Since I’m out of town, I didn’t pick up the books on my pull list this week. I did make it a point to stop into a comic shop to pick up Superman #701. Those of you who remember the “leaked” pages will probably wonder why I would do such a thing. Simply, there are moments when I prefer not to be the ignorant voice screaming in fear of things to come. Although wholly unimpressed by the bit in #700, I wanted to give the book and the character, if not Straczynski, a fair shake before continuing with the items like “Weep of the Week.”
The good: Loathe as I am to admit it, the book was paced well. For a book about nothing, there’s enough change that it keeps a steady movement. I won’t say it’s all interesting, but it never feels like it drags. Everything is little vignettes. This is probably the best way to tell a story where the hero just walks around interacting with people.
I don’t know if he gets the whole of Superman as a character, but in the win column for JMS is the fact that he gets what a hero should be. JMS gets the whole idea of a hero, not just the guys in capes and masks. We see this all through the interactions and the homilies that Superman delivers.
A positive point that will probably get lost in the mix by many reviews is the art. Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer bring a great deal to this book. With a style that’s an excellent combination of Jurgens/Rubenstein and Davis/Farmer, faces are clean and expressive; bodies are streamlined and realistic. Superman’s not a hulking Liefeldian mass of muscle, but he’s not George Reeves either. Also impressive is that so much here is done with color instead of inked lines. The definition on all faces could easily be over inked, instead much of it around the mouth and eyes is subtle shades of color change. So major kudos to colorist Rod Reis.
Lastly, it seems that JMS is shooting the bird to doubtful fans like myself. Or at the very least he’s aware that this concept is crazy and may not have legs. The reporters that are following Superman sound very much like snarky fans. A couple of times we see reporters saying things like, “This is nuts, you can’t make a story about a guy walking down a street…” Superman’s reply is always a milder version of, “Piss off. I’m doing this for me.” So JMS is committed to the idea firmly, and I can sort of respect the fact that he believes in the story he’s telling.
The bad: Yeah, he’s committed to the idea… for how long? DC has said in several places that Grounded is the story/ direction until at least 2012. Remembering the commitment JMS made to The Twelve and to Rising Stars before that, I’m going to go ahead and call shenanigans on that. Unfortunately, a story like this needs to be executed through to completion. It can’t suddenly end in St. Louis at issue #704 because interest is lost by the writer or editorial. So a big concern of mine is that we waste months with a never completed story idea. If you’ve got the balls to ground Superman in a crazy story, have the balls to see it through.
The ugly: It’s really ugly. For starters, I mentioned homilies, or sermons, above. It gets preachy. Real preachy. Whether he’s quoting Thoreau or expounding on why suicide is (almost) never an option, this is a book about Reverend Superman. Which brings us to ugly part two: how much more bludgeoning do we need of the idea that Superman is a messianic figure? This issue reads too much like one of the Gospels: Superman performs miracles, Superman delivers sermon on being good to each other, Superman roots out evil in a (sacred) place, Superman gives a parable to a disciple. Give they guy a beard, sandals, and a damn robe already.
Finally is the point that many people have already mentioned in general, but it also applies specifically within the issue. Grounded is noticeably derivative of previous works. I’ve made comments comparing it to Highway to Heaven and Touched by an Angel; many other folks are comparing it to the 3rd act of Forrest Gump where Forrest runs, and others mention the seminal O’Neil and Adams story: Hard Traveling Heroes. As an over arching story idea, this is true. Being derivative doesn’t stop there. It is also true of this individual issue. It plays like a list of Superman’s greatest moments connecting with people on a human level. From over confident thugs who don’t see how he can affect them to little moments with children, average blue collar stiffs, and the elderly, it’s all there. JMS even cribs blatantly from All Star Superman. Seriously?
In the final analysis, if #701 is an indication of how much it’s going to rip off other works, wake me when they nail him to a wooden L.
I wonder if he’ll wait the three days before rising.