Posted by: Graeme McMillan on January 13, 2011
From the very first page, you can tell that someone new is handling SUPERMAN #707. After more than half a year of a passive, dickish Man of Steel walking across America and coming across either standoffish and dick-like or curiously naive, the first page of the issue has Superman doing three “super” things – Stopping a bank robbery (with bullets bouncing off his chest!), saving a girl’s life (by stopping a train! With his bare hands!) and grabbing a falling helicopter. It’s as if new writer Chris Roberson thought, “People might need a reminder why Superman is awesome.”
The true fun starts on the next page, though; the inescapable point of Roberson’s first issue as “scripter” – Although Straczynski’s hand is evident in the “We’re real people in the middle of America and life is hard for us real people” interlude in the center of the issue, there’s enough in this issue that feels at odds with the rest of “Grounded” to feel as if Roberson is rethinking the story as a whole, instead of just writing dialogue for someone else’s plot – is that something is wrong with Superman. He says it himself, without realizing it, multiple times (“What good is the truth, Miss Lane, if it just causes suffering?” being the most telling, even moreso than “Everything used to be so clear. Truth. Justice. The American way. But now? Now, I’m not sure about anything” at the end of the issue), and it’s pointed out to him a couple of times, as well. We get a potential explanation as to why – mind control of some sort, courtesy the woman who’s been following him across the country – and a hint at a possible solution, courtesy of the guest stars on the final page (One of whom seems to be Super Obama, which makes me wonder if guest artist Allan Goldman misinterpreted some direction to draw the presidential Superman from Final Crisis #7), but that almost doesn’t matter: By saying “This is Superman when he’s broken,” Roberson immediately makes “Grounded” into a story that has much more potential than the one JMS seemed to be writing (If nothing else, it begs the questions, “How does he get ‘better’?” and “What does it mean for Superman to be ‘fixed’?”, both of which are more interesting than “Can Superman walk across the country?”).
It’s not enough that Roberson pulls the story – and the character, and the series – out of a nosedive in surprisingly short time, though; he also demonstrates though a couple of different techniques that he gets what’s been missing from the character in recent months, and it’s not just Superman saving the day – there’s a welcome… I don’t want to say “retro,” but a welcome use of thought balloons and shout-outs to some of Superman’s more obscure powers that suggests that Roberson is ready to bring some of the imagination back to the character, some level of the fantastic and, well, less grounded elements that make the character so worthwhile. There’s something genuinely endearing about reading Lois point out that Superman doesn’t actually need a cellphone without it coming across as too snarky.
The issue isn’t perfect – Roberson leans a little too heavily on the “something is wrong with Superman” thing with three fairly blatant teases in one issue for my taste, and Goldman’s art throughout is fairly lacklustre, like a blander Fernando Pasarin but without the acting chops – but it is solidly Good, and compared with what Superman has been suffering through for the last four installments of this story, feels like the franchise is finally back on the right track again. Now, let Superman get back to being Superman, bring on Chris Samnee as artist and you’ll have something ideal.