Part 2: Superman: Grounded Vol. 1 review

Friday, September 23, 2011

[This is part two of the Collected Editions review of Superman: Grounded. Read part one of our Superman: Grounded review at the link.]

For the DC Relaunch, Grant Morrison talks about creating a Bruce Springsteen-type Superman -- jeans, T-shirt, more hardscrabble and earthy than superheroic. J. Michael Stracynzski's Superman isn't wearing denim yet, but he is quoting Thoreau (at least anecdotally) and sticking up for the common man. When one person demands that Superman go be a hero rather than walking around, Superman turns the accusation around and demands the person go be a hero instead. What Stracynzski approaches by the end -- when Superman chides a police officer who believes only Superman could have saved the abused boy, whereas Superman says anyone with "ten cents' worth of compassion" could have done it -- is a kind of Superman grassroots movement, in which everyone acts enough like Superman to perhaps even erase the need for Superman altogether.

I'd like to have seen Stracynzski's original ending for Superman: Grounded and what kind of Superman stories he would have told in a post-Grounded world; and I'm curious to read Chris Roberson's Superman stories in the next volume and see how they coincide, or don't, with what Stracynzski started here.

As with Wonder Woman: Odyssey, however, I can't help but see Stracynzski's story as an argument for the DC Comics Relaunch. The danger and personal cost to Superman, as he lies in a comfy motel room in Illinois with Lois one night, is practically none, other than his own existential angst; and everyone from Batman to the Flash talk about how Superman's role is not to be among humanity, but above it. This is the twilight of the gods, essentially -- it's hard to see from inside it, but this the end of Superman's story. He's a universal hero, he's married, he visits with cousin Supergirl, he hangs out with the Justice League in their satellite above the Earth -- there is literally nothing else that can happen to this Superman. His enemies hang around, but essentially, he's won, world peace, game over. Maybe Grounded would have mitigated this somewhat if it had unfolded as intended, but the end result would have been the same -- so eager have we been to top what came before (Dead! Reborn! Married! Lex is President! Supergirl!) that we've moved all the way to the end, and there's nowhere to go except the beginning.

Grounded contains two fill-in issues by G. Willow Wilson, a well-regarded journalist and comic book writer -- which is to say, there's no suggestion here that Wilson "can't write," as the phrase goes, nor even that trying Wilson on a Superman comic was a bad idea. Wilson's two issues, however, are representative of what at times was wrong with the old DC Universe (if not the new one, too) and what DC should stop doing. Wilson's Perry White issue posits Perry as someone who doesn't know a blog from a "blob" and features Perry and Ron Troupe using dialogue like "shitake-storm" and "son-of-a-biscuit" -- basically, they're just not cool. Why DC thinks readers want to read about characters who are, for all intents and purposes, "lame," rather than a Perry White who handles a rumor-mongering rival himself rather than relying on an upstart kid to do so, I don't know -- unless it's because the lame Perry is easy, and familiar, like cliches are easy and familiar, and hence the need for a relaunch.

Wilson's Lois Lane story is probably also a cogent, if not necessarily groundbreaking, deconstruction of the superheroic damsel in distress -- but it's an entirely wrong portrayal of the same Lois who just took down her own father and exposed his role in the US government's plot to destroy New Krypton, and even the Lois who's been giving Superman advice on the Grounded trail. The center of Lois Lane's character is that she's confident about who she is and what she does, an even match for Superman; the answer to her question, via Wilson, of "where has busting my butt running from story to story really gotten me? What do I have to show for it?" is "numerous Pulitzers and national acclaim," to start. Here again, I can't conceive that DC really thinks its fanbase wants to read a story where Lois Lane considers being a housewife rather than Lois Lane (or that Batman, put another way, seriously considers life as a billionaire playboy might be better).

Wilson's stories just don't have a place in Grounded, and they bring it down; that same imaginary fan who picks up Grounded thinking this is the Superman saga, without knowing any of the background, would probably be confused by these issues where Superman's supporting cast essentially falls apart. It's just not acceptable any more for the internet to have to tell the bookstore reader, "Just ignore the two interludes here, they're not really a part of it" -- rather, every part of every story needs to be as good as every other.

Superman: Grounded has something of a bad reputation, but I think it comes from its parts, not its whole. There's no one really to blame for that, except maybe DC in general -- there's a worthy concept here, but in the run-up to the DC Relaunch, I think it got lost among other things.

[Contains original and variant covers]

Liked this past week's Secret Six review? Coming up next week, we continue our look at Gail Simone's Secret Six with Cats in the Cradle.
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4 comments:

  1. From the bit of JMS's work I've read (notably his run on Brave & The Bold), I've enjoyed his writing and his ideas often feel fairly fresh and interesting. And yet, it seems that he's drawn the ire of the comics Internet community. Maybe it's because he doesn't seem to finish what he starts (Wonder Woman, Superman, apparently he left Thor in the middle of a story...heck, even Brave & The Bold was delayed and delayed for months waiting on his next issue before they finally said "oh we're not doing that anymore"), but reading about JMS on the Internet would suggest that he's a terrible writer (at least, that's my perception of it). Yet, from my own experiences, and I think from yours (based on your reviews of Odyssey and Grounded), his stuff really is worth reading. Again, it's just too bad it never seems to get finished by him!

    I guess JMS is working on the next Superman: Earth One book? I wonder if he'll show up somewhere in The New 52? Maybe he's one of those writers that should stick with mini-series (Kevin Smith comes to mind there) rather than on regular monthlies.

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  2. I always thought Batman was the better example of a character who had no more story to tell, with him literally travelling through time and taking over the world in Batman Inc. and all, but now you mention it, Superman may have that problem too. Though it doesn't help that people seem to like rebooting his origins continually instead of coming up with new things for him to do. Hoping the reboot changes that, at least.

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  3. I don't know Stracynzski, never met him, probably couldn't pick him out in a crowd, and couldn't say what he's like as a person. My perception of him, however, is exactly as Mark says; I haven't read anything by Stracynzski that I haven't found thought-provoking or interesting, but yet his machinations within the industry and some things he's said in interviews (on Wonder Woman's new costume, "What woman doesn't accessorize?") have turned me off of him.

    It goes to one of the things I try to reach toward with my reviews -- acknowledge and consider all the various politics and issues that surround these various books, and then try to hone in on the story itself and discuss what a bookstore reader would encounter if they just picked the book off the shelf. The average person has no idea, for instance, whether The Art of Fielding's Chad Harbach (random top book on Amazon right now) likes or doesn't like his publisher or if the book was later coming than it was supposed to be -- it's just a book, on its own merits. So I'm trying to do some signal-to-noise separation in regards to Stracynzski and Grounded and Odyssey, to try to get down to the answer to "is it good?"

    @Anon, interesting thought that maybe it's Batman who's "over-told" and not Superman, and yet Batman's not being rebooted (much). Will be curious to see how far the current Bat-teams can take the character; when Morrison finishes the Batman, Inc. saga next year, what if anything will be next?

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  4. It's very interesting to read your take on 'Grounded', CE, given that in singles most of the reviews I came across were negative. I haven't read the story as yet myself, so I'll follow your series with interest to see if it holds up better as a completed storyline.

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