Friday, March 18, 2011

Review: Superman #709

Superman #707 bothered me more than any recent comic with Superman turning a blind eye to corporate corruption, allowing an unsafe working place to continue to rumble, and physically intimidating his wife. I wrote a pretty vitriolic review wondering what was wrong with the comic.

Superman #708 was clearly the best issue of 'Grounded', explaining some things about Superman's mental state, expounding on why he was feeling and acting the way he was. It also seemed to be the moment the arc may have turned the corner. It was uplifting.

So which direction would Superman #709, released this week, go? Would we backtrack to the pondering and preachy early issues of 'Grounded'? Or would we continue to move forward towards healing, bringing Superman back to where he should be ... a hero, a role model, an inspiration.

Happily it continued in the right direction, continuing the progress of Superman's return to normalcy, albeit it with a slowed pace. While there was a clear change in momentum with Superman #708 (it felt like we weren't moving uphill anymore, we were going downhill), writer Chris Roberson slows things down and let's Superman take a breath in this issue. And that's tough to do when the guest star is the Flash. Eddy Barrows does some of the pencils here and Allan Goldman does his best Eddy Barrows imitation.The art is solid throughout the book.

Was I hoping that 'Grounded' would continue at a breakneck speed and come to an end? Yes. But did this issue work, knowing that personal growth like Superman is struggling with takes time? Yes.

The issue starts with Superman helping Super-Chief stop a couple of villains, one being Bloodsport (a John Byrne era villain). It felt so natural and hearkened back to the stories I grew up reading. Two heroes smiling and chatting after stopping the bad guys. Superman downplaying his role in the adventure and praising Chief's tenacity. And Chief being sort of dumb-founded in his worship of Superman. He seems so goofily nervous around the Man of Steel. And this was a nice updating of Super-Chief's look.

But there also is a hint of some of the problem of the current arc. Chief says some people think the Manitou stone is Kryptonian, granting him his powers. Superman doesn't buy it ... but maybe this will come back to him as he faces off with the possessed teacher again.She gained her powers from a Kryptonian stone as well.

And, in keeping some continuity of the story, we see Superman again trying to reach Lois.

Superman started his walk across America to get back in touch with the common person. And yet that has severed his relationship with the person he is closest too. Of all the plots that need to be wrapped up in a satisfactory way, it's this one. It has to be more than just Superman saying sorry. It has to be deeper. I don't blame Lois for keeping her distance for now.

As Superman strolls through Boulder Colorado, he begins to hear blurbs from a Kryptonian historical text spoken at a hypersonic rate. And the city and its citizens begin to be 'dressed up' in Kryptonian costuming. It isn't malicious ... just bizarre.

The history book's passages warmed the geek in me. I especially liked the one about Hatu-El and the Day of Truth, the victory over the Vrangs. (Trust me, there is a back issue box review there.) But the blurb in this panel carries some weight for 'Grounded'. Here a Kryptonian philosopher says 'Right and Wrong are natural attributes, like heavy and light.' Part of Superman's problems in 'Grounded' is his inability to see things black and white, instead drowning in gray. He also is somehow torn between being a Kryptonian and being a man of Earth. So to hear some of his morals, some of the beliefs given to him by Pa in Kansas, echoed in Kryptonian texts will probably help him.These are universal truths.

Superman figures out that the only person who could do all of this so quickly is the Flash. Barely catching up to Barry, he removes a Kryptonian teaching headband from the Flash's head, stopping this warped Kryptonian school lesson in its tracks.

I love how Superman wonders who was fastest. Superman is all grimace and sweat while Barry is running cool and easy. Yeah ... I think we know who's faster.

It turns out that Barry came across this headband in Australia, probably some wreckage from the explosion of New Krypton and couldn't help putting it on. It overwhelmed him with its lessons. So the text blurbs he was saying, the changing of the buildings and clothes were all a call for help to Superman.

With the 'threat' of Krypton History 101 behind them, the 2 heroes decide to relax in a local diner. In a nice homage to Showcase #4, the waitress trips and we see the food suspended in mid-air as the two heroes move into super-speed mode. Very slick.

Even Superman has noticed that the historical passages the Flash used to clue him in mostly talked about truth and morality. There is such a thing as right and wrong. There is truth. There is justice. Recently Superman has been wondering if those are just words. Again, I think the more Superman hears about these concepts, remembers his roots, the more grounded he'll get.

It all reminds Superman of a story from his youth in Smallville, another history lesson about truth and justice.

Clark was in detention. He missed class, albeit it to put out a nearby fire.

Stuck after school, he passes the time reading some Iron Munro comics.

Of course, Iron Munro was the stand-in for the Earth-2 Superman in the post-Crisis DCU. How could all of the earliest JSA stories have happened without the original Superman? Simple ... insert Munro in those panels. Nice touch of DC history by Roberson.

Lex Luthor joins him in detention. He was caught stealing 40 cakes! Roberson is clearly having a lot of fun here, slipping in references from all eras of comic history and ...

Even some references outside comic lore but famous nonetheless. This was part of the Super Dictionary teaching book and has become famous on its own. Too funny! Another nice homage by Roberson.

And so we see a glimpse into the early upbringing of the two adversaries. Even if Clark was putting out a fire, he wasn't in class and deserves to be punished. Pa Kent always was a fountain of wisdom. 'There is right and wrong in this universe, and the distinction isn't hard to make.' That is the foundation of the Superman I know. That is what this current Superman has lost. I don't care if he needs a Kryptonian text book or a trip down memory lane to rediscover that truth, I just want him to start acting it again.

Luthor's morals aren't as firm. There is no right and wrong, only what works.

I sometimes worry about flashbacks like this. This one was perfect.

And the Flash is the perfect hero for Superman to have this conversation with. Is there anyone more pure than Barry? Anyone who does what's right all the time? Anyone else who has inspired a whole new generation of heroes to take up the mantle of the name 'Flash'. These are all issues Superman is dealing with now. Superman wonders if he is doing the right thing lately. He's confused. And he worries if he is the right inspiration for other heroes. Flash reassures him.

This would have been a very different talk if it was Hal Jordan, or Ollie, or even Bruce.

After the revelations of last issue, about the Supermen of the future and his own fragile psyche, Superman has now hashed things out with a close friend. That's what 'regular' people do. Talk through their problems with people who care for them. I don't know if the Superman from the early 'Grounded' issues would do this. I think that guy would feel above all this.

And in one last ironing out of an early 'Grounded' wrinkle, Barry tells Superman that even when running he sees everything. Remember when Superman was contemplating this walk, he needed to figure out how to get in touch with people. The satellite was too far away. And running seemed wrong because Barry said it was all a blur. Here Flash says he was joking. Pretty bad joke. In fact, not really a joke at all. ButI am glad that Roberson patched that up, smoothing out some of JMS potholes.

So how do I digest all this.

Well, it felt like this issue was another step towards bringing Superman back to where I want him to be. While it was mostly dialogue and discussion, I thought it was a very good follow-up to the last issue. It would be hard for Superman to self-process everything from last issue. So talking to a friend makes sense. And showing that the concepts of right and wrong are universal ... Terran and Kryptonian alike ... will probably help Superman right the ship. He doesn't need to feel pulled between two worlds, or lost between two worlds.

But add to that all the other stuff ... the Kryptonian history (The Day of Truth!), the Showcase #4 homage, the Iron Munro comics, the 40 cakes ... and you just get a very good issue.

I still want 'Grounded' to end. I want to get back to Superman stories. But I have to say, Chris Roberson clearly knows his Superman stuff. I hope he sticks around when 'Grounded' finally grinds to a halt.

Overall grade: B+/A


Gear said...

This story helps to redefine the title "Grounded" from Superman being taken out of commission like a plane that can't fly to a story about reconnecting him to his core values. That's another definition of the word "Grounded" and a more satisfying one for me. I think JMS was going here, but for some reason it never felt like we were making any progress. The tires are gripping pavement now instead of just spinning in the sand, it feels good to be moving again.

And if Roberson is reading this, thanks for the Forty Cakes. It made me smile, something that doesn't happen enough these days with comics. And that got Superman back on my pull list. Forty Cakes!

TalOs said...

Yet another cool issue.

Loved seeing Barry reciting "New Earth" continuities' Kryptonian history (while under the influence of the Kryptonian head band) as he went about dressing "New Earth" residents up as Kryptonians as a means to grab Kal's attention. I also got a chuckle out of seeing the recent "Connor vs Bart" race being debated over by Clark and Barry as to who the winner would be heh. The part where Barry confirms that through all the future time travelling he's done using the "Cosmic treadmill" he sees Superman's legacy as well that of Supergirl, Superboy and Power Girl's will live on even after long since they've gone was a very pleasing thing to hear too.

Question: why was it shown to be Kal and not Kara too coming to Barry's aid when he was dressing up "New Earth" residents as Kryptonians all while sprouting Kryptonian lore? Wouldn't this issue's predicament have been a brilliant way to have Kal and Kara reunite and for Kara to even air her possible concerns about Kal's need for his "walk" after the loss of "New Krypton" at that?? :-/

valerie21601 said...

I have to admit this is the first time I heard about and read the "Forty Cakes" rhyme.

It's a hoot.

Coloman said...

Yeah... come to think of it I can't recall the last time Kara and Supes chatted post New Krypton. I don't think he's been in her book, or she in his. There might have been a brief interaction during the Omega thing, though. Considering he's met up with both Batmen (well... Bruce is next issue), Wonder Woman, Flash, and Powergirl, you'd think Kara would be showing up at some point.

Then again I DO specifically remember Lois going to Kara for help because Superman was off Forest Gumping.