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SUPERMAN: GROUNDED

A Path to Victory or Defeat?

    July 07, 2010


Comicscape: SUPERMAN: GROUNDED
© Mania

When J. Michael Straczynski was announced as the new writer for Superman (as well as Wonder Woman), our geek salivary glands began to work overtime. While JMS might have a reputation as a guy who doesn’t always finish well, he also comes with a pedigree a mile long. Foremost in our minds was his stellar run on Marvel Comics’ Thor with Olivier Coipel, which we’ll gladly put up on the top shelf along with the Lee/Kirby and Simonson efforts. His more recent work on DC’s Brave and the Bold title might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it has brought a sense of fun back to a lot of lesser known characters and shown us that the guy can handle single issue stories as well as sprawling epics.

But the news that JMS’s run on Supes would involve the Man of Steel walking the earth like that dude from Kung Fu has got us scratching our heads. The idea of the Last Son of Krypton rediscovering his roots after a year or so off-planet is one with merit, but we question the timing of the whole event… or as a friend remarked, “Can’t we just have Superman punching a giant robot for a change?”

 

The Not-So Exciting World of New Krypton

So the Bottle City of Kandor was finally enlarged and a whole bunch of Kryptonians were flying around with powers far beyond those of mortal men and fancy suits to boot. They end up on their own planet, which is in synchronous orbit with the earth on the other side of the sun and Superman decides to live there for a while to keep an eye on things. Given a position in the Military Guild, Superman was no longer defined by his powers. We got to see that it isn’t the cape or the S or the red underwear or even the heat vision that make Kal-El so great; it’s his indomitable will, bravery and code of honor.

On paper, that’s a really neat idea. In practice? Eh, not so much. While a detective story featuring Superman and Adam Strange might make a neat one-shot or maybe 4 issue storyline, it certainly didn’t live up to expectations over the course of… however long that story lasted. I don’t think we made it all the way to the end before we dropped it out of sheer boredom. Same with the other titles in the Superman Family. Mon-El is cool and so is Steel, and that Nightwing and Flamebird story was interesting, but none of it was good enough to hold our interest and frankly, if we’re buying a book called Superman, it might be nice to see Superman in it. The whole debacle left a bad taste in our mouths, especially after being spoiled with the excellent Geoff Johns/Gary Frank run that preceded it.

 

The Post-Krypton Blues

So it all wraps up after what feels like eons and in what may have been the plan from the get-go or may have been an enormous cop out, New Krypton gets destroyed. Next thing you know, Superman is back on earth, reunited with Lois and slapped in the face by a weepy woman who’s upset because Superman can’t be there to solve every problem. Or most of them. Or some of them. Or… whatever. It was a stupid idea anyway.

The Big Blue Boyscout ends up all sad and weepy, like usual and he remembers some poignant words from Uncle Ben: “With Great Power Comes…” er… wrong book. He remembers his daddy (his earth daddy) giving him some speech about tilling the soil and keeping it fresh and all that down home farmer stuff that’s been the backbone of Superman since the Byrne reboot and he decides he needs to remember where he came from and who he is by inviting readers to write an essay about how great their hometown is and why it should be featured in an upcoming issue of Superman.

 

Right Story… Wrong Time

In and of itself, the idea for the “Grounded” storyline isn’t a bad one. The idea of Superman reconnecting with his roots after a year away isn’t particularly original, but in the hands of a talented writer like Straczynski, it could still prove to be a winner. However, the whole “Superman can’t be everywhere at once, saving everyone” shtick has been done to death. We seriously need to let another generation or so pass before relighting the torch of Superman IV: the Quest for Peace.

And the whole thing about writing an essay about why your town should be featured in Superman? It’ll grab a few headlines for sure. But how long will it last? Will anyone really care for more than 5 minutes? Sure, Wonder Woman’s new costume was all over the internet last week, on geek sites and non-geek sites alike. The Superman-comes-to-your-town gimmick will likely do the same, but we don’t really see it being some enormous headline grabbing story that captures America’s attention for more than a week or so or does much (if anything) to sell books.

Most importantly, after enduring an excruciatingly boring story in which Superman didn’t wear his costume, wasn’t on earth and didn’t interact with his regular supporting cast, the last thing we want is some heartwarming, schmaltzy crap that doesn’t even take place in Metropolis! Yes, it’s true that it isn’t the powers or the cape that make the man. World of New Krypton proved that. But Superman isn’t just a character, it’s a brand. It’s not just Clark Kent, it’s Lois Lane, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, the Daily Planet, Cat Grant, Lex Luthor and Metropolis!

 

Reserving Judgment

As always, we’ll reserve judgment until we’ve actually read the story. And yes, we’ll pick it up – at least the first few issues. But after everything we’ve been through and seeing how Superman has been dragged through the mud since Johns left the title, we aren’t really in the mood to watch him walk around moping. Right now, we’re in the mood to look up to the sky…

 


 

In addition to contributing the weekly Comicscape column and comic book reviews, Chad Derdowski is also a part of The Zod Complex, a weekly podcast celebrating geek culture. You can find it at ZodComplex.com

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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jedibanner 7/7/2010 5:42:05 AM

great article Chad,

As much as I don't want to come here and bash DC, it does kind of show that the stories being written latelly about ''THE'' superhero seems very boring and does not push me one bit to give it a try.

I tried with that #700 issue and, that just killed me for the next 100 issues...

DC needs to up their balls and play with the character and get him to go back to his roots of him using his powers to fight bad guys and that's it.

Batman said it best a few years a go: ''the last time the last son of Krypton really inspired everyone else is when he died''...that tells you how much boring the character has become.

Ozymandas 7/7/2010 9:10:05 AM

I dropped the Superman titles when the New Krypton stories began. This is not going to bring me back.

lister 7/7/2010 9:21:44 AM

Nice article Chad. I agree with almost everything you say. EXCEPT for:

"that Nightwing and Flamebird story was interesting..."

I just... I just... <shudder>. No. I can't do it. I cannot contain myself. It sucked. It sucked hard. It suckety-sucked-sucked-sucked. Thank you.

 

 

SPIN ME BABY!

Heavy freakin' week here!

DC up first... and I got nothin'. It's all Marvel this time...

Avengers The Childrens Crusade #1--Seems like the focus is on Wiccan. Shouldn't it be on Wiccan AND Speed?

Fantastic Four Annual--Hoping for a big, big story that does not feature Nu Earth, and hopefully not too much filler crap at the end.

Hawkeye & Mockingbird--Cool. But I say dump Avengers Academy and bring back the WCA!!

Hercules Twilight of a God--It's set in a future storyline that I have no concept of. But it has Ron Lim art. So I am there. Period.

Marvelman Familys Finest--Well, just curious as to what Marvel is going to do here. Let the hypewagon begin!

Shadowland--This could rock, or it could spin off into to many side stories. I wish it was a standalone mini like Doomwar. But without any Deadpool. Please, no Deadpool.

Spider-Man/Fantastic Four--Interesting concept, similar to the Secret Wars thingie from last year. I will give it a try.

Steve Rogers Super-Soldier--I like the new Steve.

Tails of The Pet Avengers: The Dogs of Summer--I hope it's fun, but not silly. But Baby Lockjaw... awwwwwww. I'd love a crossover with DC. I wanna see Niels vs. Streaky!

Vengeance of The Moon Knight--Between Secret Avengers and Shadowland, Moon Knight is hot again! I loved this character back in the day, but I am not up to speed on this "version" of Marc Spector. But it ties in to Secret Avengers so it's a good time to check it out.

X-Force--The best X-Over in years is almost done!    TOP PICK

X-Men--God I remember going through this back in, what, 1992 or something? I am interested in what is going to happen with the vampires. But really... vampires? At least it wasn't zombies...

Young Allies--Due to my love of Firestar, I will give this one more chance. ONE more chance.

 

Nothing much to grumble about this week. A new Rawhide Kid issue, but I've already said my peace on that one. Still irksome...

 

ChadDerdowski 7/7/2010 9:27:23 AM

We're definitely in agreement that it sucked, Lister.  I just thought the idea was kind of interesting.

Omarangel 7/7/2010 10:18:54 AM

The begining of all this mess was Geoff Johns fault, he was the genius who put all the pre crisis elements back in the story line ( new Krypton, Donner elements of the movie and so on) and this is the logical result.

DC should erease all this continuity and if not reboot, at least do something post crisis.

 

Graebeard 7/7/2010 10:45:14 AM

SUPERMAN: Crisis of Infinite Identities - the reboot!

spiderhero 7/7/2010 10:56:58 AM

Ok, I'm the odd man out. I enjoyed Superman 700. I also enjoyed the entire run of New Krypton. So there, hate me all you want. I think the grounded story will open the door for all kinds of stories. Who says an evil robot can't attack Superman in some town? And by the way: If that was how JMS had started his story, Superman fighting an evil robot, everyone would be complaining that we've seen him trash robots a million times before. I also suspect, that part of Superman reconnecting to his roots will be him reconnecting with the suporting characters we all know & love. There, I've said my piece.

GLCorpsMember 7/7/2010 12:59:59 PM

I'm totally going to be in the minority here but I'm looking forward to this story.  I don't think this is going to be Superman "walking around and moping".  There is a lot of talk in fan circles in recent years as to whether or not the character of Superman is relavent anymore.  I think what JMS is attempting to do here is to answer that question through creating a narrative that parallels that debate.  I think Superman walking the country trying to find his way back to his roots, trying to find out how he fits and what his place is in the world is a very interesting concept that parallels things that we as fans talk about frequently.  Is there a place for the Big Blue Boyscout?  I think this approach does that in a way that Superman punching his way through villian after villian in event after even can't do.  Yes, it will probably be slower paced but there will be plenty of time later for Superman slugfests. Some great Superman stories are slower paced.  Look at "Superman For All Seasons".  Just give it a shot.  It might be good storytelling.

The concept itself reminds me of Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow which was a comics milestone.  No slugfests, no supervillians, Just Hal and Ollie running around America in an attempt to reconnect with it.  I'm not saying this will be that but it's a bold move, an original concept and an interesting idea.  If you're not interested and don't have the attention span, cool.  But give it a chance before taking a crap all over it.

ChadDerdowski 7/7/2010 1:21:48 PM

spiderhero & GLCorpsMember - you both bring up great points. 

I spent a lot of time complaining in this piece, but I want to make something clear: I do think this story has a lot of potential.  My biggest concerns right now are (a) After not having Superman for so long, I'd like to see Superman.  Again, by "Superman" I mean "all the classic trappings" - if you're going to bring him back, bring him back.  And (b) it just feels gimmicky.  Like that point in time when DC seemed to give up all hope with the Man of Steel and just resorted to gimmick after gimmick and stunt after stunt.  Kill him, marry him, turn him blue, etc.  "Hey kids, write in and tell us why YOUR town should be featured!"   It feels like a headline grabber... not that there's anything wrong with that.  I just hope the story doesn't suffer because of it.

But I am a JMS fan and I will give him a shot.  GLCM, I like the comparisons to O'Neil & Adams' work on Green Lantern/Green Arrow and I'm hoping this could be a modern equivilent.  And spiderhero, you've got a great point about "If Superman was smashing a robot, people would complain that he's smashing another robot"

A lot of my venom is due to the terrible taste in my mouth that World of New Krypton left.  I was hoping for a traditional Superman written by Straczynski.  And who knows, maybe I'll stil get it?

GLCorpsMember 7/7/2010 2:11:25 PM

@Chad

While I agree with you 100% about New Krypton, I would challenge you to find any ongoing series that hasn't had bad runs.  70 years of character history dictates that there are going to be ups and downs but more than that, challenges to create new and inventive stories.  Historically, it could be said that the old tried and true method of fighting supervillians doesn't sell Superman titles.  Think about some of the best Superman stories you've ever read.  Are they the ones where Superman kicks the living hell out of the bad guy or are they the stories that reinforce who Kal-El is, why he does what he does, and how his ideals more than his physical strength are what make him the hero he is.  I would argue that the best Superman stories have been those contained in mini-series.  Birthright, For All Season, Peace on Earth, Red Son, etc.  Even All Star.  I concede that it's not too much to ask for both action and heart but given a choice, I'll take a Superman story with heart over action.  In fact, a story like this could be exactly the forum to show what a great hero he is.

And yeah, it may be a gimmick.  But I LOVE gimmicks!  If one has the patience to wait them out, they can add great and rich history to occasionally stagnating continuity.  Who would Batman be today if Jason Todd hadn't been killed?  That gimmick added a lot to Batman mythology.  What would Green Lantern be like today if they hadn't turned Hal into a bad guy?  I guarentee it woudn't be the excellent book it is today with a revitalized mythology that is so vast now than if they had just maintained the old tried and true we may never have gotten!  Superman's death may have been a gimmick but don't tell me you didn't have fun reading it and that event continues to inform that character.  I'm sure the same can be said for many Marvel characters as well.

Comic book fans don't do well with change and it's frustrating to me that there is so little room for people to be creative in the medium.  Fans corner creators into a corner by forcing them to adhere to 50 years of continuity, complain that a book is boring when they get too much of what they ask for, complain that a book sucks when it strays, rail against it when they attempt something new and most often (like JediBanner) they bail when things don't live up to their idealistic expectations.  It's like giving a guy a hammer, a box of nails and a couple 2x4's and telling him to build a skyscraper.

I'm sorry if I'm up on a soapbox but man, it's just day in and day out with comic book fans and as a reader myself, it's frustrating.

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