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Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Superman #702 Superman #702

Superman #702

Scheduled to arrive in stores: August 11, 2010

Cover date: October 2010

"Grounded" - Part Two

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Penciller: Eddy Barrows
Inker: J.P. Mayer

Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Click to enlarge

Superman walks through a neighborhood, and a man nods off on his porch and completely misses him.

Some kids playing basketball are bagging on one of their friends, Markey G. Superman arrives and starts to play without powers. Markey G gets a basket on Superman, and earns the approval of his friends.

Superman hears a vibration and approaches a seemingly normal looking man at his house. The man is revealed to be an alien, and when he leads Superman into the house a large, black creature attacks Superman.

Superman fights back, dismantling the creature. The aliens plead with Superman not to reveal them, given how hard their life is back home. They point out that he too was an alien. Superman points out that it's a bad time to immigrate illegally in the United States.

The alien points out that they're self-sufficient, and have enough gold to not make an impact on Earth. Superman asks them what they're giving back to their community. He decides to think for a while before making his decision.

Superman encounters an old shut down factory, and meets an elderly man who provides security. He describes the plant as it used to be, and asks to see Superman fly. Superman obliges, then as he's leaving, the man collapses. Superman takes him to the aliens, who heal him, and then he has them open up the factory again with the technology to kill two birds with one stone, employing all of the workers who were formerly at the plant.

Clark Kent, on assignment to cover Superman's walk, writes an article on the whole thing. Lois talks with Superman on the phone about this as he keeps walking, and in the background, Batman looms.

3Story - 3: I'm torn. I really am. I want to like this. Something in my brain is saying I should. And I certainly like elements of it. There are some choices I really agree with, others that just completely perplex me.

I tried to put my finger on what the beef is, and I kept coming up with problems with my own logic. "Well, it's a Superman story, where's x, y, and z?" But then, there are many good stories without x, y, and z. "Superman's just walking around!" Well, what's wrong with Superman walking around, provided it's interesting and he's in character?

As we weave further into the story, certain patterns emerge already.

The walking is getting repetitive, even after two issues. Superman sees archetype A, interacts, fixes problem, moves on. Once is neat. Twice is still neat. Six times or so is starting to get repetitive. It's gimmicky.

Sometimes those gimmicks work really well, likely because J. Mike is a good writer.

The gimmicks don't always work. Sometimes they fall really flat.

In this issue, the gimmick works once, fails once miserably, and one kind of meets itself in the middle. The basketball scene was like one of those scenes where some white guy walks up to a crew of black guys in the hood and is like "Yo, wazzup dogs!" and at first they give him an askance glance, but in the end, he's hip and playing basketball with them, and they've even learned a lesson from him. There's something really condescending in that most of the time (here there wasn't), but the marks of the trope wore on my interpretation of it. My big beef, and why it failed for me, was because it was see-through. First, he made that kid think he was better than he was, which means he'll get picked on all the harder next time he fails. Second, there's no way on Earth anyone will buy that someone can dunk on Superman, unless all of those men were clinically retarded.

The "illegal alien" concept showed some promise, and had a few good lines of metaphorical influence, but in the end the analogy wasn't a like analogy, whether for fear of being too on the nose and offended, or just because. I have no idea.

I love the concept of Superman dealing with the concept of illegal immigration, given the fact that he is, in fact, an illegal alien in the most literal sense. Smallville tried to cover this (poorly), and got really preachy. This issue covered it, and didn't bother to put any bite into the argument, settling instead for an unlike analogy.

The issue America faces today (no matter what your position) on illegal immigration (with the focus being on Mexicans coming north) is a complex issue, but there are some literal truths. People come to America to find asylum from a place they don't feel offers them the life they want, and barriers stand in their way in a legal sense, so sometimes they come without sanction. It's a hard dilemma. I know if I were living in Mexico in a poor position I'd do everything I could to get to America, and if the situation were reversed, I'd be trying to get to Mexico. Everyone wants safety and hope for their family.

This issue starts to broach that very American concept, then it backs off with a deus ex machine happy ending that does a disservice to the real problem. The reason it fails to be powerful, at least for me, is because they establish the illegal aliens as having tons of gold and means, intellectuals seeking political asylum, if you will. And then, for all of this talk against tyranny through force, Superman disagrees with them, so they attack him with a giant robot. There goes my sympathy. And hey, they get a pass because they have healing technology (with no real attention paid to the consequences of this technology in the broader DC universe, paying more heed to the thought that this series thusfar is insular).

Beyond that, instead of addressing the very real issue of immigration, Superman just shakes his head and says he's staying out of it. On one hand I can see that and understand that. Superman needs to remain politically neutral. But then I wonder, why broach the concept at all?

Interesting questions raised, no solutions given, so it meets itself halfway.

And finally, the success, the worker's story. While I don't like the aforementioned deus ex machina, Superman encountering and relating to the continuing diminishment of the working class factory stiff in America is something that pleased me greatly. It's one of those things you wish Superman would do something to fix, and granted, he does here, but I find it more intriguing that he engages and comes to understand this man and the life he's lost. That means a lot to me, and it rung very true.

Ultimately, the finger I put on why this isn't sitting well with me is not that it's a bad story. There are a few elements that I disagree with, but then, the alien story kept my intrigued, I am caring about what's happening, and it's evident thought has been put into the writing.

I think what turns me off in the end is the fact that this story isn't servicing the character. The character is servicing this story. This is America, featuring Superman, not Superman, featuring America. And while I love my country and its many interpretations and facets, and while I find Superman inextricably linked to these things, Superman doesn't need to walk America to understand it.

Superman IS America. He's the living embodiment of our philosophical pragmatism. All of these things he's encountering in this trip are not things he has yet to discover. They're things that with Superman are simply understood.

One helps the picked on kid. One tries to accommodate those that need help even if it taxes your land and resources. One stands up for people who work hard. This is not new information, and to see Superman discover it as if it's new kind of diminishes him for me, even if it is a nice slice of Americana.

I mean, we have Lois on one page, and random strangers for the rest, with no Daily Planet, nothing remotely related to any of the Superman we've come to know and love. That alone doesn't make a bad Superman story, but coupled with the obvious emphasis on the trip across America, maybe that's what I'm pointing at. Maybe that's what's not sitting well with me.

Well, that and the line "The hard part is surviving me." It implies he kills. Boo.

1Art - 1: Eddy Barrows has gone from irking me to out and out driving me nuts.

The basketballers look torn from Boyz N the Hood in 1992. The fight scene proportions make Liefeld look conservative about athletic contortions. Look at Superman's legs in the splash with the tech suit. Just look. That's one of the worst contorted impacts I've seen in years, second only to Zod's whip-kick (also by Barrows) in the whole War of the Supermen bit.

It's to the point where I'm almost about to do an article on the errors, they're so bad and worthy of looking at for sheer incredulity's sake.

Everyone has four million teeth, a rotatable 360 degree spine, Mr. Fantastic's stretching powers, and arms that can spread to the comparative stretch of an eagle. I suppose that's American too, but yeesh.

The tender scenes, with people interacting, are not so horrible, and I complement those, but my score remains where it is because of the absolute, terrible way I am completely yanked out of the narrative every time someone moves at faster than a snail's pace and stops talking.

2Cover Art - 2: I'm Superman! I have a flag.


2Cover Art (Alternate Cover) - 2: I'm Superman! I'm on a road.


And I have really long legs! And my giant face looks like Joaquim Phoenix. Well, before the beard.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

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