Synopsis: Top comics writer J. Michael Straczynski takes Superman on a journey across the U.S., originally presented in SUPERMAN #700-706.After the devastating events of WAR OF THE SUPERMEN, Superman looks to reconnect with the roots of his battle for Truth, Justice and the American Way. “Grounded” begins as Superman visits Philadelphia – on foot – then continues in a small town in Ohio where, as in many towns, a number of its residents are from other places. But when The Man of Steel discovers that there are also a number of residents secretly from other worlds, he unravels a mystery that may have grave consequences for Earth.
Superman: Grounded, vol. 1, by J. Michael Straczynski, Eddy Barrows and JP Mayer 7.0
‘Superman: Grounded’ is a 14-part story arc that was conceived by J. Michael Straczynski as a way to revisit the superhero’s roots. Unfortunately, Straczynski left the series midway to focus on the second part of ‘Superman: Earth One‘, leaving the work unfinished.
This book contains the prologue, the four volumes that he wrote, as well as two interludes.
I hate the set-up, the prologue, which left me dubious, but I love the overall concept: Superman, after having gone through a tumultuous time in the last year or so, starts to wonder if he’s out of touch with the average person. In an effort to reconnect with them, he decides to walk across the United States, giving him a chance to see it close up.
In his travels, he gets the chance to make a difference in everyday lives with simple gestures, by taking a stand, by mostly doing things that average people can do. Granted, he sometimes uses his powers, the more minor ones, but it’s all done in the service of the common folk, to better their lives.
This may seem mundane or even boring to some, but I loved that they took a guy who can “bench-press a planet” and brought him down to earth. I found Superman’s -and the book’s- ruminations thought-provoking: What is heroism? What is one’s duty to one’s community, to our neighbours?
I also adored that the book discusses an individual’s personal loss in making the choice of becoming a hero. Or how it’s always greener on the other side, how whichever choice we make will always bring about some sort of regret. What it says is that life is about making the right choice for us and owning it fully.
There was this awesome speech that being a hero is kind of like being a prisoner (although he humbly refuses the title of “hero”): it “is to live your life in a small cell whose bars are the principles and rules that define what you will and won’t accept”. I like that. And the quote from Henry David Thoreau (“What are YOU doing out THERE?”) was also quite appropriate and the perfect food for thought given the context. Nice touch for a “funny book”.
There was this moment that really moved me, for some reason. At one point, Superman passes a suicide jumper and decides to try to talk with her. He doesn’t use his powers to stop her – in fact he vows to her that he won’t. He just waited there in mid-air for hours on end until she was ready to talk. And he tried to listen to her. There was something touching about that, and about the way he made a connection and, thus, made a difference.
Obviously, DC Comics found ways for Superman to have a couple of fights in all of that – it wouldn’t be a superhero comic if there wasn’t some eye-catching violence, after all (!). I found this unfortunate, because it diluted the concept somewhat, but I guess it’s a necessary evil in what is mostly a visual medium.
What hurt the most, though, were the two so-called “Interludes”, which had very little bearing on the story and appeared as padding to me. Not only did they lack the emotional resonance of the rest of the piece, but the artwork was also handled by some of DC’s less stellar artists, giving those bits a cheapness that they didn’t deserve.
Because, ultimately, I would have liked this series of stories to be everything that Straczynski wanted it to be; I am a fan of his vision for this story arc. Watering it down or giving a half-effort doesn’t do it justice one bit. And Superman really does deserve the best. He is the best. Some may say that he’s too righteous for their taste, but I can’t get enough; I think that we need more heroic heroes, guiding lights.
He is, after all, called Superman. And it’s just because of his powers: it’s because he’s supposed to be representative of the best in all of us. Even grounded, we can soar to great heights if we choose to.