Friday, December 9, 2011

Superman: Grounded vol. 1 (comics)

Writers: J. Michael Straczynski, G. Willow Wilson
Artists: Eddy Barrows, Leandro Oliveira
Collects: Material from Superman #700, Superman #701-706

God, I don't even know where to start with this. I have such conflicting feelings about this. On the one hand, this book is complete ass. On the other, it's fantastic in that it made me laugh. It's asstastic.

Look, we all know the story, right? It hit the mainstream news, for chrissakes. Superman takes a walk. Along the way he spouts half-assed philosophy and generally ignores legitimate questions about what the hell he's doing. I'm not sure that last part is on the back cover though.

As a Superman story - in regards to who Superman is, who the character has become, what he represents and how we understand him - this story is just so bad. Dude straight up hassles people, acts condescendingly and spouts the most cliched bullshit going. It's clear that the only villain here is the strawman Superman meets every issue to argue into submission. Well, that and the unbelievably blatant metaphors he comes across from time to time; I do not think a writer can lack any more subtlety than having actual aliens in the country illegally. He doesn't even play it for laughs, which might redeem the bit.

Even the way it starts off is patently moronic. A woman whose husband died from cancer slaps Superman for being off trying to stop a war between Earth and New Krypton instead of being there to cure her husbands cancer. Because, you know, dude should be focusing on the important stuff, right? A normal human being would shrug this moronic nonsense off, but Superman takes it to heart and decides the answer is to walk across the goddamn country.

There aren't enough words to describe how utterly dumb the premise is, much less how out of character this Superman feels.

Of course, it's possible that's the point and something is wrong with Superman. It's been hinted as much, though the rest of the internet takes that with the requisite skepticism. But to be fair to the book, there is just as many instances of Supermans loved ones expressing concern and all but outright saying he's acting goddamn weird. It could always be said that it's nothing more than JMS using a stand-in for readers or critics of the concept, but I'm not so sure. It seems a bit too... planned, I guess; like hints of something wrong to come into play down the line.

Unfortunately, this isn't one of those trades with creator interviews to shed light on the subject, so no one but the folks at DC knows for sure. Regardless, JMS is a better writer than this. I know he is. I don't know how this came out of the guy who wrote the book that got me mildly interested in Thor.

The other side of the coin is that because of the fact that Superman feels so wildly out of character the book is pretty hilarious. Superman is a complete dick to everyone in this book. The shining example that inspires humanity to be its best straight up holding a stalker by the ankle high in the air and demanding he never stalk a lady again is just plain funny. Not that the guy doesn't deserve it, but - and the story even points this out - that is a Batman tactic, not Superman.

He also burns drug stashes hidden in houses with his heat vision. In the middle of a neighborhood. Seemingly without thinking about either the smoke from the burning drugs or the fact that the houses could catch on fire and spread as, you know, fires are wont to do. Oh won't you be his neighbor?

It provides the kind of humor people built an entire website around. It's great, but not at all in the way they intended. If you don't derive humor from seeing Superman act like a prick - which I admittedly like in past books, but generally have no desire to see Superman books repeat - you'll probably be able to knock the score down three points lower than I gave it.

Of course, because it's JMS, whose every project seems besieged by crippling delays, there were fill-ins by a G. Willow Wilson. Not familiar with her work. She does well enough, considering her goal is to focus on supporting characters in order to kill time for JMS, who only did one more issue anyways before bailing to do a sequel to a more lucrative Superman graphic novel. These issues have almost nothing to do with Grounded, but considering Grounded isn't exactly the next great Superman epic I don't think anyone really cared about that.

Most of the artwork is done by Eddy Barrows, who actually manages to string together three consecutive issues this time. Considering he couldn't manage more than two in a row last time I read a project he was on, I'd say his workrate is improving. His work is much better here to boot. Doesn't save the book, but at least it's not ugly.

One last bit of hilarity: This trade has no cover quotes at all. Not all trades will carry them; material from more than five years back tend to lack them unless they're evergreen classics. But this story was given so much press it hit the news. When you've got a heavily hyped storyline you've gone out of your way to get in the public eye and come trade time you can't even muster a semi-positive quote to plaster on the hardcover, you've failed on so many levels.

The Score: 5 out of 10

As cripplingly bad as I expected? Not quite. It's just cripplingly stupid. If you get some jollies from Superdickery, give it a look. Otherwise, it's not really worth the time.

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