I can hardly believe that I am saying such a thing but I am actually enjoying Grounded right now. If you asked me if I thought that possible a couple of months ago, I wouldn't not think it was possible. And that means I again I have to say kudos to Chris Roberson as writer. If there was ever an arc that was suffering, it was Grounded. It did not look salvageable. But here I am about to praise the book for the third straight month in a row. It is hard to believe the about face this book has taken since that awful issue where Clark dismissed Lois.
I was never against the idea of 'Grounded', the idea that Superman needed to reconnect with his ideals and with the people of Earth, needed to get back to the basics and understand where he fit in on the planet as both a man and a hero. As has said here and in many other places, we have seen this sort of story before.
No it wasn't the plot that was holding 'Grounded' down, it was the actualization of that plot. It was the strange way Superman was choosing to reconnect ... telling a woman she could jump to her death, leaving the man with a heart arrhythmia on his porch, manhandling Lois. It all felt so wrong. None of those issues showed me a Superman trying to get back to his roots, trying to rediscover who he is.
What I am seeing now is Chris Roberson giving Superman a sort of roadmap, a way back to his ideals, that involves reconnecting with layers of his life and recalling key events that made him who he was. Last issue we heard about Kryptonian ideals and had Superman talk to a good friend, Barry Allen. This issue, Superman talks to a much closer friend, Batman, and talks about a time when they were early on in their heroic careers. Next issue he reconnects with his best friend Jimmy Olsen. In July he meets up with Superboy and Supergirl. It's as if he is going on a journey where he is reengaging the people in his life, moving inwards. At the center of this is Lois ... hopefully in the last chapters of Grounded in August or September.
But enough about the overall arc. Superman #710 is a microcosm of that big picture ... Superman reestablishing his friendship with Bruce, the first time they have met since Batman's return. And he remembers that early adventure where he first knew what kind of hero he wanted to be. It is another step towards healing.
The issue starts with Superman rescuing a woman in Utah from being run over by a truck. Blocking the semi with his hand, Superman flies her back to her 'home', a trailer at an archeological site.
One of the things I have really enjoyed about Roberson's run has been clear knowledge of Superman history and his use of that to supplement his stories. So when Superman says he knew it was a dig from his time spent with Professor Lang, I appreciated that. Small details help add depth to stories like this.
But look at the faces on the workers as they meet Superman and talk about their dig (finding Buddha-like statues in the middle of Utah). They are smiling, thrilled to meet the Man of Steel. It is a subtle but easily recognized change from earlier issues where Superman thought everyone was scowling at him. It is another detail that shows Superman is getting better.
As he talks to the team, he notices a Superman symbol in infra-red being reflected off the clouds. When he traces it back to its origin, he finds Bruce with a sort of modified bat-signal Super-signal.
I probably read too much into things like this but I love when Batman says 'I was beginning to think you would never look up.' Sure, he might be talking about literally looking up at the clouds to see the signal. But maybe he also means looking up emotionally, looking optimistic or happy. And we haven't seen Superman smile like he is here for a while. He looks 'up'.
Whether planned or not, I loved the subtlety of the language here.
Superman tells Batman how the archeology team is fighting a company to keep their dig from being demolished. That few against many theme reminds Superman of his earliest adventure with Batman.
Again, Roberson brings some continuity to the table. Batman asks if Superman means the Magpie adventure (their first meeting in Byrne's Man of Steel era) or the time they were on the Varanian Princess cruise ship (their first meeting in the Silver Age Superman #76). I know I like these small flourishes a lot.
I will say that Eddy Barrows, who does the framing sequence story, is either drawing Superman's chest to broad or his legs too thin. These two last panels seem slightly off.
Turns out Clark is talking about an adventure they had in their civilian identities in a temple in Bhutran. Both had been there in the past ... Clark out of love, Bruce out of training. I am sure this 'Bruce being trapped in Smallville' is another reference to a comic story I'm not aware of.
At first Bruce, ever the brooding loner, seems to treat Clark with some contempt. I think that makes sense given who these two are and where they are heading. Both know the woman in charge of the temple and she has called upon them to help her.
Vandal Savage thinks the temple knows the way to Nanda Parbat and he is going to invade with a faction of the Chinese Army to get that information.
Travis Foreman, who does the art on this inner story, does a good job in giving this a grittier feel than the slick Barrows pages. Even the muted colors give it a grungier texture, adding to the feel of this past adventure in a dusty mountain range. I love Foreman's Vandal Savage, a man who looks scary and as if he has lived a millenia already.
With Savage's army on the way, Bruce begins to plan how he will use the environment to his advantage while Clark erects a huge wall around the temple entrance with boulders. Both men now know their 'secrets' but have been sworn to keep them.
As their time together grows, Bruce becomes more amiable with Clark and both talk about Nanda Parbat and their respective heroes. Bruce talks about the Crimson Avenger, one of my favorite Golden Age heroes. Clark again talks about Iron Munro. It is interesting that both Clark and Bruce were comic fans and were fans of heroes much like themselves. Again, it is these building blocks of history, Clark enjoying Munro adventures, that are the foundation of who Superman is. This was a wonderful moment.
I will say I was hoping the Crimson Avenger would be Clark's hero ... red cape, newspaper man ... would be a nice fit too.
The battle is brief with Clark wading in demolishing tanks and melting weapons while Bruce fought on the ground.
But both talk about how that battle impacted them. Clark suddenly realizing how free he felt being a hero out in the open while Bruce learned to trust a partner, opening the door for not only the World's Finest, but Robin, etc.
Remembering this adventure has to rekindle those ideals of truth and justice in Clark, those very things he is currently missing in his heart. The heroes did the right thing, the just thing.
With the flashback over, it's time to talk about the what is happening now.
Bruce says he heard from Dick about how Superman was walking the country. Another thing Roberson seems to be doing is recognizing the failings of the early Grounded issues and addressing them as Superman heals. Remember when a woman told Superman he was like a gun in a crowd, remember when Superman preached to the man about how he should be a hero? Remember how awful I thought that was?
Batman comes right out and calls him on it, much like the fans called on J. Michael Straczynski. How could Superman lecture like that? It was wrong. (Last issue, Roberson cleared up the 'Flash only sees blurs when running' problem as well.)
Batman realizes that Superman was psychologically broken by the events of New Krypton. And he needs to grieve and get better. That emotional pain won't go away, but it will improve. Who better to talk about moving on from psychological trauma than Batman?
Another theme Roberson keeps bringing up is Superman's worries over his legacy. Is he a worthy role model, the right role model?
Batman talks about how he is a loner but knows the strength in numbers. I love the mix of art and words here as well. Batman looks almost as if he is preaching here, arms outstretched, talking about big ideas. But he also knows that Superman cannot lead until he deals with his loss. Like I said last issue, this is what normal people do when they are hurting, they talk to friends and lean on them for support.
It doesn't get better than the last panel, Superman heroically flying, smiling, looking confident while Batman tells him he is needed in the light.
It is another step in this journey of healing, this journey of Superman being introspective but also reaching out. Sure the flashback and framing story might seem a simple device but it works well here.
The two styles of art also complements the story-telling by adding the right visual tone. And I usually don't talk about the colorists (my bad I know) but the bright palette of the framing sequence by Dave McCaig just further accentuates a better disposition in Superman.
But as I have said before, I am hoping Grounded is nearing its finale. We know there are at least three more issues. And we still have to deal with the Lois reconciliation and battling the threat of the possessed teacher. Are there really going to be 6 more months of Grounded? That would make this a 16 issue arc (albeit with 2 interlude issues).
What I really want is to read a Roberson-written Superman book after Grounded. And if you asked me if I would ever say that after reading the Roberson-penned Superman #707 I would have said 'absolutely not'!