Or – “Superman Learns About Shades Of Grey? Say It Ain’t So, Kal!”
Though the grand “JMS writes Superman and Wonder Woman into new eras of greatness” experiment seems to be going by the wayside, there is still the matter of completing the ‘Grounded’ arc, wherein the Man of Tomorrow decides to walk across the United States and get down with the common man, finding out how the other half lives. I’m going to be honest, this premise sounded pretty threadbare and hokey when I first heard about it, and the one issue I’ve sat down to read was a by-the-numbers child abuse story, which hasn’t endeared the whole thing to me. Today, I put aside all preconceptions, and see what’s really up with Grounded Superman.
“Grounded” – Part Five
Plot by J. Michael Stracynski
Script by Chris Roberson
Pencils by Allan Goldman
Inks by Eber Ferrara
Colors by Marcelo Maiolo
Letters by John J. Hill
Published by DC Comics
Previously, on Superman: In the wake of the Hundred-Minute War, Superman has come to realize that he has been embracing his Kryptonian roots and forgetting all about the -man part of his name. Setting out on a cross-country journey of self-discovery, he gets in a beat-up pickup truck with Oliver Queen and a blue midget… No, wait. He starts walking like Forrest Gump (and, oddly enough, like Daredevil!) to rediscover his people, the United States, and the reality of those who cannot fly or deflect bullets with their pecs. He has found some comfort in small stories, saving some lives, but finding that it’s not as easy to please people as it might seem, as public opinion is still against him. He’s also finding himself alienating his closest friends, including Batman and Mrs. Superman, Lois Lane. Can he figure it all out before it’s too late?
We open in Des Moines, Iowa, with Superman finding minor uses for his powers, including saving a girl from an oncoming train and keeping a helicopter from crashing into “the tallest building in Iowa.” I’m puzzled and bothered by this turn of events, solely from the “What If?” perspective. Des Moines, Iowa does not have a superhero contingent, normally. Sure, Superman has super-hearing and such, and rushes to help people around the world, but for two or three tragedies to occur in the space of a few days seems bizarre and improbable, which leads to one of two conclusions: In the DCU, innocents die every day because the East Coast has all the superheroes, or Superman has some sort of field that brings misfortune with him wherever he goes. I’m honestly not sure which is the better solution, here. He confers with Lois on his cell phone (because “that’s what the normal people do”) only to have a chemical plant blow up in her face. Superman leaps into action, flying to save her and keep the plant from melting down completely. Of course, he ends up taking steel girders from a nearby truck, causing one more person to hate him, before confronting Lois about what’s going on.
It seems that her friend Manuel had called her to town (I’m not quite sure if we’re still in Des Moines, mind you. I assume so, since we never hear differently, but it’s an odd tic in the story for me.) to investigate lax standards at the plant, causing high levels of “chloride” in the water table, and causing Lois to prepare a huge expose on substandard conditions and bribed EPA officials. Of course, the people who work at the plant beg him not to shut them down, explaining that it’s their one livelihood, that their families are depending on the plant to stay alive. Confused and torn between warring moralities, Superman isn’t sure how to respond. He wavers, then tells the plant manager to clean up their act and walks away. Lois can’t believe what she’s hearing, and he then tells her (actually, he ORDERS her) to kill the story. I’m very uneasy with this angry Superman, even though he’s talking about his deeply conflicted feelings with his wife of several years. There’s a clear air of menace and a threatening undertone to the way he talks to her, and the art doesn’t help either, showing us a snarling, angry Man of Steel. Lois storms away, and a confused Superman is left to consider the wisdom of his decision, just in time for a group of costumed types calling themselves the Superman Squad to show up and tell him they have all the answers.
I said I wasn’t going to judge this issue based on the previous one I read, but it’s hard not to draw parallels between how questionable an idea this is compared to having Superman physically threaten a man to keep him from beating his child. We’re intentionally drawn a situation that is meant to be balanced, but I can’t help but think Lois is right. A dilapidated chemical planet leaking poisons into the water, unable to spring for safety measures for dozens of years is going to suddenly clean up their act because Superman said so? Where will they get the money? Won’t they end up laying people off to pay for decades of back repairs and upkeep? Moreover, Clark Kent is a newspaperman… Is he really likely to let a corrupt corporate entity get away with something like this because a few dozen people will be inconvenienced? I can think of five ways that Superman could have bettered the situation with the tools known to be in his arsenal. Rebuild the plant at superspeed, convince Bruce Wayne to dedicate some funds to purchasing and repairing it, even just LET LOIS RUN HER STORY, forcing the company to clean up their act. Really, it’s an awkward, ham-handed rock-and-a-hard-place cliche, amplified by Superman once again acting like a bully, this time to his beloved spouse. The art is okay, though it tries too hard to remind me of Gary Frank in several place, and gives us a Lois Lane who looks ten years too young and dresses like a slutty teenager. It’s pretty much a disappointment on all fronts, taking us TOO FAR into the realm of the mundane for Superman to even seem relevant (see my remarks on whether making collateral damage part of the story is a good thing in a recent podcast) and doing it clumsily, to boot. Superman #707 earns a very disappointed 1.5 out of 5 stars overall with the core of the problem coming from a concept that just doesn’t seem to match the character inhabiting it.
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Did Clark make the right choice?