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.

Superman #707
“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
$2.99

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.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Did Clark make the right choice?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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10 Comments

  1. Kirby
    January 13, 2011 at 7:23 pm — Reply

    Got to agree with your review, though I did like this better than the child abuse issue. I’m gonna say while questionable Superman was right (though maybe not in the best way).

    My main hope is that after this Grounded arc is finally over with Chris Roberson will stay on board and write a Superman story.

  2. January 13, 2011 at 7:29 pm — Reply

    I have the first issue of this arc, and while I didn’t fall in love with it; I didn’t hate it either. To a point, I appreciate the concept. However, this story doesn’t mash with Superman who always seems to be about the “greater good”. In this story he ignored it. To me, this is out of character for him. Then again, when Spider-Man does something out of character no one cares so f’ it. Just wait for it to go away. ;p

    Also, didn’t Chris Roberson also write Cry for Justice? If he did, why are you surprised he tanked the Superman story?

  3. January 13, 2011 at 7:34 pm — Reply

    You’re SUPPOSED to think Lois is right. I keep seeing reviews of this issue that think Superman was wrong, but that he was supposed to be read as being right, when in fact, Superman is unbalanced and acting out of character. And for the first time in Grounded, it’s A STORY POINT. There are three BIG clues to this: Lois says so, Jennings is somehow influencing Supes from afar, and the Superman Squad shows up to tell him he’s acting all loopy. Are some shops getting copies with pages ripped out?

    • January 14, 2011 at 6:06 am — Reply

      You’re SUPPOSED to think Lois is right. I keep seeing reviews of this issue that think Superman was wrong, but that he was supposed to be read as being right, when in fact, Superman is unbalanced and acting out of character. And for the first time in Grounded, it’s A STORY POINT. There are three BIG clues to this: Lois says so, Jennings is somehow influencing Supes from afar, and the Superman Squad shows up to tell him he’s acting all loopy. Are some shops getting copies with pages ripped out?

      Well, here’s a storytelling problem, then: I have no idea who or what Jennings is. I read the scene where the woman with the hair watches and smiles, but had no context in which to put it.

      Bottom line for me? These various clues and hints didn’t add up to the same answer you got. Mileage, as always, will vary.

  4. Luis Dantas
    January 13, 2011 at 8:36 pm — Reply

    Maybe this storyline is supposed to show how Superman should stop pretending he not more than human? From your review, he certainly seems to be tripping over his own foot all the time.

    And no, no way that decision was right. I wonder why one would even consider other answer.

  5. BallsMonkey
    January 14, 2011 at 1:58 am — Reply

    JMS can blow me

  6. Brainlock
    January 14, 2011 at 11:29 am — Reply

    this arc has taken a downturn for the stupid. on the bright side, we finally do have the “Walkabout” issue going on, and not another side story with the rest of the cast, like Lois and Perry, as seen in previous issues.

    btw, Lois was drawn looking about 25 (and slutty) in her spotlight issue, and griping the girls (and guy!) in her old sorority made her feel OLD. um….

    Also, as pointed out, this story takes place in IOWA, which totally explains why Lois was teasing her Big Expose in ST. LOUIS last issue to Perry. Um, I live right outside tha Lou, and Iowa is a couple hundred miles north. the projected route DC told us never came any closer than that, btw, as I remembered being annoyed they didn’t have him hit Route 66 and start following that across America, instead of his Northerly passage.

    ….geez.
    Why am I even still getting this title? oh yeah, JMS was supposed to have this whole “new twist” by invoking superMAN over SUPERman (just like Jurgens did in the 90s); this Super-title actually had Superman in it (unlike his premiere book); and it was a dollar cheaper than his other book. yeah….

    hasta Big Blue.

  7. Wendell Lima
    January 16, 2011 at 9:47 pm — Reply

    The worst part for me is to know that, on the next number, we will find out that the strange behavior of Superman was caused by some alien influence or whatever, and the guys from the future are there to bring him back to normal or something like that. Horrible story, horrible arc. First Spiderman, them Wonder Woman and now Superman. Someone should keep J. M. Straczynski far way from iconic characters.

    • Damascus
      March 25, 2011 at 2:41 pm — Reply

      Like what he did with Wonder Woman or hate it, people have talked more about her in recent days than they have for a long time.

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