In the landmark Superman #700, the guy in the Big Red S decided to walk across America and reconnect with the average person. The first three issues of his year-long adventure prove a mixed journey.
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: Eddy Bararows, J.P. Mayer, et al.
701: The Man of Steel begins his journey in Philly, where he hangs in a local diner, confronts some drug dealers, counsels a potential suicide, and exchanges comic-book philosophy with a guy out walking his poodle.
702: We’re in Detroit next, but we’re also in the DC Universe, so things can’t stay street for long. While interacting with the average folk—shooting hoops and such—Supes encounters a group of aliens living quietly, in a suburban house, maybe off Woodward.
703: Superman: Over in Danville, Ohio (near Cleveland, his real birthplace), Superman has a conversation with the Batman, and then encounters traditional comic book threats: a radiation-affected potential demagogue who dislikes superheroes, and her pawn, a town drunk who has temporary superpowers.
As a bonus, we get a few teaser pages of Superman: Earth One. Yes, weeks after Superman: Secret Origin concluded, DC is bringing forth another Superman origin story, this one separate from mainstream continuity (if such a thing exists anymore). It looks good, but, uh, strangely familiar.
Issue #701 isn’t perfect, but it sets the kind of tone I expected for this story. We see a number of small interactions between the iconic fantasy character and average-seeming people in recognizable circumstances. We don’t really get a story, and Superman’s character seems really off in places, but I liked what Straczynski seemed to be setting up. The Man of Steel weighing in on a neighbourhood discussion? Eating a steak sandwich at the local diner and asking people about their concerns? Driving away the dealers without resorting to violence? Listening to a distraught woman? No, DC likely couldn’t give us a year of this and make it work, but I hoped that they might develop specific stories rooted in human experience. That promise still exists….
I have some issues with #703.
Firstly, the concept of Superman on a cross-country journey of discovery appealed to me. How does a gaudily-garbed godlike being interact with the common folk and their lives? Watchmen turned the superhero inside-out; a really good writer could have used this premise, could still use this premise, as a way of reconstructing it. Superman shows us that the mighty and the mortal can find common ground. I figured he’d encounter some typical comic-book villains and tropes, but I wanted the story to remain, well, grounded.
But #703 sets up a villain who will clearly manipulate events and the public’s responses artificially, and whom Straczynski clearly intends to reappear throughout the story.
The encounter with Batman in the same issues makes sense, until we realize that Bruce Wayne remains dead, and this is Dick Grayson behind the cowl and ears. He’s a very different character, and yet here, he acts like the Dark Knight and Superman’s trusted old friend. Dick isn’t quite either of those things.
Finally—I guess I should accept that they’ve powered up Superman yet again but, really, if he can repair several blocks of damage in a few seconds, why does the DC Universe resemble ours? Why don’t Superman and Green Lantern take a week off and end several of the world’s problems?
Story: 4/6. I address story concerns under “High” and “Low” points. Some allowances must be made, because we’re seeing a portion of a larger story arc.
Characterization: 3/6. Characterization meanders all over the place. Superman, at turns, sounds like a boy scout, a dark vigilante, and a 2am philosopher. Dick Grayson acts and sounds too much like Bruce Wayne.
The minor characters actually seem more consistent.
Emotional response: 3/6.
Flow 4/6. The first two issues under consideration move along nicely; 703 felt quite choppy, with elements tripping over each other.
Overall: 4/6. This could be so much more than it is.
In total, Superman #701-703 receives a score of 26/42.