arc 'Grounded' has certainly garnered its share of attention, much of it negative. Between the unconventional premise, the hype of JMS at the helm followed by his jumping ship, and a relatively unlikeable Superman walking across America, 'Grounded' seemed like a disaster for DC.
When Chris Roberson was named writer on the book, I did not envy him. It seemed like big risk, little reward for him. If 'Grounded' did well, heck Roberson was using JMS' plots. If 'Grounded' failed, he would be on the deck while the ship went down.
I have been hoping to hear something from Roberson about his take on the whole thing and was thrilled to see an interview with him about Superman over on Comic Book Resources. Here is the link:
http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=30994 As always, the entire interview is worth reading, but here are some of the blurbs that stuck out for me.
Fans immediately noticed that the incoming writer's first two issues took a darker tone than Straczynski's, with Superman allowing a chemical plant to pollute a small town's environment, hints from the Superman Squad that the Man of Steel is "losing himself" and threats from evil school teacher Ms. Jennings that Superman's "descent is only beginning."
"In the aftermath first of Pa Kent's death before the 'New Krypton' arc started, and then the destruction of New Krypton left him pretty messed up -- he's a pretty emotionally broken guy, because the Post-Crisis Superman is a character who never dealt with personal loss," said Roberson.
Roberson continued, "In my first issue, I wanted to really make things worse before I made things better; I wanted to show that this was a Superman who had really lost his way." Thus the scene at the chemical plant in issue #707 where Superman not only allows workers to go on polluting the environment, he physically intimidates Lois Lane in order to prevent her from running an exposé on the plant. Sparking fierce debate among fans, Roberson told CBR News that his point is that Superman chose incorrectly.
"The crux of the matter for me is that Superman is totally wrong -- not because of the merits of the environmental side versus the industrial side, but the disagreement he has with Lois is over the truth," said Roberson. "This is a guy who stands for Truth, Justice and the American Way, and in this issue he's running away from the truth."
Superman #707 really stuck out to me as being perhaps the worst portrayal of Superman in a loooong time. I did not like that issue at all, giving it a 'D' for a grade. After reading Superman #708, which rebounded a little, I wondered if the point was to break Superman down completely before building him back up. It sounds like that was Roberson's intent, which eases my mind a bit. I especially am happy that he acknowledges that the Lois/Superman exchange is the worst part of that whole thing.
Certainly, Superman being damaged psychologically is an interesting idea. Certainly I have read stories of Batman walking that edge and maybe falling a bit, so I am intrigued to see where Roberson goes with this.
If elements of Superman's real-world factory problems sound familiar, that is because Roberson is a fan of the Elliot S. Maggin 1972 comic "Must There Be a Superman?" a story that thematically influenced his take on the character.
"In 'Must There Be a Superman,' Maggin's first story writing the character, Superman gets embroiled in a very down-to-earth, real world dispute between management and labor at a big industrial agricultural farm, and he comes in on the side of a whistleblower named Manuel. He makes his decision about what his role as Superman in human society is," said Roberson. Hence in Roberson's first story, "[Superman's] confronted by a whistleblower named Manuel in a very real world, industrial versus environmental concern, and makes a decision -- but it's the wrong one," said Roberson.
I have mentione 'Must There Be A Superman?' throughout 'Grounded' as its theme is similar to what is happening in the background of 'Grounded'. I guess my question is, should I review that issue here? I would hate to keep talking about it, or having creators referencing it, if we all aren't coming from the same background.
I have to admit the 'whistleblower Manuel' homage escaped me.
"It'll switch back and forth between mundane issues and sort of more typical super heroics," said Roberson, divulging that natural disaster, the villain Livewire, land-usage issues and the armies of Vandal Savage will all appear in upcoming issues. "But again, the super heroic fights against big super villains will be set in the context of the kinds of issues Superman's dealing with."
Roberson laughed when asked if he is staying on as Superman's full-time writer after "Grounded" concludes, admitting that though he would "give up a finger to do so," nothing has been confirmed. "I think it's above my pay grade, as Phil Hester says when they ask him about 'Wonder Woman.' They told me they'll find me something to do, and I have no idea what it is."
With the darkest part of 'Grounded' supposedly behind us, I am glad to hear that more 'typical' Superman stories are coming back to the book. The question is how will these move the overall story arc to a satisfying close. Are we going to see a more stable Superman at the end of this? Will he go into therapy? Will the elimination of the 'outside influence' set his moral compass back to normal?
All that said, Superman #708 just read different. I don't know if I am ready to give Chris Roberson the title moving forward ... at least not yet. But give me more issues like #708 and somehow wrap up 'Grounded' in a decent way and I'll give him my support.