Thursday, 15 July 2010

Superman #701 review

Well, that wasn't a bad one-issue story. Superman aids the little guy. He diagnoses car trouble and heart problems. He helps a suicidal woman find hope and annoys drug dealers. He cleans a storeroom.

I'm down with that. For several years DC would devote a Christmas issue to Superman reading his fan mail and helping one or two people. For the rest of the calendar, he'd help all the people. The stories showed Superman hadn't lost touch with ordinary humans, it was simply that his amazing abilities demanded he look at the bigger picture.

So yes, I'm fine with the occasional issue of Superman dealing with smaller problems.

I'm not so sure I want a year of it, especially if it means more of the lectures we get in part one of 'Grounded' aka The Superest Hobo. Superman's ruminations on John Lennon and JFK, or Henry Thoreau and Gandhi, would have even Captain America reaching for the barf bag. The truth is, the guy who asks, 'shouldn't you be out saving the world or something?' has a point. Plenty of people can be mechanics, or doctors, or social workers. But there's only one Superman. There's nothing stopping him setting up a foundation, or youth clubs or whatever, to spread his inspirational message, but at base, he should be using his powers to help the biggest number of ordinary Joes he can.

What he shouldn't be doing is preaching to the ordinary guy, and making dismissive, facetious comments to reporters asking perfectly reasonable questions (click to enlarge). I don't like that Superman goes to a diner without enough cash for a meal - he's not just got off the boat, he's not the Queen of England. The scene makes him look stupid.

Is it really a great idea to ask a neighbourhood kid to pass on a message from him to ticked-off drug pushers? I'm all for people talking responsibility for their localities, but the lad is, what, all of eight? And is that a word balloon whose lettering has dropped off, or a wry comment? I know I'd be speechless.

I did smile at this line from writer J Michael Straczynski, telling us he's up for the challenge of entertaining sceptical readers. First, though, he has to convince us to stick around for the ride - sorry, walk. I'm giving this storyline three issues to grab me. So far, I'm not giddy at the prospect of a Superman who doesn't accept he's a hero with one breath, while telling people how to live their lives with the next. He may not be flying across the US, but his thoughts are still coming down from on high.

If ever a comic needed to end with a patented Geoff Johns 'coming up this year' spread, this is it. 'WHAT made the giant footprint in Boise, Indiana? WHO is kidnapping all the singing nuns in Nome, Alaska?' That sort of thing, because at the moment all I'm wondering is, 'WHO will Superman deliver a sermon to in Detroit, Michigan? and 'WHICH firehouse needs a lick of paint in Abilene, Texas?' I can imagine being more thrilled.

The artwork's sharp, with penciller Eddy Barrows and inker JP Mayer giving us a nice variety of character types and conjuring up a believable looking Philadelphia. Their Superman is dead on, but I'm already tired of seeing him striding down the street to, as he admits, no great purpose. I bet the artists would rather be drawing Kal-El bashing monsters.

John Cassaday provides a smart cover but does everyone have to look so miserable? Isn't Superman going to meet any happy folk? DC has a contest going in which North American readers can win a visit from Superman, but must they live in areas of gloom? And refreshing as the design is, there's a reason Superman's logo has survived for seven decades - I hope it's back next issue.

So, I'm open to being convinced, but if every issue is a variation on this opening chapter, for me, Superman's trip is going to run out of steam very quickly

10 comments:

  1. What's Lois, who's been without her man for quite some time, thinking about all this? And why isn't there a story in Superman walking around, Mr. Reporter who can't even tell us what he's eating, huh?

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  2. Lois seems bemused - there's no reference to Clark's just-ended, year-long absence. She shows up only long enough for him to tell her to tell Perry that Clark is covering the walk. So that would be another year of our hero claiming a wage to which he's really not entitled. Theft!

    You know the Martin who advises you to try things? He's not here today.

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  3. I think I liked it a bit more than you.

    But we both are on the same page; Grounded has to be more than this issue after issue.

    Still, it was better than I thought it would be.

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  4. The more I think about it, the more demeaning I find it as a reader. JMS essentially took two great single lines of dialogue and thought he could mash them up into a 12-issue story, sadly missing that the end result was carried out better forty years ago as Hal and Ollie's roadtrip.

    In Geoff Johns' Action run, he summarized all of Superman's self-awareness in one line: "Officer, you should know better. I'm for everyone."

    And in Grant Morrison's All Star treatment, he summarized all of Superman's hope for humanity in one line (also delivered to a suicidal jumper): "You're stronger than you think."

    In trying to inflate these moments into a story, he's created a supercilious and arrogant character who preaches a gospel of "everyone can't be born a hero," but then shows his true colors (almost resentfully) when challenged with Thoreau's line "The question is, what are you doing out there?"

    The result is a character more reminiscent of Waid's Plutonian from Irredeemable than Superman, and a story that is little more than a soapbox for the author to preach his observations on the human condition devoid of character and plot.

    If this goes on for more than a single issue, I'm deeply worried about this un.

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  5. I simply can't see what's wrong with asking small boys to deliver threats to drug dealers. That is, if they're not working down factory from dawn to dusk or serving on board ship as a powder monkey. Nought wrong with a little responsibility to make a beaten-up lil'boy out of a lil'boy.

    I mean, honestly. I've been staring at Superman 700 so long, trying to find something that isn't nasty to write about the JMS script, that the next one's come along & that's stupid too. At the very least, Supes should be getting sponsered if he's going to walk that far for that long; he could use it to pay for the hospital care of that kid he so sensibly set up.

    Vex, vex, vex. Vex Vufhor.

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  6. Chris, you're right, the 'Superman is for all' point has been made previously, recently and less pompously. I'm hoping that a fella as smart as JMS is going to pull a massive surprise out of his hat (comics such as this week's Brave & Bold keep the goodwill high). There must be some curves coming.

    Surely?

    Ah Colin, I hope you do get around to commenting on your blog, Too Busy Thinking About My Comics, available by clicking through your name, above). I know it'll be a great read. Hmm, that sounded like a plug.

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  7. I just can't get Tom Hank's Forrest Gump "voice over" out of my head when Supes talks. Kind of unnerving. Thanks, JMS.



    SuperGump: I'm not flying because I'm walking. Are you sure you're a reporter?"

    Reporter: Where are you going?

    SuperGump: That way.

    Reporter: And then?

    SuperGump: I'll know when I get there.

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  8. Ha, you can give me the dialogue, but it won't work, Gump ain't getting into my balding heid! I've not seen the film!

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  9. Movie? The trailer previews and spoofs were enough, I'd think.

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  10. It was a long time ago, and it's amazing what you can avoid if you try.

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