Wow, I can’t remember the last time a comic destroyed my enthusiasm for a new creator’s run as has Superman #700.
To be sure, this “anniversary” issue contains three stories, and the first two are okay. The first one seems to be the coda to James Robinson’s run on the book, which featured the Kryptonian city of Kandor, Superman leaving Earth to live with the Kryptonians when they settled on another world, and a war among the Kryptonians. I didn’t follow the story, and the notion of Superman leaving Earth like that made little sense to me. The story here features him returning and being reunited with Lois Lane (his wife, as you may recall), and it’s touching enough even though Supes’ reasons for leaving don’t really hold water.
The second story is a cute little Dan Jurgens tale of years past, when Dick Grayson was a teenaged Robin and wasn’t yet allowed to go out on missions by himself. He does, of course, and Superman has to bail him out – in more ways than one. I like tales like this one, done well, as this one is.
The third story is new writer J. Michael Straczynski’s first chapter of his ongoing Superman story, and Straczynski is pretty much being handed the keys to the kingdom: Superman will appear in Superman only, and Action Comics will focus on Lex Luthor. Considering the Man of Steel has commonly appeared in 2, 3, 4 or even more titles monthly for the last 20 years, this is a big deal.
Unfortunately, Straczynski’s comics writing has been pretty shaky (his run on Thor over at Marvel was terrible, and he never completed one of his better comics of recent years, The Twelve, also at Marvel), and this first chapter is pretty bad: Superman holds a press conference regarding his involvement with the Kryptonians, is confronted by a woman whose husband died because Superman was off on another world and had no chance to save him (even if he could), and is apparently wracked with guilt over his actions. After talking with Batman and The Flash, Superman lands… and walks away.
And yes, the title of the storyline is going to be “Grounded”.
And boy, what a stupid, stupid idea.
Many writers have tried to tackle the notion of Superman not being able to help everyone, not even being able to even try. 20 years ago, there was a great story when Superman was off-world (that’s right, this isn’t even the first time this has happened) about the Justice League going through all his Christmas mail at his mailbox, a touching story of holiday cheer yet also reminding us that Superman is still a man. And of course Kurt Busiek’s character Samaritan in Astro City is a Superman character who tries to help everyone, at the cost of living his own life. But the set-up for this story is contrived, and doesn’t resonate emotionally at all. Presumably Superman is “grounding” himself to gain a human perspective on the world, but come on, that’s just not something I can believe he’d do. Superman has bouts of shaken confidence, but he’s always had a strong sense of self, and comfort with his powers. This just doesn’t ring true.
I appreciate that Straczynski tries to explore aspects of characters in ways that haven’t been done before, but as far as established characters go, he seems to consistently misunderstand what it is what embodied and drives that character. When working with his own creations he actually does this quite well, but when playing in someone else’s sandbox, he comes up with unusually contrived set-ups and changes the character’s essence in some unbelievable way.
So this already looks like another disastrous superhero comic by Straczynski. He’s got about two issues to convince me that it’s something other than what it seems, or I’m out of here. And his track record in convincing me otherwise is not good.