Superman #713 came out this week, the penultimate chapter of 'Grounded'. And I can say without equivocation that I am eager for this storyline to end.
In fact, about the best thing I can say about this issue is that I was disappointed. You see, I have been pretty impressed with Chris Roberson's work on this book since taking over for J. Michael Straczynski. JMS' opening chapters were a complete disaster with Superman starting this walk for all the wrong reasons and then doing his best to alienate himself when the whole purpose was to get back in touch with the common man. Since then Roberson has been having Superman slowly work back to his core, seeing how he is viewed by future heroes, reconnecting with good friends and best friends. This issue's solicit made it seem like it was time for Superman to reconnect with his family ... a perfect lead-in to a reconnection with Lois in the last book.
Instead, Roberson has Superman take a giant step backwards in this issue. Where the last couple of issues of Grounded have ended with a smiling Superman, here we have the sulking confused Superman again. Could this be the emotional fallout of whatever was supposed to happen in the unseen 'Sharif' issue which was supposed to proceed this? Who knows? But after how reconnected Superman has been recently, this felt way way off.
The art in the issue is a conglomeration of Diogenes Neves, Eddy Barrows, and Jamal Igle. Outside of the differing styles making the issue seem shaky, the art is fine here. Neves seems to be channeling Leinil Yu a bit which is fine. But Supergirl's costume is again a variant.
The issues starts with a reunion of the Superman Family, Superboy and Supergirl catching up with Superman in Portland Oregon.
This page is done by Eddy Barrows. One thing I like about Barrows' interpretation of the Supergirl outfit is that he draws her shirt much bigger with a huge S-shield. He drew it like that in Blackest Night:Superman and it looks great like that. I think the S-shield needs to be massive, dominating the shirt. But again, the skirt is mistakenly colored red. While I prefer the red skirt, especially pleasing with the longer shirt look, it is basically an error.
And while I am a proponent of the skort look, the bike shorts under the skirt, these extra long blue leggings just don't look right. It looks like something Blossom or Debbie Gibson would wear in the 80s.
And then, the relapse of Superman into his emotional funk. He asks himself the question asked by Elliot S! Maggin 4 decades ago 'Must there be a Superman?' and Superman says the answer is no.
After his meeting with the Superman Squad, his lunch with Barry, his reminiscing with Bruce, his adventure with Jimmy ... this should be behind him.
But let's say he has had a relapse. He decides that the best way for him to continue to be a hero is to do it in secret. I guess he wants to be The Blur. And he wants Supergirl and Superboy to do the same. Oh man ... the last thing I want from my comic book Superman is Smallville-like doldrums.
Supergirl has about the same response that I did ... a face palm.
Nice contrast in the response of Conner and Kara though. Conner is angry at the stupidity of it. Kara, probably empathizing with Kal, just mutters about his depression.
And just like that, Clark has made his decision. He strips down and leaves his uniform on a tree stump.
Now, here is where Conner and Kara should walk with him, talking to him, telling why he is misguided, helping him. This is where family don't simply walk away but try to help each other.
But instead, Roberson has the scene end there. The two young heroes must simply fly off. And that felt really really really wrong. Especially from Supergirl. Over the last several years Kal has been there for a distraught Kara several times. I doubt Supergirl would just let him walk off.
Instead, Roberson has Clark meet a complete stranger in a coffee shop. Whoever this man is (we never find out his name), he is a big Superman fan. He recognizes Clark, he has read 'Under a Yellow Sun', and he gets a sneak peek at Clark's op-ed piece named 'Must there be a Superman'. Floored by the inanity of the piece, especially from one of Superman's friends, this guy decides to lead Clark around the blocks of Seattle to talk to passersby about Superman and what he represents.
A stranger ...
Couldn't Linda Lang and Conner Kent have led him around the neighborhoods to hear these testimonials? Couldn't they then add in what Superman means to them as a great capstone to these chance encounters? Wouldn't that have more clout?
Now the street side encounters are nice if a bit cliched. Maybe even saccharin. But somehow that seemed to fit right in with Grouded.
Children talk about not being afraid of Superman. Adults say how they know he is truthful even when it is difficult. Another person talks about how they know Superman is just, never acting as judge or jury. The stranger talks about how Superman stops danger, doesn't invite it.
It is a way to build up the 'Truth' and 'Justice' aspects of Superman.
And then we have the small moment of Superman saving a family's cat from a roof. Superman helps people enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Yes, it is a well-worn image. But one thing I like about Superman is that if he has the time to do the small things, he does. What do people want, Superman to fly by the cat dying on a roof, it's owner crying on the ground?
And look at the smile on his face here. According to the story, this happened recently. So where did the 'do good in secret' attitude slink into his mind. It must be after this right?
And then, the stranger sums everything up. Superman needs to be out in the open to inspire everyone else to be good, for people to aspire to be like him.
Now that is perfect.
But why from this guy? Wouldn't that sound better from two young people wearing the S-shield, living lives devoted to doing good, striving to be like him.
I just can't get over Supergirl and Superboy taking off.
And then the stranger says the person Clark needs to talk to about Superman, the person that probably understands him the most is Lois.
As if on cue, a news report comes out that the possessed teacher from Grounded has Lois as a captive and demanding that Superman come to her. Clark disappears, hopefully retrieving his uniform and flying to Seattle to save Lois.
So next month we get the face-off between this 'jewel Kryptonite' possessed teacher. Will we get a good explanation of who she is and why she is doing what she is doing? I hope so. Will Lois and Superman/Clark re-unite? Obviously. Will there be some showing of nation-wide love of Superman? Will we see him approach Kara and Conner sheepishly? I hope so. That is a lot of story for 20 pages and I haven't even mentioned the fight.
The bottom line is this was a misstep in Roberson's otherwise fine reworking of the mess that Straczynski started in Grounded. The individual encounters on the street were fine. But what we needed was Superman to reconnect with his family, the second to last step in his rehabilitation leading up to his reconciliation with Lois. Instead we get a glum Superman being helped by an unnamed stranger after his family flies off. That doesn't seem right.
The Superman books have been floundering a bit these last couple of years. Maybe a shot in the arm, even via something drastic like the DCnU, is needed.