Epic Fail: Superman Grounded

"You will believe a man can fly."

"It's a bird, it's a plane..."

Yeah. Not so much.

I know the Internet has done a good job of slamming the coffin shut on J. Michael Straczynski's new Superman storyline, in which the Man of Steel walks across America in order to connect with regular people, but I can't help myself. I want to add my nail to the job. Now, I think my good blog buddy Snell did an excellent job identifying what's wrong with the Superman #701, but as I read it, I found even more to object to. I won't cover the same exact ground, so here's what Snell had to say:
Superman sends a child to his death
Superman: Uncooperative smartass
Pruning the supporting cast out of the book
Superman damages city property and other crimes
A tin ear to racial politics
And on Hero Press: What's wrong with the media's representation?

You'd think that'd be all, but no... Here are a further 10 things that don't make any damn sense:

1. In Superman #700, Superman returns to Metropolis after an extended stay on New Krypton. It's obvious that he missed Lois, and while he can't promise never to leave again because of "the life", it doesn't seem right that he would take off again so soon to do some soul-searching. Never mind that he's escaping responsibilities like his JOB and his WIFE, which isn't like Superman, but it feels completely wrong in the timeline. No wonder he looks so sad.

2. The big shocker that he's been "disconnected" from the common man comes from a woman upset that he wasn't around to save a man from his brain tumor. Is this something Superman does A LOT? Surgery? In the Silver Age/All-Star universe, maybe. In the so-called real world, I don't think I'd let a superhero open my head up and shoot heat beams into it. JMS' arc isn't just a trip across America, it's a GUILT trip. Fun, eh?

3. Let's get down to some of the practicals of this "walk across America", keeping in mind that the whole point is to reconnect with the common man. Why does he walk at night?
Will he be walking down deserted highways too? I bet he will. How many common men and women are you bound to reconnect with on long stretches of road? Wouldn't it be better to spend a good part of your day in some new city, town or rural area, then return home to the wife at night? Like a tour with no overnights. Surely, there's a better way to schedule a trip like this when you've superspeed.

4. And about that reconnecting... Superman hasn't been so alien and aloof since the Eradicator took him over in the Last Son of Krypton storyline 20 years ago. He speaks in riddles. He makes sermons and walks away. He just hovers there and watches you. And he seems completely unable to relate to the common man. He's gone and become CREEPY.
5. So there's the bit where he tells the kid to give the drug dealers a message for him... Aside from Snell's points on this matter, there's another question I've been asking myself: Why doesn't he arrest them? He sets their crack house on fire and promises to return once a week to see if they're still operating. If they are, he burns them (and the evidence) down again. "They'll just start over somewhere else," he's told. That's ok, as long as it's not here, is his response. So instead of taking these guys in, you're allowing them to run free and terrorize some OTHER neighborhood? So now we have two victimized neighborhoods where we used to have only one. If they move to someone else's turf, we can expect a gang war, and nobody ever gets in the crossfire of that.

6. 701 also includes the worst "talking down from a ledge" scene ever. Snell has already talked about how wrong-headed this all is (keeping emergency services there, destroying city property, talking about people he thinks should be dead in a fair world, and allowing lots of bad stuff to go down while he hovers there - what if somebody has a brain tumor or something?!), but it also shows JMS' poor understanding of clinical depression. Superman tells her that if she can't possibly imagine another happy day in her life, to go right ahead and jump. She's suicidal. She's clearly distraught. She didn't go up there on a whim. Can she REALLY see another happy (not endurable, HAPPY) day in her future? It's my understanding that someone who is truly depressed is unable to see that happy day, and that's the point. You could counter that in all that time, she didn't jump, so it was all a big cry for attention. Maybe, but then Superman's a bit slow on the uptake if he stays with her all night and does nothing. Bring her down already. Take her with you as you help people. Give her a lesson in hope through deeds. But of course, that might be interesting.

7. Either way, the suggestion JMS makes that Superman would have let her fall if she had taken the leap is a measure of how little he understands the character's appeal.
Way to reconnect with those common cops!

8. How's he planning to pay for this trip? The one charming scene in the book is the one where he does odd jobs to pay for lunch because he doesn't have much money. So he just took off without thinking. Way to reconnect with the common man. Tip: Unlike most superheroes, we have money issues. It's like Clark suddenly forgot he was raised as a human being by human parents and has lived a human life with a job, and girl trouble and everything.

9. There's no actual reconnecting with people (if I even accept the thesis that he's disconnected from humanity, which I actually don't). He walks by a house, tells you what's wrong with your engine or your health, and moves on. "Gotta go! Lots more people to reconnect with! Sorry I can't stay and reconnect with you!" It's the equivalent of a hand-shaking tour, but won't remember a single face or name. It's a publicity stunt, a photo op, something Superman shouldn't have time for. If he REALLY wanted to connect with humanity, why not do so as Clark Kent? Why not go down to Bibbo's or work on his mother's farm for the summer? If he were doing it for himself, that could work, but he's obviously doing it for his IMAGE, and that's wrong.

10. It's also a publicity stunt in our world because it looks like a thinly veiled reason to bring Superman to YOUR town. It doesn't seem like the DC Universe's mythical cities are on the tour at all. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but it does take Superman out of the DCU. Then again, it's ok if this isn't the DCU, because this isn't Superman.


Tim Knight said...

That's the sound of me whooping and cheering from the peanut gallery.

Of course all these well made and logical points won't make a blind bit of difference.

Sadly the only way I can see this tragedy NOT being dragged out for the full, threatened 13 months is if enough readers drop this title like a hot potato and DC realise they have to step in and save it!

Siskoid said...

I've also added your review to the links, because you make strong points against the way the media is represented in the issue (which I didn't cover because I knew I'd read it elsewhere... on Hero Press).

Tim Knight said...

Thank you, I'm flattered that you'd consider my ranting and raving in the same company as your and Snell's more eloquent and erudite pieces.

I was just on a stream-of-consciousness "and another thing..." roll :D

Matthew Turnage said...

I am disappointed with this storyline as well. I thought it had potential when first announced, but the prologue in #700 did not give enough motivation for Superman and #701... well, that didn't read like Superman.

The most frustrating part is knowing it's going on for a year. A single issue story, or even a four or six parter, I think it wouldn't be too difficult to wait it out. But a full year? After the complaints about how the New Krypton story went too long (complaints which editor Matt Idelson agreed with)? I think DC is in big trouble with this one, which makes this long-time Superman fan very sad indeed.

snell said...

I just find it fascinating that DC has handed two of their biggest icons to JMS, when he's shown so little understanding of what the DC universe is all about, and these two characters in particular. Seriously, from #701, there's absolutely no indication he has actually read any Superman comic books.

Anonymous said...

You know what I'd read? Bizarro walking backwards across the country to reconnect with humanity.

If New Krypton didn't drive enough readers away, I'm sure the JMS story will.

- Mike Loughlin

Siskoid said...

You mean DISconnect. But yes, that would be awesome.

Lazarus Lupin said...

At the peril of being a reductionist I can slim it down even further: "SUPERMAN is not KUNG FU."

You, however, supply reason to where I only have madness!!!

Lazarus Lupin
Art and Review

Anonymous said...

Superman who doesn't fly: check. Now we just need him to ditch the costume, and he'll be ready to fight the giant spider.

I of course refer to this tale of someone else who doesn't get Superman:


JMS is fine if you can give him a comic that isn't in continuity or doesn't concern established characters. But put him on "Spider-Man" and he'll come up with spider totem nonsense; put him on "Fantastic Four" and he'll make Reed Richards a civic coward; put him on "Superman" and he'll remove almost everything Supermanly from the character.

Anonymous said...

And another thing. Sometime watch some episodes of the old George Reeves "Superman" show; there are a number of things George Reeves does well, but most importantly he makes Superman approachable. When you get right down to it, an omnipotent alien in a circus strongman costume should be the scariest thing you could ever encounter, and yet Reeves's Man of Steel is so down to earth that everybody -- from the oiliest gangster to the doofiest cub reporter -- feels like they can deal with him as just another guy. There are a number of reasons for that, but the main one is that the Reeves Superman didn't carry himself as out-of-the-ordinary; contrast with JMS, where Superman can't help but carry himself as aloof and elevated.

With the suicide scene, there is one obvious thing JMS could have done and it speaks to this point: Superman could have sat next to the lady, rather than float in front of her. On a variety of levels it would have said "I am with you, I am like you", whereas hovering just underscored the differences. Not that there weren't a dozen other things wrong with that sequence -- try telling someone in intense pain that there will be pain-free days someday and see how much difference it makes to them in that moment -- but even the body language of that scene speaks volumes about JMS's tone-deafness.

LiamKav said...

I know everyone connects with the version of Superheros that were around when they were young, but to me, Superman IS Clark Kent, human being, raised on Earth by loving family, who works as (and loves being) a reporter, who also tries to help people because he has superpowers.

As he once stated on the Lois & Clark TV show: "Superman is what I can do. Clark is who I am."

I can see Silver-Age Superman maybe being disconnected from humanity, because he spent every minute he wasn't getting turned into a lion talking about Krypton, crying about Krypton and visiting Krypton via time-travel. He thought of himself as an alien. Post-crisis Superman thinks of himself as a human, so this "disconnect from humanity" makes as much sense as if, say, Wally West felt disconnected from humanity.

Austin Gorton said...

I haven't read any of these issues yet, as most of my Superman reading has switched over to trades, but after reading this and the linked reviews, I doubt I'll even check it out in trade.

Unless it's just to marvel at the wrong-headedness of it some more.

At least it makes for great blog fodder, I suppose.

Siskoid said...

That's what I'm banking on.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Didn't Green lantern and Green Arrow already DO this?! It was stupid then ("I heard what ya done, Green Lantern, for the blue-skins, and all your triumphs for the purple-skins, and you did wonderful things with the Orange-skins... but what you ever done for the black-skins?" Maybe, I dunno... saved the EARTH WHERE THEY ALL LIVE, you jackass?)- and it's stupid now. Clark Kent has always been the most human of the superheroes- a down-to-Earth Kansas farm-boy more in touch with the best parts of humanity than anyone else... in large part ironic because he isn't human in biology- but he always has been in heart and mind. So this storyline... makes no sense!

Anonymous said...

So, a bunch of complaints that it wasn't written directly tying into the continuity of the crummy previous issues, it's like All-Star Superman (that's a bad thing?), he keeps walking even at night (um, yeah, do you stop driving at night?), he examines the common man but doesn't act like one of them (why should he?) and he doesn't permanently solve the problem of drug violence everywhere. Also it asks why he doesn't "arrest" people, which I wasn't aware Superman had the legal power to do, but whatever... I'm not even gonna keep going because you didn't point out any of the real problems with this not-very-good comic, like the dialogue and character arcing.

Siskoid said...

Strange that you didn't like it, and yet take me to task on why *I* didn't.

Continuity: It's NOT a stand-alone project like All-Star. It's the continuing story of Superman. And JMS obviously didn't bother to read what JUST happened in that story, or make his storyline a logical follow-through.

Walking at night: It doesn't make sense given Superman's goal, which is to reconnect to humanity. There would be no humans AROUND at certain hours, in certain areas. Superman would have done better flying to various areas around the country during the day and meeting people there. The walk was just silly.

Act like the common man: Because he's acted like the common man ALL HIS LIFE no matter what JMS says. He was raised on a farm in a small town, moved to the city, has a job, is in a mariage... And again, if the point AS STATED is to reconnect to humanity, why ALIENATE humanity with odd behavior?

Drug violence: I'm not asking him to stop the problem permanently. Did you actually read the post? My point is that he puts more people in danger through his solution. And I'm sorry, but superheroes make citizens' arrests ALL THE TIME. It's part of the genre.

The dialog and arc are terrible, yes, I just went in for some specifics, and specifics not mentioned in the other posts I linked to.


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