[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.