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Look, Up In The Sky: Graeme On The First Post-JMS Superman

Graeme McMillan

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.

9 Responses to “ Look, Up In The Sky: Graeme On The First Post-JMS Superman ”

  1. I’m torn on this one – Roberson’s Superman/Batman continued the run of really fun stories that the books been having, so I’d like to see more of him on the character… but JMS’s Grounded left a really bad taste in my mouth*, and I just don’t want to read anything involved with that story – I just want it gone, forgotten, and never mentioned again.
    BUT, you’ve not steered me wrong yet, so I might take a shot.

    *It wasn’t just that I didn’t enjoy the direction, or a Superman who was utterly useless and showed readers the wrong way to deal with issues – you don’t dare a suicidal person to jump, and you don’t build someone’s confidence by cheating on their behalf – it was references from characters that if you don’t like it, ‘you just don’t get it’.
    I’d expect a respected journalist, not too mention a chap whose been (and lived) all over the world, to have better rhetoric than a teen who has just discovered that there are flaws in our society.

  2. I have made the first decision not to touch another Superman book for as long as the Grounded story line hasn’t officially been killed or run its course. So although I’m excited at the prospect of Roberson writing the book, I won’t be picking it up until he’s writing his own story for it.

    But your review gives me a little bit of hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully soon we can put this whole unfortunate JMS business behind us and pretend it never happened.

    Chris Samnee on Superman would be killer!

  3. A story that got name-checked a lot when Straczynski was starting up his run was Elliot S! Maggin and Curt Swan’s “Must There Be a Superman?” from the ’70s, the story in which Superman changes from an FDR Democrat to a Nixon Republican. He yells at some abused migrant workers to be more self-reliant and then flies off, unsure of whether he should be saving people anymore. What I never saw anyone mention was that Superman’s change in behavior was caused by the Guardians of the Universe literally kidnapping him and altering his brain. It might actually turn “Grounded” into something kind of interesting if the goal was to undo the Guardian’s CREEP brainwashing.

  4. Guardians’, not Guardian’s.

  5. couldn’t agree more. this issue was a vast improvement in the Grounded storyline.

  6. […] new writer Chris Roberson thought, ‘People might need a reminder why Superman is awesome’”: Savage Critic Graeme McMillan checks out the first post-JMS issue of the JMS-plotted Superman arc “Grounded,” and finds it […]

  7. I got it and it was alright – if it goes that the entire thing was mind manipulation, then it will be alright.
    Though I still shuddered anytime he started lecturing, or mentioned how he was trying to reconnect with people.

    Do we know how much JMS plotted this? I dropped Superman after #702 – so I can’t say for certain, but it feels like a right turn from the sorts of stories that had been going on.
    Can’t help but feel his name should be a little smaller on that title page.

  8. Wait a second–dickish, introspective, melancholy Superman revealed to be mind-controlled by aliens? Wasn’t that the same plot as the Wednesday Comics Superman story?

  9. Screw that. I’ve just been reading the Golden Age stories – the real ones – and I’m spoiled.

    If you want a Superman who doesn’t fly, he might as well be the Superman who masquerades as a migrant worker to bully a negligent mine owner into improving work conditions. Or the Superman who smashes up on an automaker’s inventory of deathtraps. Or the Superman who forces a warmongering arms dealer to enlist in the infantry, just to make him face the horror of his own products on the battlefield.

    My favorite, however, is the Superman who grifts some financial con artists with their own worthless paper and uses the money, along with some super-looted conquistador gold, to support an orphanage.

    People would scream bloody murder about Reds and Mao if Superman behaved now like he does in these beautifully American stories, when populist male wish fulfillment meant seeing justice done on fat cats and warmongers. The fun doesn’t stop, there’s never a boring panel, and at the end, you still like Superman. You like him a lot.

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