Superman #707 was released last week, the first chapter of 'Grounded' that is scripted by new writer Chris Roberson from a plot by J. Michael Straczynski.
I am trying to be patient with 'Grounded' and hope that Roberson might be able to improve this arc. So far I just haven't enjoyed 'Grounded'. Superman is portrayed in an almost negative light, condescending at times, aloof or apathetic elsewhere. And when there has been opportunity to use the title to talk about social issues within the country, it has been handled in such a heavy-handed way that it borders on unintentional parody. And I haven't even mentioned the 2 interlude issues which only delayed this story coming to a close.
I don't exactly know what Straczynski was thinking with this arc and I guess I'll never know since he has flown the coop. But that abandonment of the book gave Roberson the opportunity to right the ship. I don't know how much autonomy he has since he is working from JMS' notes. Unfortunately, this issue was the same old 'Grounded' for me; another issue where Superman comes off as 'wrong'. This isn't the Superman I grew up reading. This really isn't a Superman I want to be reading.
Eddy Barrows didn't pencil this issue. Allan Goldman steps in and does his best to channel Barrows style. But there are some missteps on art this issue as well.
The issue opens with Superman walking through Iowa and pitching in to foil some robberies and save some lives. Despite doing this, he seems mired in emotional fatigue, questioning who he is. He calls Lois on her cell phone (he says using the phone will further connect him to the plight of the common man) and vocalizes how he doesn't know who he is anymore. 'Truth, justice, and the American way' are just words. Is he doing any good at all? My guess is the policeman we see him shielding from gunfire and the girl he saves from being run over by a train would emphatically say 'yes'. This doesn't sound like the man that Ma and Pa raised to use his powers to inspire.
It is interesting to see the Iowan crowds around Superman. In a panel from his perspective, the townspeople see angry or suspicious. When we see the same scene from the citizens' viewpoint, they are smiling, pointing, and taking pictures of Superman. It is a subtle hint that perhaps all this angst is in Superman's mind ... maybe thrust there as mind control?
Perhaps the most glaring art faux pas in this issue is Goldman's portrayal of Lois. What exactly is she wearing here? This just doesn't look like anything Lois Lane would be caught dead in, especially when we learn she is doing hard-core investigative journalism, researching environmental infractions in a factory in Kansas. And never has Lois had such ... ahem ... pulchritude. It is so off-putting that she distracted me from the story every time she is seen.
Lois is standing outside the factory when chemical drums within explode. Superman springs into action, flying immediately to the facility, saving all the workers. After extinguishing the blaze, Superman realizes that the very structure of the plant has been compromised. He needs to prop the walls up and uses some steel rods from a local transport truck to do the job.
But again we see this rather cranky response to Superman by people. Here the truck driver call him Super-jerk.
Lois begins explaining the story to Superman. A worker from the plant has noticed multiple violations of environmental standards. This is an older factory which has passed inspection through a series of bribes. The smokestacks put pollutants in the air and chloride compounds are being dumped into the ground water nearby.
No matter who he talks to about the problem, the worker gets the run-around. The bribes stop local inspectors from blowing the whistle.
In fact, it is these same safety issues that lead to the recent explosion.
Lois thinks a high profile expose in the Daily Planet might lead to solutions.
The workers of the plant are nearby ... remember Superman just had to save them from dying in a chemical fire ... and begin to defend the plant.
Well ... they can't defend the lapses in their environmental safeguards. Instead, the workers talk about the economic crisis the town is facing, how the plant is the only place which continues to hire and pay, how without that paycheck these men can't continue their idyllic existence of Sunday's in the park.
So even if the chloride is killing plants and local wildlife, it isn't effecting human life. And does Superman really want to bankrupt a whole town and its citizens?
What would Superman say to this?
Well this Superman can't really make a decision instead commenting on how things aren't always black and white. This is gray.
Lois is rightly outraged. But ... ugh ... look at that Lois. It's ludicrous.
The truth is Superman would probably worry about the local plant and wildlife. But more importantly, there is more going on here that just leaky chemical drums. This place almost went up in a ball of fire just seconds ago. Its structure needed to be propped up with steel beams. Would Superman think a paycheck was worth endangering these people's lives to the point that it is worth sending them back into a sort of OSHA minefield?
Listening to this from afar is the possessed school teacher from a few issues back. When hearing Superman say that it isn't always easy to tell right from wrong, she smiles.
But Superman not telling right from wrong? That isn't Superman. Ever.
I have a theory about this woman and the direction of 'Grounded' but more about that at the end.
In the end, Superman demands that the plant get up to code and he is going to come back and check to make sure it is going to happen. But the plant can remain open. Superman won't blow the whistle about the infractions.
It seems a little naive. Certainly the fire will bring in other reporters besides Lois, other organizations besides the local crooked inspectors. Can he just sweep this all under the rug with a couple of sentences?
And wouldn't he at least try to bring those officials who took bribes to justice? Remember, their illegal actions led to the explosion that almost killed all these people. How can Superman just overlook that near loss of life? Somehow he does.
And what's worse, he demands that Lois kill the story.
When she refuses, he actually grabs her and emphatically repeats that she can't run it. It has a feeling of physical intimidation, doesn't it? Would Superman ever ever do that? Would Superman ever tell a reporter to hide the truth? Bury a story? Would he ever grab a reporter, let alone his wife, and demand that? It is perhaps the most unsettling, the most distasteful part of the issue. Superman doesn't do this. He doesn't.
And look at Lois, all cleavage and short shorts here.Ugh.
Fed up with Superman's actions, she storms off.
Not surprising, she refuses to answer his calls. Why should she? Why would she?
As he bemoans his inability to see the right path, he is interrupted by the Superman Squad, a group wearing S-shields and promising to help answer his questions. At least this is an interesting ending.
But this whole issue just read completely wrong to me. Completely .... wrong.
Superman is supposed to be the role model, supposed to be what everyone ... superhero or common person ... inspires to be like. I don't like this Superman.
Now maybe this whole thing is supposed to be some telepathic, some emotional warfare on Superman, breaking him down. Maybe I am supposed to not like this conflicted guy so that when he defeats whatever is doing this to him, whenever we see him regain his resolve, we'll be happy to have him back. But is painful to read this.
So if this is some attack on the Man of Steel, who is behind it? Well, this instability of Superman reminds me of the this storyline from the late 1990s where a villain named Dominus controls Superman, making him paranoid about his ability to safeguard the world. That Superman creates an army of super-robots to patrol the Earth 24/7 and sets himself as king of the world. Could this be Dominus again?
My theory is that the school teacher has been possessed by one of Zod's men in the Phantom Zone. Remember, War of the Supermen ended with all the Kryptonian soldiers being banished to the Zone. Could they all be so evil they deserve that fate? Or was there some 'gray' in their actions such that putting them in the Zone could be construed as 'wrong'. What if this story actually is a counterpoint to War of the Supermen? What if this is to teach Superman the lesson that putting 'innocent' Kryptonians in the Zone was the wrong thing to do?
Theories aside, it is getting more and more difficult to read this book. All I want is a true Superman book again. And 'Grounded' isn't it.
Overall grade: D