Superman: Grounded with some regret that writer J. Michael Straczynski won't truly be finishing this story in the next volume. The material Stracynzski covers here is not new, necessarily -- Superman saving a beaten child, talking down a suicide, inspiring an old man with his flying -- but that Stracyznski packs it all one right after another on this very "hard traveling heroes"-esque walking tour that Superman's taking, and especially right on the heels of the cosmic "New Krypton" storyline, is largely compelling.
As with Wonder Woman: Odyssey, however, the moment Straczynski hands the reigns to another writer, it shows. I fear what interesting things Straczynski was trying to say with Superman in Grounded could be too easily overshadowed by fill-in stories that really have no place here.
I give a lot of credit here to artist Eddy Barrows, and whomever decided to keep Barrows on this title between War of the Supermen and Superman: Grounded. I still feel Barrows's art is far too dark, with too-heavy lines -- see how much solid black there is on the splash page where Superman holds the crying jumper, and on the page after, and on the first page of the second full chapter -- but it shows Barrows's strength as an artist that he can draw both War of the Supermen's action sequences, Grounded's "talkie" moments, and also the truly gruesome "dream creature" in chapter four.
And by having Barrows draw Grounded, it makes Grounded and "New Krypton" seem all of a piece -- if everything were working right, "New Krypton" deserves a Superman-centric, Earth-bound epilogue like Grounded, though in the days of the Triangle Titles this might be one month of epilogue stories with some scattered follow-up (see, for instance, the aftermath of Superman: Our Worlds at War) and not a twelve-part story to be collected in two almost-$25 hardcovers.
I say "if everything were working right" because those of us inside the beltway know all of this appears to fit together much better than it actually does. Barrows's presence offers some continuity between War of the Supermen and Grounded, but in fact the two stories have entirely different creators, and Stracynzski's Grounded storyline only happens to coincide with "New Krypton," rather than organically emerging from it. Not to mention that with the next volume, Stracynzski chooses to step away from the Superman title given the DC Relaunch, leaving some fans understandably bitter and more significantly, not completing the thought he approaches through the beginning of this story.
For a reader who picks up Superman books at their local bookstore without ever once perusing the inside baseball on the internet (of which I think there are far more of them than there are of us), War of the Supermen and Grounded seem to work wonderfully well together, and the idealistic part of me clings to that even as the rest of me knows much better.
That's a pity, because what Stracynzski starts to say in Grounded is really rather interesting.
Grounded begins with a post-War of the Supermen press conference, at which a woman slaps Superman because he failed to cure her husband's cancer while Superman was off on New Krypton. The woman's accusation and expectation for Superman is ludicrous and everyone in the gathered crowd tells her so, but the fact that Superman's superheroic duties are indeed "more important" than the husband's life affects Superman deeply. What follows is a string of sequences in which the police, regular people, Superman's fellow superheroes, even his loved ones all offer Superman excuses for why his responsibilities are greater than to regular people, why he should care less, and Superman keeps returning to why he should care more -- and it's remarkable.
I very much like Stracynzski's characterization of Superman. Stracynzski's Superman is subversive, for one -- he sets fire to drug stashes hidden in private homes despite much talk about privacy rights and warrants; he threatens a stalker with bodily harm if the stalker keeps harassing his victim; he gives a little boy a phone number to call every day to be sure the boy's father isn't beating him; he even throws a basketball game to give a smaller teen a boost of self-esteem. This is a Superman assured of himself and his abilities, if not necessarily his place in the world; he deftly predicts the media will stop following him when they see there's nothing sensational to his walk across the country, and indeed they do. Stracynzski's Superman has a confidence that's immediately appealing.
Read Part 2 of our review of Superman: Grounded.