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Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Superman #710 Superman #710

Superman #710

Scheduled to arrive in stores: April 13, 2011

Cover date: June 2011

"Grounded" - Part Eight

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski & Chris Roberson
Penciller: Eddy Barrows & Travel Foreman
Inker: J.P. Mayer & John Dell

Reviewed by: Ralph Silver

Click to enlarge

Superman is now in Odgen, Utah. He is in the right place at the right time to save a woman from certain death as she accidentally walks into the path of a huge truck. He gives her a lift, and learns that she is Dr. Helen Phelps, archaeologist; and that she is working at an archaeological site 80 miles from Odgen. She explains that this site could be of important historical significance, but that they are in a legal conflict with Centum Industries, the company that wants to eject them and use the location as a radioactive waste site.

Superman's conversation with the archaeologist is interrupted when he sees a replica of his "S" shield reflected in the clouds, in a manner similar to the Bat-Signal. As such, it is no surprise when Superman follows the signal to its source, and comes face-to-face with Batman (Bruce Wayne). This is their first opportunity to talk since the recent return of Bruce Wayne as Batman. Bruce indicates that he tracked Superman down just to check in and see how Superman is doing.

As Superman discusses the conflict between the archaeologist and the corporate polluter, it reminds him of a time when Clark and Bruce first met and worked together. Superman and Batman begin to reminisce about their adventure years ago in Bhutran.

Their story goes back to the days before Clark had moved to Metropolis to begin his career as Superman. Clark was traveling the world in those days, helping people in secret. Bruce was traveling the world training for his upcoming Batman career. Clark and Bruce were each summoned to Bhutran by Terri Chung, who is Clark's old girlfriend and also the daughter of the Rhana Bhutran, the former leader of that country and Bruce's former teacher. We watch as young Clark and Bruce introduce themselves and learn a little bit about each other, not realizing they will be allies, partners, and close friends in the years ahead.

They learn that Terri's father is deceased, and that Terri is the new Rhana Bhutran; i.e., the new leader of Bhutran. Terri has summoned them both because of a threat to her country. An army is massed at their border. The opposing general believes that Terri and her countrymen know the secret way to Nanda Parbat, "a place of healing, of enlightenment, of answers". His army is poised to invade because they are determined to learn this secret.

We learn that this general is the immortal Vandal Savage, a man who started life as a caveman, and obtained his immortality from an explosion many thousands of years ago. Although immortal, Vandal Savage suffers from cancer that can never kill him, but causes him severe pain. Savage is trying to get to Nanda Parbat because he believes that monks located there can take away the pain caused by his cancer. He has recruited soldiers from the Chinese Red Army to do his dirty work. Terri wants to protect the gentle, peaceful inhabitants of Nanda Parbat from the vicious Vandal Savage.

Terri tells Clark and Bruce that she has kept their secrets, and they need to give each other that same courtesy. Later, she confirms to Clark that Bruce is sworn to secrecy about Clark's abilities.

When alone, Clark blocks the opposing army's only route into the mountains, piling up enormous boulders, which he handles like toys. Bruce makes plans to use fear as a psychological weapon against Savage's army. When Savage and his men attack, Clark and Bruce are ready. Clark uses his mighty strength to disable opposing tanks, although he uses restraint to keep from causing injury. Bruce uses sonic technology to herd a large colony of bats, which strikes fear in the attacking army. This disrupts the army, allowing Bruce to use his martial arts skills very effectively.

Being used to working in secret, Clark enjoys working out in the open for once, and acknowledges that this feels "right". Bruce is used to working solo, but sees the advantages of working with a partner. Working together, Clark and Bruce easily defeat the attackers and cause them to flee. Terri thanks her two allies. Clark and Bruce acknowledge their respect for each other, and then part company.

Back in the present, Batman explains that he came looking for Superman at Dick's urging, because earlier during Superman's walk across America, Dick observed behavior that he considered irrational and out of character. Batman realizes that the explanation is that Clark is grieving due to the loss of his Earth father and the destruction of New Krypton. They talk a bit about "Batman Incorporated" and Bruce's new approach to fighting crime, incorporating more teamwork, not just a solo crusade.

Bruce uses his PDA to purchase Mount Krowak, the site of the archaeological dig; thus ensuring that Dr. Helen Phelps can continue her research without interference from Centum Industries. We see a rare smile from Batman as he tells Superman about this.

Batman offers his friend some very encouraging words. He offers his help any time Superman needs to talk; and then the two friends go their separate ways.

5Story - 5: This is a very charming little story that really goes to the heart of the classic relationship between the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight. This comic was a pleasure to read!

Superman and Batman are the yin and yang of the DC Universe. As we know, Batman is characterized by darkness and stealth; defined by the tragic and violent loss of his parents, right in front of his eyes, during his youth. Superman is the light of hope, raised by two kind farmers who inculcated the core values of fairness, truth, and compassion. And yet despite their many differences, Superman and Batman are the best of friends. In many ways, their solid friendship is the central axis around which the entire DC Universe revolves.

So it is fitting that Straczynski and Roberson take time here to explore that relationship. In the flashback story set in Bhutran, we see Clark and Bruce meet for the first time and begin to bond. Working together, they quickly begin to respect each other; and ultimately pledge to honor each other's secrets.

I enjoyed their discussion about Justice. Clark asserts it is about leveling the playing field, so that nobody can take unfair advantage of others; while Bruce insists that Justice is about punishing evildoers and avenging crimes. Very revealing.

In the present, Batman admits that he came to talk to Superman due to Dick's concerns. I found it ironic that Dick was a bit nervous about confronting the "most powerful being on Earth" with allegations of irrational behavior. It is telling that Bruce had no such qualms; another sign of their very strong friendship. They are comfortable together. There is an openness when Bruce speaks to Clark, that I think Bruce reserves for only a very few people in his inner circle. When Batman tells Superman he has purchased the archaeological site and the mountain it is sitting on, and again when he puts his hand on Superman's shoulder and offers his support and encouragement, we see something that is kind of rare: a broad smile on Batman's face. I haven't seen that in a long while! I doubt there are too many people who Batman would trust enough to let them see him smile. Alfred is on that short list, but there may not be too many others.

Batman asserts that Superman is grieving. Ironically, this may bring the two of them even closer together, since grieving is what Batman understands so well; and for the moment, something else they have in common.

I really got a kick out of their discussion about healing. Flash told Superman last issue that the pain eventually gets better. Batman quickly corrects Superman, saying that Flash is wrong. It does not get better. But "You learn how to live with it. You learn how to draw strength from it." Interesting.

I found it curious that Superman still carries a JLA communicator even though he is currently not active in the Justice League. I guess that as a founding member, he gets to carry it whether he is active or not. Perhaps all reserve members get to keep them.

I liked the attention to continuity in this story. In the flashback, when Bruce mentions to Clark that their car broke down once in Smallville on a cross-country trip when he was a boy, this is of course a reference to the opening scene in Jeph Loeb's wonderful "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies" book. It was a nice touch to include this reference.

There are loose ends that were not addressed this issue. For the second issue in a row, we see no sign of Lisa Jennings, the schoolteacher who has been making trouble for Superman. When we last saw her in Superman #708, it was clear that she was going to attempt to further demoralize Superman. I am sure that we will see her soon; and that this issue will be resolved.

Also, Clark and Lois still are not talking. Obviously, she is angry for his bad behavior back in issue #707. This also is a conflict that begs for resolution. Hopefully, he can convince Lois that he was being controlled and was definitely not himself.

4Art - 4: I am a big fan of Barrows' artwork. He does a solid job here.

I liked the idea of a separate art team for the Bhutran story set in the past. The coloring is more subdued, which is a nice effect and sets a contrast between scenes in the present and those in the past. I enjoyed the splash where Clark lifts a tank over his head, and the next page showing Bruce swinging into battle amongst a colony of bats.

4Cover Art - 4: I really like this cover! We see large portraits of Superman and Batman in the upper portion of the cover, with the flashback story, Clark and Bruce in battle, portrayed in the lower portion. Vandal Savage looks on with a very sinister gaze. And of course, we have the intriguing message "Before Superman and Batman, there was Clark and Bruce". This cover is a very accurate representation of what you will find inside.

If the purpose of a cover is to lure in casual readers and entice them to purchase the book, I think this cover would certainly get the job done.

3Cover Art (Alternate Cover) - 3: Superman flies into the light as Batman crawls in the dark, surrounded by a colony of bats. This is a good cover, but somehow not as satisfying as the original.

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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