How do you not run out of new things to say about Superman? After all, the Man Of Steel has been with us since 1938. He has fought every sort of battle and always come out on top. Hell, even death didn’t kill him! Superman has become SO powerful and SO ingrained in our culture that we often take him for granted. Most of the collectors I know don’t even read Superman on a regular basis. He is just sort of…there like Mickey Mouse or Charlie Brown. Not forgotten but not relevant either.
That is about to change.
That is about to change.
Following the events depicted in the New Krypton and War of the Superman Story Arcs, J. Michael Straczynski is taking Superman in a whole new direction with his “Grounded” storyline that will be running through Superman #712.
Superman’s greatest “power” has always been his Humanity. Yes, he can leap tall buildings in a single bound, bend steel in his bare hands, change the course of Mighty Rivers…all that jazz. So can a lot of other spandex clad heroes. What sets Clark apart is how HUMAN he is. He really cares about people. He is not driven by trauma to do what he does like Batman…or even Spider-Man. Superman is and has always been driven by his love of people. He just wants to help.
Following the New Krypton storyline, “Grounded” (which kicked off in issue #700) depicts Superman's return to Earth after residing on New Krypton. Exiting a congressional hearing about the "Hundred Minute War," he is confronted with the notion that he has grown disconnected from everyday Americans he has been committed to watching over, and doesn't truly know what his adopted people are like anymore. Feeling a responsibility to his adopted homeland, and wanting to reconnect to his greatest power he begins a long journey where he will walk across the United States to reconnect with the everyday people he is committed to protecting.
Issue #701 hit the stands this week and Straczynski has composed a touching and insightful first chapter on Superman’s walk about. The Man of Steel starts his cross country trek in Philadelphia, moving from the suburbs through the city and out on the road again. Along the way he speaks to reporters, stops at a diner, runs off some local drug runners and shares some candy with a child. He then comes across a police line in the city. A young woman is going to jump from the ledge of a tall building and commit suicide. The police think Superman is going to just leap in and grab her. Instead, Clark simply listens to her. He talks with her and STAYS with her. He uses his greatest power and ultimately saves the girl in one of the single most touching panels you will see in a comic book for years. (Eddy Barrows artwork is both grand and poignant at the same time). Everything that Superman does in Philly would seem somehow…smaller than what he normally does. No bullets bounce off his chest, there are no great displays of his strength or invulnerability. What he does in this story is HELP people…in a very personal way. You can see he is emotionally effected by the girl’s hopelessness, delighted by a small child offering him candy, earnest when the locals tell him about the drug dealers who have set up shop across the street. He is flexing his truest power, his humanity.
Straczynski is, in effect, taking Superman back to his roots. Kal-El may have been born on Krypton but CLARK is of this earth. He was “born” and raised in Smallville and is as human as you and I. Superman is also uniquely American and it is fitting that his walk about is across the United States. Yes, Superman helps all people, everywhere but his core values are American. Truth, justice and The American Way are, after all, the Superman Mantra. He represents the best of what it is to be American.
Superman #701 is a wonderful read and I am anxiously waiting for the next chapter. I hope you all come along on Superman’s journey as well.
I should stop right here to strongly suggest that, if you haven’t already read the afore mentioned New Krypton and War Of The Supermen issues, that you do so as soon as you can. While not necessary for you to enjoy the current Straczynski arc, they were grand, epic, and some of the very best Superman books in the last twenty years. They are well worth your time and will provide perspective on Superman’s motivations in the Grounded storyline. However, even if you don’t go back to those issues “Grounded’ is a perfect jumping in point for new readers, so if you have not read Superman or if you have left the books, now is a great time to start!