Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review: Superman #703

I don't think I am overstating things when I say that until now 'Grounded' just hasn't grabbed me. Between some saccharin 'public service announcement' moments and some fairly contrived action sets, the story just didn't seem to be living up to the hype.

Superman #703, the latest chapter of 'Grounded' released last week, was the strongest chapter of this arc and addressed some of the problems I have had here.

For one, it was a more in-depth look at Superman's impetus for this walk across America. You knew it had to be more than just one woman's rants about her husband's brain cancer. It had to be some sort of reaction to the events of New Krypton and the War of the Supermen. More importantly, this chapter addressed the somewhat selfish nature of this jaunt through the states. Who is Superman really doing this for? Is it for the everyman who has lost touch with him? Or is it for him to try to get back in touch with 'normal folk'.

Another part of that worked here was the action sequence in the book. This wasn't some random encounter that occurred because of a right rather than a left at Alburquerque. This was a problem that found him rather than the other way around.

This is far from a perfect issue ... but it was better.

It didn't start out that way as we see more of the same sort of snarky Superman we have seen here before dealing with an everyday problem in a 'super' way. Here, he is holding a young man who is making unwanted sexual advances at a waitress by the foot high in the air. Superman makes him promise not to bother that woman any more, not to even go into the restaurant any more. And after this rather 'Batman-ian' level of justice he moves on.

But there is more to this problem than this ... right? Will stopping him from bothering this waitress stop him from bothering someone else? Should he try to help this guy more? it just seemed like a too easy answer to a potentially big problem. It just seemed off.

It doesn't help that I have seen this manuveur many times in comics including once by the PAD Linda Danvers Supergirl and once by the current Supergirl. It felt trite.

The best scene in the book is the discussion between Superman and Batman. Batman asks the questions that I think many readers have asked, pointing out the problems with Superman's walk. Unfortunately, it reads way way way more like how Bruce would talk to Clark more than Dick would.

Still, Dick confronts Superman about his reasons behind his stroll. He lost Krypton twice so of course he will want to hold onto this world even more, to reconnect with it any way he can. Finally ... FINALLY ... we see some emotional fallout from New Krypton. Pushing the matter, Dick asks if Clark is having a nervous breakdown. Who is this walk helping? And who is it potentially hurting.

At least the War of the Supermen and the feeling of loss is being discussed here ... sort of like they have been in Supergirl.

Superman defends himself, saying that if someone was there to help the 'little people' like Thomas and Martha Wayne and the Flying Graysons that maybe Bruce and Dick would be different, happier people. Superman wants to interact with 'ordinary people' and help them with their problems.

Batman points out the reverse. While Superman can find people, people can find Superman. His enemies know where to find him. And a brawl in small town USA would be a disaster.

Batman says his piece and leaves. He ends his heart-to-heart with a statement, Superman isn't a common man anymore. He has left that world behind forever. I thought the art worked nicely with the words here, as you feel the isolation of Superman as he is surrounded by nothing and no one.

So he has no New Krypton ... and he has no connections to everyday Earth ... does Superman have no world?

But this is the part that bothers me about this story. Isn't 'Clark' how he stays grounded? Isn't his life as Clark Kent, his marriage to Lois, his job ... aren't all those things his connection to humans? It is as thought JMS has completely forgotten that half of Superman's life. Shouldn't Dick say 'go home to Lois'?

But the emotional fallout of New Krypton isn't the only fallout. Physical fallout from the destroyed planet are reaching Earth. Lois let's Clark know that a piece has landed near his walk through Ohio.

Surprisingly, this stuff isn't Kryptonite (I suppose the destruction of New Krypton wasn't a nuclear meltdown of its core creating isotopes). Instead, a crystal shard lands in Danville Ohio. A couple of boys discover it and bring it to their teacher. When she touches the crystal, she becomes somehow possessed and walks away in a fugue state.

I remember in the Silver Age, Phantom Zone criminals could sometimes telepathically sway people. In some stories they used crystals as a focal point of their power. Could that be what this is? Some transmitter to the Zone with hundreds of thousands of ticked off Kryptonians controlling this woman?

When Superman goes to investigate the meteor, he finds it isn't there. He can see footprints around the site. When the local police officer says the rock hasn't been reported, Superman belittles her ... pointing out the obvious ... that lack of a report doesn't mean it wasn't found. That response seems a bit rude. Superman seems annoyed. I don't know if this is the best way for him to get back in touch with people.

It reminded me slightly of Hancock when Jason Bateman tells Will Smith that he should just say 'good job' to police officers and move on. Superman should learn that lesson.

The possessed teacher 'infects' a local bully by touching him, granting him super powers and a grudge against Superman. Emboldened by his powers, the man picks a fight with Superman and they brawl through the suburbs.

I have to say Eddy Barrows really flexes his artistic muscles on the battle pages. There is great action, choreographed and depicted wonderfully, with big destruction depicted all around.

Sure, this might be an every day occurrence in Metropolis. But in Danville Ohio?

And just as quickly as it started, the man's powers disappear. As does his memory of everything since the teacher touched him. He doesn't remember seeking out Superman. He has no bone to pick with the Man of Steel.

As warned by Batman, Danville was not prepared for a super-battle. Blocks were destroyed ... homes, businesses, roads.

Did this help Superman feel in touch with his planet? Or feel even more detached as he has hurt the very people he was hoping to help?

And while Superman is able to fix the big problems ... rebuilding houses and repaving roads ... he can't replace the small stuff ... the family china, the memories ... maybe even the sense of innocence here. This has to be considered an absolute tragedy in this small town.

Was Superman at fault? Well, it is true that he did not throw the first punch. But this wouldn't have happened in Danville if he wasn't there. This is not a good statement for what he is hoping to accomplish.

The teacher acts as though she is still possessed here. As much as Superman is trying to spread good will, she looks like she wants to spread ill will. Suddenly there is a threat in 'Grounded', an enemy to face. But the enemy is going to be both physical and philosophical. Will people begin to reject Superman more, fearing he will bring terror to them? Will Superman ask himself if this walk is worth it? Will the JLA feel they need to intercede? Maybe this will tighten things up a bit rather than issues seeming scattershot like they have.

If it is the Phantom Zone villains, well what better revenge is there than to rob Superman of his home ... make him so isolated that he leaves. Of course, that again would completely ignore the Clark factor.

I have come to like Eddy Barrows' art. It is dynamic and he does terrific super-battle scenes. 

So not a bad issue. But just as it has built a little momentum, next issue is the Lois interlude. Unfortunately, 'Grounded' will be grounded for a month.

Overall grade: a solid B


Lisa said...

It was called "jewel kryptonite".

mathematicscore said...

The writing is such a huge problem for me. Great art, even some good ideas, but they're mostly poorly executed and/or stolen from other places.

Putting the fear of God into some creep? A throw back to golden age Superman, which I can dig, but as you deftly pointed out, Superman is not solving anything psychologically, in fact he maybe exacerbating things, so that I can not get behind.

Batman talks some sense to Superman? Great. Not adjusting for Dick's character? Not so much. Dick has just as much of a connection to Superman, and would be more than capable of making a real and interesting impact on Supe's mood in this situation. Instead, some ham-fisted point of "helping the little people" comes out of it. Lame.

Good call on Superman being rude to cops. I just don't see him handling things this way.

No thank you.

mathematicscore said...

Oh, and if this turns out to be a movement against superheroes deal, I'm going to read my copies of Legends and then say I told you so.

TalOs said...

Like how Batman said, i.e. we're witnessing Superman having one hell of a public mental breakdown (all due to having tragically lost his home planet for a 2nd time) only it's in taken on form as his need to "walk across America" itself.

Question - why did the newly discovered "jewel Kryptonite" have an immediate effect on the teacher after not only coming into contact with it but happens to just view Superman through it while he just happens to be passing by all at the very same moment? Could she possibly be one of the hinted at in hiding New Kryptonian survivors we're seeing here and that upon them having come into contact with this new Kryptonite results in it bringing out their true nature and feelings towards Superman in particular? I mean she still seemed to be pretty mad even after it's effects on another had worn off, no?

valerie21601 said...

Sad, JMS used to do such great stories or get them done on Babylon 5 but for some reason he can't tell a great superhero story. I had such high hopes for JMS.

Gene said...

Anj wrote:
"Batman says his piece and leaves."

"What, are you dense or something? Were you born yesterday? You know who you are, you are the #*@&%$ Superman!"

Anj said...

So far this Superman isn't really inspiring or really connecting with people on this trip across America. And without those things, the very reason he says he is doing this, the story just falls flat.

And I still think the absence of the Clark aspect of his life is like ignoring half the character.

Anj said...

And thanks for reminding me about Jewel Kryptonite. It was driving me crazy that I couldn't remember it.

ealperin said...

"...we see more of the same sort of snarky Superman we have seen here before dealing with an everyday problem in a 'super' way. ...And after this rather 'Batman-ian' level of justice he moves on."
I think he's under Red K again.. If no then he's probaly having PTSD

"...But there is more to this problem than this ... right? Will stopping him from bothering this waitress stop him from bothering someone else? Should he try to help this guy more? it just seemed like a too easy answer to a potentially big problem. It just seemed off."

Same here, he wouldn't do something like that. It seems way off for a character like him.

"...It doesn't help that I have seen this manuveur many times in comics including once by the PAD Linda Danvers Supergirl and once by the current Supergirl. It felt trite."
OMG another PAD/ Linda Danvers reference? ^_^

Yeah, I feel the same way, Anj. Great art,though.


jeff said...

Whatever we think about the writing, the concepts here make perfect sense and are really refreshing. That Superman after the K war would take a walk, forsaking flight to get "grounded" and put one foot in front of the other across the country is in and of itself a great concept, add that this is likely an expression of severe emotional trama makes it work all the better. Yes I agree that this scene would have been so much stronger if made by Bruce, but that takes nothing away from the idea.

What is interesting about Supes' Walk is that it is a plea from the most powerful being on earth - a plea of pain and anguish over his lost homeworld and his distance from his adopted world. This from a guy who only ever wanted was to belong, to be a part of the idyllic scenes that he was raised with. But the sad reality is that, because of his powers, origin, and legend, he will NEVER reach that place. Here in his walk he's confronting that truth. Beautiful.

I hope the writing/art team can pull it off!