By: Mark Cormier
At least it’s over. That’s not exactly the sentiment I was hoping to get out of “Superman: Grounded”. This was supposed to be simply the latest Superman storyline after “New Krypton”. Now, with the reboot just a few weeks away, it has suddenly become a last-minute farewell to the current Superman incarnation (“Reign of Doomsday” notwithstanding.) That wasn’t my expectation out of this storyline, and I’m certain it wasn’t the intention of from the editors, either. With enough forethought, this could have been the “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” of our generation. Instead, what we have is a series of mediocre filler stories, followed by a last-minute swan song that fails to show this Superman any proper respect or consideration.
In the aftermath of “New Krypton”, Superman is confronted with the notion that he has grown disconnected from humanity. And so, he decides to channel his inner Forest Gump to take a long walk (emphasis on “walk”) across the United States in order to reacquaint himself with the people of Earth. At least, that’s what I’m assuming he’s doing, because he never actually bothers to explain to anyone what he’s doing or why he’s doing it, Even though everyone is asking him.
His travels take him to Philadelphia, Detroit, Ohio, Rushmark, Chicago, Des Moines, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Las Vegas, Oregon, and finally Seattle. Along the way, he meets regular Americans who have never fought mad scientists or alien warlords or Kryptonite-powered cyborgs, but whose problems are no less daunting.
It’s heart-warming to see him interacting with the common man. fixing people’s cars, cleaning restaurants, disbanding drug-dealers, etc. Most notably, he talks a suicidal woman out of jumping in Philadelphia, and he stops an abusive father in Chicago.
Okay, so maybe he’s not exactly changing the course of mighty rivers here. Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to see Superman doing good in even the little things, not necessarily by using his superhuman abilities, but by stepping up and doing what even every-day people should take the time to do: to show compassion and understanding. Superman best serves as an inspiration, by setting an example others can follow.
Most other times, however, it just doesn’t sit right. The sub-plot for “Grounded” revolves around Superman dealing with feelings of grief and depression in the wake of his father’s death (“Brainiac”) and the events of “New Krypton”. With everything he’s been through in the last two years, that would be totally understandable … except you can’t tell from looking at Superman himself. The way he’s drawn throughout most of the series is somber, stoic, and basically expressionless. In fact, the only real indication that Superman is depressed is from everyone telling him that he’s depressed. Maybe he’s just suffering in silence, but he hasn’t done anything to express his grief and move past it either.
At one point, Superman says the following: “Over there has to stand for itself, has to speak for itself. Because it’s only when over there becomes here that we can stop this once and for all. And from now on, my eye will be right here.” I have no idea how this dialogue got past the editors. It’s incoherent and nonsensical.
In Detroit, Superman comes across a group of aliens, who have moved to Earth and disguised themselves as aliens in order to escape oppression from their home world. Superman drops everything he’s doing, flies to their home world, deposes the ruthless tyrant, and frees its people.
Nah, I’m just kidding. He actually lectures them about illegal immigration.
This is just plain ridiculous. Superman himself is an immigrant. His creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were the sons of immigrants. Heck, he’s even been called the ultimate immigrant. He is the last person on the planet who should be lecturing them about illegal immigration. “I was a baby” and “my planet exploded” don’t exactly cut it as exceptions to the rule in this debate. This is a remarkably misguided issue for Superman to stand on a soap-box for, and it makes him look like a giant hypocrite.
In Ohio, we learn that artifacts from New Krypton have been falling to Earth. One of them temporarily bestows a drunkard with superhuman strength, and although Superman subdues him after a short fight, his actions are met with apprehension.
Right. Nobody said anything whenever Superman fought Bizarro, Brainiac, Darkseid, Doomsday, Lex Luthor, Lobo, Mongul, Metallo, Parasite, Solomon Grundy, Superboy-Prime, Ultraman or General Zod for the umpteen bazillionth time through the streets of Metropolis. But he defends himself against one local drunk in Ohio, and suddenly he’s a public menace.
In Des Moines, Superman saves a chemical plant from a fire. He learns that the plant is seriously below environmental standards, but that the community depends on it for jobs and income. Superman ultimately decides to leave the plant alone, and he actually threatens Lois not to publish the story. The moral grey area notwithstanding, this is an astonishing mischaracterization of Superman. I could blame it on the outside influence of the school teacher and her mysterious Kryptonian artifact, but I can’t really excuse the Man of Steel threatening and man-handling his own wife. Did the writers just write themselves into a corner and forgot what they were doing?
While we’re on the subject, the substitute teacher turned anti-Superman advocate Lisa Jennings who uses a Kryptonian artifact to acquire superpowers and manipulate Superman’s emotions makes for a poor super-villain. I’m not saying that Superman is only interesting when he punches things; I’m referring to the old adage that heroes are only as interesting as their villains. Lisa Jennings is a bland and uninteresting super-villain, and she’s dragging Superman along with her.
In Newberg, Oregon, Superman actually contemplates hanging up the cape for good. I’m not against the idea of displaying Superman in a moment of weakness, but this kind of vacillation from Superman is monumentally out of character. He is ultimately dissuaded from giving up the super-hero life by a fan of Superman, an obvious Gary Stu character that Chris Roberson uses as his own mouthpiece.
In Seattle, when Superman discovers that Lisa Jennings has been using a Kryptonian artifact to amplify his depression, he uses the power of hope and optimism to save the day. That’s not even a figure of speech, that’s literally what he does. He confiscates the Kryptonian artifact and thinks happy thoughts into it. Fourteen issues worth of this nonsense, and that’s how “Grounded” gets resolved? With a juvenile “Care Bears” conclusion?! I would have been happier if he had thrown a Cellophane “S” at it!!
The first half of “Grounded” was written by J. Michael Straczynski, who is actually one of my favourite writers. I was a huge fan of the Babylon 5 science fiction television show (1993-1998), and I greatly enjoyed his run on Marvel’s The Amazing Spider-Man (2000-2007). When I heard that he was going to write for Superman, not to mention that he professed to be a fan of the character. I was excited. Although the issues he was involved in were for the most part very well written, the pace of the storyline became repetitive and boring very fast.
In November 2010, Straczynski left the series halfway through to concentrate on the sequel to “Superman: Earth One”, leaving Chris Roberson to take over the second half of the arc. Like JMS, Roberson professed in interviews to be a fan of the character. I can cut him some slack for picking up the writing in the middle of a storyline already in progress. However, he dropped the ball on a few occasions by grossly mischaracterizing and misrepresenting the Man of Steel.
I liked some of the concepts he brought to the table, such as reintroducing the Superman Squad (proof that his legacy will live on into the future) and organizing the Supermen of America (either a ham-fisted Superman version of Batman Inc. or Superman’s move towards building a legacy that will live on into the future.) These are things I would have loved to explore further in future titles. It’s a shame that none of it will matter post-relaunch.
The question of “Must there be a Superman?” is a theme that many Superman writers like to explore, often with mixed results. The debate is brought up in different ways, sometimes with the notion that Superman is halting human progress by not allowing humanity to face adversity. In the case of “Grounded”, it’s the notion that Superman’s presence brings about escalation from similarly powered threats, an argument that is presented much more effectively when it applies to Batman.
Personally, I think that question is answered pretty much every time he thwarts Lex Luthor’s nefarious schemes, punches Darkseid in the face, or otherwise stops some alien warlord from enslaving humanity, or a giant robot from destroying Metropolis.
Overall Grade : 5/10