Superman: Grounded, Vol. 1 – Graphic Novel Review
TITLE: Superman: Grounded, Vol. 1
AUTHOR: J. Michael Stracynzki, G. Willow Wilson.
PENCILLER: Eddy Barrows, Amilcar Pinna. Cover by John Cassaday.
COLLECTS: Superman #700-706
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
RELEASED: August, 2, 2011
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
This is probably the most ambitious idea for a Superman story in recent memory, simply because it involves the character coming face-to-face with real life issues. To an extent, J. Michael Stracynski, Eddy Barrows and the rest of the creative team are taking what may be Superman’s most common critique, that he’s not relatable, and confronting it head on. I loved this concept when I first heard about it, and knew J. Michael Stracynski was just the man to execute it.
The story starts out strong, but unfortunately goes downhill, at least in my opinion. This book collects the part of the story that (mostly) doesn’t suck. It collects Superman #700-706. Superman #707 is okay, but #708-710 are filler issues (at least they seem that way) spent with Wonder Woman, The Flash and Batman. The story lost its focus, and that’s such a damn shame. Stracynski left Superman in the middle of his run to focus on other projects, including the vastly overrated Superman: Earth One. Thus, like so many other writers, he chose to go back and redo Superman’s origins instead of taking on the challenge of trying to advance the character as he exists today. Way to wuss out, JMS.
Still, the stuff Stracynski and Barrow give us in this book is pretty decent. As the story goes, in the aftermath of War of the Supermen, Superman decides to take a long walk across the United States to reacquaint himself with Earth, and the common man. Along the way he gets caught up in the lives of Americans who never have or will face an alien cyborg or a man with a Kryptonite heart. But somehow, their problems are equally daunting. Oh yeah, and there are a couple of big alien fights too. Meh…
Some of the stuff in this book seems like something you’d read in one of those single issues designed to preach against the dangers of something, usually gun control or drug abuse. Superman plays basketball with some local kids, and puts an abusive father in his place. It’s pretty well done, but it does have a certain cornball feel to it.
In contrast, the best moments in this book come when Superman is interacting with a terribly distressed woman who just lost her husband to cancer, and tried to get ahold of Superman to help him. Obviously, our hero was off-world at the time and could not. She directs her anger at the Man of Steel, and eventually she winds up on the ledge of a skyscraper threatening to jump. There’s also a nice little interlude issue done by G. Willow Wilson, in which Lois Lane ponders what life would be like if she’d had children. That’s the kind of content I wish we’d seen more of.
Here’s the thing: I wish this book, and this story altogether, had been more about Superman being presented with questions he doesn’t have the answer to, because there really ARE no answers, at least not answers you can find with x-ray vision.
For instance, there’s an issue where he meets an unemployed factory worker, and in the end he finds a way to help reopen the factory. That’s a nice ending, I suppose. But it was also a missed opportunity. Unemployment in this country is higher than it’s been in decades. What exactly is an ending like that supposed to say to a reader who’s been out of work for a year and is struggling to pay the bills? “Gee, your life would sure be better if you had a superhero on your side.” Superman is supposed to inspire us to endure, to push forward and keep living no matter what the world throws at us. That ending didn’t do that. On the other hand, the ending to the jumper story DID work, because (as I try to remain spoiler free) Superman solves it by talking to the woman as a PERSON, not a superhero.
DC tried to milk this story for publicity by having Superman walk through specific parts of the country, i.e. Chicago, Philadelphia, etc. But I almost wish this story had only been a few issues long, so that we could have stuck with the one or two GREAT points JMS had, and cut the ones with the aliens and the cheap superpower fixes. Bottom line: This story could have been really special. But it isn’t, and that sucks.
Front page image from craveonline.com. Superman basketball image from comicvine.com. Superman #702 cover from spanishsuperman.marianobayona.com.