Saturday, May 19, 2012

Superman: Grounded vol. 2 (comics)

Writers: J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Roberson
Artists: Eddy Barrows
Collects: Superman #707-711, 713-714

It's impossible to tell how much of this was planned from the start. I'm not sure whether JMS was involved with any of these issues. I'm not even a hundred percent sure how I feel about these comics. But it's clear this is Robersons show now and that part two is a different animal.

The walk across America takes a backseat as Grounded limps to the finish. Roberson chooses to explain Supermans odd behavior last volume as a symptom of depression - over losing his father figure and New Krypton in short order - before telling a bunch of single issue stories in whatever locale won that contest DC did. The result is enjoyable, even if it's at the expense of a satisfying ending to the Grounded plot.

I simply did not expect Robersons writing style. It's old school all the way; he piles on the thought balloons, captions and outlandish concepts. It's clear he also loves him some Superman continuity; dude throws in a mention of Bluperman of all things. I got a kick out of the mention of the Superman from DC One Million. It seems like no one ever references - or uses, for that matter - the toys Morrison creates.

The downside is that some of the conflicts either don't work or come out of nowhere. There's one issue where Clark Kent renounces his Superman identity for all of ten minutes, but this is immediately following one that ended with a smiling Superman reaffirming his faith in Truth, Justice and the American way. Somehow he pulled a Shawn Michaels between issues and lost his smile in favor of a return to mopeyland.

It's one of many examples of how disjointed this collection feels, with each issue barely connecting, if at all. That extends to how this volume feels next to the last one; given the wildly different storytelling styles, there is no way you could comfortably read them one after the other. This is not really Robersons fault, but it's a clear indicator of the behind-the-scenes hijinks surrounding this story.

It's unfortunate that JMS bailed on DC, because a lot of these problems stem from it. They threw a fair amount of promotion - and even a contest - behind Grounded, so it wasn't like they could just up and abandon the whole thing. Meanwhile, it's pretty clear Roberson wanted to do his own thing, as he barely serviced the overall plot until it was down to the wire. I don't think anyone got what they wanted out of this mess.

Despite all that, Roberson manages a number of issues that are at least enjoyable; as opposed to the first volume, which could only be enjoyed ironically or in mocking. He clearly loves the character and that comes through in spades. His Superman feels authentic, especially compared to the one JMS gave us last volume.

The cherry on top is that Roberson knowingly slips in a "happily ever after" for the character, given that these are the final issues before Superman received a hard reboot for the New 52. Bonus points for doing it without having Mr. Mxyplkt kill everybody. Grounded is hardly a proper sendoff to a version of Superman we've followed for twenty five years, but in doing this Roberson at least gives us some closure. Not every book had the time or luxury before Flashpoint and the relaunch.

Oh, and Roberson actually has Superman doing things. You know, saving people and stopping disasters. The things JMS never bothered with; too busy writing Superman taking on the mighty strawman argument. That certainly counts for something

The Score: 6.5 out of 10

I can't comfortably score this higher. It's a step up from the tripe we got last time, but everything surrounding it is the proverbial albatross around its neck. Check it out if you want to see what Roberson could have done with him, but otherwise I recommend ignoring Grounded as a whole. It's a shame it will probably be Robersons only crack at the character, given his departure over DCs decision to do Before Watchmen.

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