Awhile back, I reviewed the start of Superman‘s “Grounded” story. I soon lost interest, as it really didn’t live up to expectations. However, as it has ended prematurely and become the final Superman adventure before the Great Reboot, and the last one with the original numbering, it seems that a concluding review may be in order.

Superman 704-714

Title: “Grounded”
Writers: J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Roberson
Artists: Eddy Bararows, J.P. Mayer, Jimal Igle, et al.
#704:
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artists: Leandro Oliveira, Walden Wong.
#706: G. Willow Wilson
Artist: Amilcar Pinna.
#712:
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artists: Rick Leonardi, Jonathan Sibal.

Premises:

Superman mopes across America trying to find himself.

#704: “The Road Not Taken”—Superman only briefly appears in the is “Interlude,” which features Lois Lane contemplating her role as the woman who shares Superman’s limelight.

#705: “Visitation Rights”—En route to Chicago, Superman deals with an abusive husband/father, while the arc’s secret villain makes a brief reappearance, haunting the Man of Steel’s psyche. Superman vs Social Problem has been done before, and here, it’s done to excess, with a parodically hyperbolic villain and PSA finale.

#706: “Breaking News”—In another Interlude (so soon?), the Daily Planet‘s staff deals with a potential Super-scandal, one made possible by the Internet and Photoshop and all those other scary developments.

#707: “Part Five”—Under the influence of the series villain, Superman becomes more morally ambiguous than ever, does some less than noble things, and alienates Lois. In the final panel, members of the Superman Squad materialize with Important News. This one at leaves gives us some direction, and its opening scenes show Superman engaging in actual superheroics. The first and second halves contrast what readers expect, and what the series has been giving us.

#708: “Part Six”—When a series experiences troubles, someone inevitably brings out the guest stars, and that’s what happens in the next three issues. In this one, the Man of Steel, still hounded by his secret villain, encounters Wonder Woman. We also take a sidetrip to the “Fortress of Solidarity” where we meet the Superman Squad, future heroes who look like the results of a Silver Age contest along the lines of, “Design and draw a NEW costume for Superman or Supergirl! Win a trip to Palisades Amusement Park! Finalists posted in issue #351!” Of course, they know what’s happening to Superman and, of course, they can’t tell him the full truth.

#709: “Part Seven”– We get a more typical Superman story here, with a guest appearance by the Flash, Silver Age-style Krytonian tech, and a hilarious bit of fan service.

#710: “Part Eight”—brings Batman—that’s Bruce Wayne—into the story, and represents a High Point. Yes, the premise is silly, as the heroes recall their first meeting, before either of them wore tights.

#711: “Part Nine”—in Las Vegas, Superman saves Jimmy Olsen again, battles Livewire, and we receive some clues regarding our mystery villain.

#712: “Lost Boy”– Somewhere between the still-unexplained decision to drop a completed issue involving a Muslim superhero and the public announcement of the Great Reboot, DC decided to pull a previously-unpublished 52 story unrelated to the current arc, one starring Krypto the Superdog. It’s well handled, but it makes a very strange filler at this point in time.

#713: “Part Eleven”—didjya notice that? There’s no “Part Ten.” With two issues to tie up everything, we’re deep in the story arc again. The Moper of Steel contacts Superboy and Supergirl and tells them he’s abandoning Superman and will continue, Smallville-like, to help people in secret. He advises they do likewise, and then encounters a Superman fan, a stand-in for the reader, with whom he spends most of the remaining pages debating.
He also rescues a rather ticked-looking kitty-cat from a tree.
In the final panels, our mystery villain goes very public. Could this be the End of Lois Lane???

#714: “Finale”—Considering they (well, Roberson, principally) had to pull a conclusion out of thin air, they didn’t do too poorly. It’s rushed and relies on an epilogue by a member of the Superman Squad, but it’s no worse than many past comic books. We get some kind of conclusion to the current incarnation of Superman.

We’ll see if the Man of the Twenty-first Century fares better or worse come September.

High Points

1. Perhaps alarmed by the critical reception of the early “Grounded” issues, the later issues go out of their way to present comix like they used to be. We have more-or-less stand-alone stories (albeit with references to the ongoing arc) in which people in garish outfits use their superpowers to help people, and then deliver Eagle Scout platitudes at the end. It’s hardly groundbreaking, but it’s remarkable this can still work at all, and some of these manage to be, you know, fun, in a naive kind of way.

There’s a guy in tights and a big red S on the cover. Seriously, shouldn’t this be fun, in a naive kind of way?

2. Quirky in-jokes can work well or fall flat. I applaud the creators of #709 for making this canon, however briefly.

3. Seriously, #712 may be the best Krypto story ever, an effectively handled tale that for unexplained reason, did not see print back when Busiek wrote it. However, it’s woefully out of place….

Low Points

1….Which brings us to the weirdness behind #712. Surely, DC should offer some kind of explanation.

In a story that was finished, even advertised on DC’s website, Superman finds himself in LA where the latest hero, the overtly Muslim Sharif, fights crime while dealing with anti-Islamic prejudice. Its abrupt cancellation led to a range of rumors.

Some claim that DC succumbed to anti-Islamic sentiment—even though Batman has recently trained a hero from that background, and other comics have addressed the anti-Islamic and anti-Arab feelings that have found fertile ground in the west. An even more bizarre story claimed DC nixed the tale because Superman rescued a cat—even though he does exactly that in #713, and the replacement story features a canine protagonist. Other sources say the story just didn’t fit with “Grounded,” despite the fact that the story arc has wandered all over the map, both literally and figuratively.1

2. The plague of this series has been its unfulfilled promise. Too many ideas that might have been handled thoughtfully without sacrificing story have been short-changed—and this began long before the announcement the series would be cut short. Superman could wonder about his purpose and influence, for example, without wandering out of character, without his doubts resulting from outside manipulation, and the consequences being so atypical we have to assume somebody unearthed some red kryptonite.

“Breaking News” represents a dramatic cheat of the stort too common in this series, and it shortchanges storytelling and dramatic effect. See the Scores for some additional thoughts.

The Scores

Originality: 2/6. The interludes had the most original potential, but they were a little too low-key and easily-resolved. “Breaking News” would have been a much better story a decade ago, when the technologies exploited were newer. It also would have been better if the photo of Lois and Supes had been real, as it certainly could have been. The conclusion amounts to a cheat.

Artwork: 5/6. I kind of like the motif of ordinary people in JLA swag. It simultaneously makes sense, in a world with actual superheroes, that the unlikeliest of people would wear these, yet it’s fun fan service. In the DCU, anyone might dress like a fanboy.

On another note, the DC Universe has a rather high percentage of ordinary people built like supermodels. Wong and Oliveira’s efforts in 704 makes them look more like realistic mannequins dressed by someone with a fondness for tight clothing.

Story: 3/6. Uneven, to say the least. Some of the later issues do much to improve the story, but the series on the whole suffers from failed potential and a rushed ending.

Characterization: 3/6. As uneven as the story—Superman is all over the map, character– wise, and it’s unclear how much of his results from the villain’s influence, and how much, by tragedies in his life. The later issues come closer to sounding like the familiar Man of Steel.

Best characterization: Krypto in #712.

Emotional response: 3/6.

Flow 3/6.

Overall: 4/6.

In total, Superman #704-714 receives a score of 23/42.

Note

1. Google the relevant terms and issue number, and you’ll find all of this, and more.