Superman #701 (September, 2010)
“Grounded, Part One”
Writer – J. Michael Straczynski
Penciller – Eddy Barrows
Inker – J.P. Mayer
Colorist – Rod Reis
Letterer – John J. Hill
Assistant Editor – Wil Moss
Editor – Matt Idelson
Cover Price: $2.99
Remember that time, back a few years before the New-52! when Superman left Earth to futz around on New Krypton? Yeah, me neither… because I kinda walked away around that time.
Remember at the end of that story where we were told that the same guy who saved Spider-Man from the Byrne/Mackie reboot was going to do the same thing for the Man of Steel? That I remember, because it led to me buying Superman books again.
Remember when we all got through the first issue and sorta scratched our heads and furrowed our brows? Well, if you don’t… you’re about to.
It’s the south side of Philadelphia, and a few neighborhood fellas are gathered around the open hood of an old pickup truck. They know there’s something wrong with the rig, but just can’t agree on what. A passerby sticks his head in and suggests they take a look at the fuel line. Well, how in the world would a random dude know what’s wrong? Well, if that dude’s got x-ray vision… ya may wanna listen to what he’s gotta say.
Superman has just started his walking tour of the United States, and in the excitement, he finds himself hounded by the press. Nobody can seem to wrap their head around why the Man of Steel is just… walking. And by nobody, I mean in and out of this book. The reporters posit that he might be on some sort of secret mission… or maybe he was exposed to “Red K” and lost his powers. Red K? Isn’t this post-Crisis? Did Red Kryptonite (besides the Mxy-made stuff) come back and I missed it/forgot? One especially portly reporter suggests that Superman can no longer fly, and he’s kind of a jerk about it. To prove him wrong… and up the ante on jerkiness, Superman grabs him and flies him ten-thousand feet into the sky. Wow, you… er, showed ’em, Supes!
As he walks away from the press gang, he is approached by a very special reporter… Lois Lane. She asks what’s going on, and even questions if he had been exposed to “Red K”… oy. She asks what he’s planning… and how she can explain his absence. All valid questions, however, some might be missing… What’s the big idea? Didn’t you just get back from New Krypton? Are you really leaving me for another year? Are we still married? Ya know, stuff like that.
We hop scenes to a small diner… and I think the young man with the camera around his neck is supposed to be Peter Parker. JMS wrote Spider-Man, donchaknow. Anyhoo, inside Superman is considering what he should have for lunch. He really wants a Philly cheese steak, but only has enough cash for a small salad. I know I’m not Superman or anything, but that just feels like poor planning. The waitress tells him it’s on the house, but he insists that he pay. He cleans their stock room in exchange for a meal. After all, he’s just an ordinary dude… who can organize a stock room in less than a second.
That night he runs afoul of a group of drug dealers. One especially stupid one gets right in his face. The dealer just starts laying into Superman… telling him there’s nothing he can do to stop them… or even scare them. In response, Superman uses his x-ray vision to locate all of the illegal drugs in the neighborhood… and setting them on fire with his heat vision.
The dealers scatter trying to save their stashes… and a… okay, we’re going to do this one straight. A young boy approaches Superman and offers him a piece of candy to thank him. Superman then… sigh… tells the little kid that he wants him to deliver a message to the drug dealers for him. Tell them that Superman’s got his eye on them. Sounds like a splendid idea, don’t it? You send a tiny little kid up to the angry and armed drug dealer… to… deliver a threat?! What in all the hells is Superman thinking? In the nearly 500 posts on this blog, I’ve really done my best not to curse… this is probably the most tempted I’ve been to break that streak.
With that nonsense out of the way, Superman… continues to walk. He catches some stupid teenagers about to run a red light, and checks out an older man’s heart… and then, and then, he comes upon… the jumper. There is a crowd gathered at the foot of a building. Police are trying to keep someone from jumping… and Superman decides to check it out. He meets a young lady who has had a pretty rough time of late. She says she won’t talk to him unless he promises to let her jump if she decides to… and, oh boy, he does.
The police on the ground are confused… and so am I. She lists her grievances, her mother recently passed, she didn’t grow up to change the world, her high school dreams never came true, she has to work in a cubicle… all that quarter-life crisis stuff. Superman’s words of wisdom are tantamount to: Life’s tough. Wow, I’m suddenly inspired to throw myself off of something high.
And so, he and the jumper stare at each other all day and into the night. Superman finally speaks and tells her that… get this… if she thinks she’ll never have a “happy day”, then she should jump! This has got to be a prank, right? Like, Superman’s just trolling us… right? Anyway, the girl realizes that she’ll probably wind up having another “happy day”, and so she doesn’t kill herself.
On the ground, an officer asks Superman if he’s have really let her jump… and Superman doesn’t answer. Are you… kidding me? Not even a wink? This is bad, you guys.
The issue wraps up with… oh God, not this scene. Superman is approached by an ordinary guy who asks him why he’s not… ya know, being super. Instead of giving a friendly… or at least a non-confrontational… response, Superman starts quoting Thoreau. Who is this pompous horse’s ass… and why is he wearing Superman’s costume?! Thankfully, this is where we get off the walking tour.
Well, that was the first part of Grounded. This is the first time I cracked the cover on this one since the Summer of 2010… and, holy hell… I’m more annoyed at it now than I was back then! I mean, at the time we didn’t realize that (had the New-52! not petered out) this was going to be one of the final storylines for this version and volume of Superman (then again… neither did DC, regardless of what they say). With hindsight, maybe I’m judging this more harshly than I otherwise would… though, that’s not to say this was anything less than dull, preachy, pretentious… and just wildly unpleasant. Let’s also remember that this was the only Superman book at this time, Action Comics had been taken over by Lex Luthor.
Let’s start with Superman sending a neighborhood boy into danger to “send a message”. We’ve got Superman burning up the stashes for a gaggle of drug dealers… and then asks a boy to deliver a message to them. Let’s play that out… Superman just sent a kid to talk to… threaten, actually… a group of angry, dangerous, violent… armed (!) drug dealers! Good lookin’ out, Supes. Pathetic.
Next, Superman and the jumper. Superman has always been a symbol of hope… an inspiration to we “mere mortals”… and here we have him giving a hopeless young lady a “take it or leave it” kinda speech, rather than anything inspiring. He’s all, Yeah life’s tough… if you wanna die, then die… if not, don’t. What the hell is that? That’s not Superman. Gotta say, I never wanna see J. Michael Straczynski try and talk anyone off a ledge.
Remember how during the preamble I mentioned that Superman was futzin’ off planet for a long while? Well, now that he’s back… instead of being with, ya know… his wife… he sets out on an interminable self-indulgent walking tour. Yeah, Lois… see ya in a couple years… ya know, unless our continuity gets erased in the interim.
And Superman quoting Thoreau? Good friggin’ night! What pretentious holier-than-thou garbage is this… and why is it coming out of Superman’s mouth? Do you see Superman as a guy who would lecture ordinary people in a way that would make them feel inferior? I don’t. This is such a bad issue, folks…
Speaking of Superman as superior… how about that scene at the beginning where he gives those glib answers to the reporters. It’s so strange that the entire point of this ridiculous story is to put Superman at the same level as the ordinary American/Human… and he talks to these people like they are so far below him. Glib and dismissive… that is, unless you question his motives… then he’ll fly you into orbit to “put you in your place”. What an ass.
I will say… it looks pretty. Eddy Barrows and company do a ridiculous amount of heavy lifting here… but it’s still not enough to make this something I’d ever suggest people should check out.
Millennium… you’re off the hook!