Friday, July 15, 2011

Review: Superman #713

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.

Overall grade: C


Kent G. Hare said...

I haven't read the issue, being on a monthly mail order service, but based on your description my gut reaction is that this HAS to be an issue more heavily "plotted" by JMS and mandated as "crucial" to the "Grounded" story arc. I bet the next is the same and that pre-Flashpoint Superman will go out with a whimper rather than a bang.

Anonymous said...

Hate the skort look, hate the bike shorts look, and really dislike what I see there. I wish they would take the sex appeal out of the males for a change.

I really just cannot purchase anything with Supergirl in it if the skort/bike shorts are present.

Anonymous said...

Haven't we seen seen this sort of angst before with Supes? I mean the whole issue could be a reprint from the early 1970's "relevance" era, right down to the cameo from Supergirl.
Hell I'd just ditch the big morose mook if he started whining like that the man is a total downer these days.
Although I'd prefer Superboy and Supergirl give Kal El a damn good talking too quite frankly.

John Feer

Anonymous said...

Superman is about as sexy as a Sears Auto Parts catalogue these days, even his "family members" are ditching him.
Oh right, this is all about the skirt again, I forgot.
Don't worry starting in September Supergirl will start battling on behalf of abused and mocked internet trolls everywhere I for one cannot wait.

John Feer

valerie21601 said...

Gee, except for a couple of series. So many DC series are ending on a whimpering note!

Even I can see they should have made sure all of their series end on high notes so it would spill over on their DCnU.

Tom Breevort of Marvel his comments posted on comicbookresources website lat night, compared DC Comics to Charlie Sheen's downfall. Where he says he believes DC is trying to be Marvel. To me it looks like the backlash he is getting from the DC fans are very angry at Breevort because he hit a major nerve with them. Sort like when a person is diagnosis with cancer and they go into major denial about it and refuses to do anything about it. And someone gives it to them hard and straight "If you don't anything and do what you have to survive, your going to die." And that person freaks out even then they still deny it.

Gear said...

Thanks for the great review ANJ. You summed things up very well on this one.

I did a spot buy of Superman for this issue, thinking that since the reviews of recent issues had been improved and this one was going to have Conner and Kara that this might be good. Heck, Conner and Kara were on the cover. The solicits had stated that Superboy and Supergirl "catch up with him and they want answers!" Apparently they didn't want them very badly because they just leave after Superman whines and Kara does a face-palm, apparently standing in momentarily for all the long suffering readers who are doing the same thing.

So instead of what the solicit implied, his family finally dealing with the fact that someone they love is losing it and may need some serious counseling, instead we get a couple pages of Superman lecturing them on how being a hero sucks, then multiple pages of people we've never seen before telling Superman that he's just the best thing ever. Again.

In the end I was pretty disappointed in this issue. So much opportunity missed, and the fact that it was advertised as Superman's family finally trying to get some answers makes me feel pretty annoyed. And even a bit taken in. I hate that feeling.

I guess it really is time for a reboot. But I hope DC understands that just rebooting isn't going to fix things if they can't get around to writing good stories again.

Martin Gray said...

Super-awful, as the Sixties might have it. I'm going to sniff around the net, surely Mr Anonymous Fan has to have won a sweepstakes ... 'Win a part in a Rubbish Superman Story'.

Anonymous said...

"...compared DC Comics to Charlie Sheen's downfall. Where he says he believes DC is trying to be Marvel."

THAT is DC"s game plan, to be the best Faux Marvel they can possibly be, it'd be funny if they hadn't tried it at least twice before with no success whatsoever. I'm really starting to think that DC is going off a cliff here...

John Feer

The League said...

The un-named person from the coffee shop was Elliot S! Maggin, bronze-Age Superman writer and author the "Does the World Need a Superman?" story from back in the day that was referenced in the issue.

I think with that in mind, the issue makes a bit more sense.

The issue actually does a good job of culminating the angsty storyline and dissolving the angst in a few pages, basically dismissing the notion that Superman need hang his head or be whiny. Its a chapter in a 12 part story, and from that perspective, I think this issue makes perfect sense.

At 20 pages, writers need to be economical. The issue wasn't really about Superman arguing with Kara and Kon, itw as about Superman finally hearing from people on teh street rather than relating to them from the aftermath of disasters.

Martin Gray said...

(Slaps head) Of course it's Elliot S Maggin! Thank you:

OK, I get the cameo, but strongly disagree this makes sense as a chapter of the story - not at this point. As Anj says, Superman has moved beyond this.

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments. And thanks for letting me know that was Maggin! His story resonates a lot throughout this arc. And given the name of Clark's editorial, his comments about it being from someone who doesn't know Superman give it some irony.

Still, this issue feels like a step back and I still think Kara and Con should have played a bigger role in Superman's return to his senses.

Gear said...

I agree with ANJ and Martin, this story makes little sense at this point in the arc. He's had this epiphany now with Batman, the Flash, and the SuperDuper Squad from the future. We've seen it already.

The issue wasn't really about Superman arguing with Kara and Kon, itw as about Superman finally hearing from people on teh street rather than relating to them from the aftermath of disasters.

And there's the rub: the solicit and cover specifically told me that Superman finally being confronted by his own family about his neurotic behavior was precisely what this issue was about. If they have only 20 pages to tell a story economically then they should have the honesty to tell the story they used to get my pre-order. It was a story I was willing to pay to read, not a rehash of more people telling Superman he's OK as if he were Stuart Smalley with a cape. He's been acting like a jerk, he manhandled his wife to the point she won't answer his calls, he needs someone to tell him that instead of telling him he's wonderful.

I had dropped Superman but was convinced to pick this issue up because of the premise in the solicit, it sounded interesting. Instead I got whine and cheese.

ayhe said...

Well, this Superman is still far from the one we know and love and it´s a pitty this issue wasn´t very good.

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.

I say yes, because the previous sotry wasn replaced by an old one, the reason of Superman´s today pessimism was missed. Something must had happened to Clark during thatstory to make him feel pessimistic again.

I hope this Grounded saga will have a good ending :)