Thursday, July 22, 2010
Superman #701 - Down To Earth Awesome
A month ago my love for Superman comics was kick started by the Giant Sized Superman #700 issue. This comic proved once again why Superman as a character has stood the test of time, taking on a pop culture status any other character would surrender a left testicle (or boob for the women) to have. What made it truly great was that it took Superman back down to Earth literally and figuratively. The whole War of the Supermen arc is over and the big guy needs to reconnect with his adoptive home. It made for some awesome scenes that brought tears to some and convulsions of joy to others. What made it special was that Superman was being humanized again and Superman #701 continued that story, doing a damn good job of it in the process.
In the last issue Superman had what alcoholics, meth heads, and porn addicts call a moment of clarity. He realized that he had strayed too far from the people he was trying to protect. He came to see them as Dick Cheny sees people, albeit with markedly less evil. They were all just dots on the ground while he soared high above like god among men (except gods aren't nearly as awesome). So in this issue he seeks to reconnect with the people and he does so by not just flying through the air to get to where he's going. He does something that seems wholly unnecessary for someone of his power...he walks.
That's right. He walks through the streets of South Philadelphia, a place painfully bland that consists mostly of working class people and insane Eagles fans. But he doesn't just walk for the hell of it. Along the way, he helps people like he always does and not in the old 'save-them-from-a-crazy-planetary-monster' sort of way. He helps them by doing the little things like helping a guy figure out what's wrong with his car. That's like Einstein helping a little girl with her long division. Needless to say this draws some attention.
Pretty soon reporters are following him like a drunken Mel Gibson giving a lecture on race relations. They're all understandably confused. Being the annoying media types they are they throw theories like red kryptonite or some sinister plot around. Superman has to really convince them that he's just taking a stroll, doing all the little things. That doesn't some some douche-bag reporters from calling him out. But really, can you blame them? I usually have no sympathy for the media whatsoever, but it's not their fault their so fucking clueless. Before they test the big man's patience, Lois shows up and she's just as confused. But she lets the guy do what he needs to do, making her by far the least annoying comic book wife in history.
Walking isn't the only painfully human activity Superman takes part in. Even big blue has to eat so he decides to stop at this tiny diner that looks like it hasn't seen anything exciting since Kennedy was shot. This probably ranks as much more memorable for much less nefarious reasons. What really makes this scene awesome is that Superman shows that even he's not immune to small human proclivities like being short on cash. Given the power this guy has in his fucking pinkie finger, he could just up and say "I saved this planet more times than you've jerked off. I think I deserve a free meal." But he doesn't. He insists on paying even when the owner says it's on the house. He's short on cash so he makes up for it by organizing their storage room...in the span of 14 microseconds. After a feat like that a philly cheese steak is the least they can do.
But it isn't just the little things Superman does in this book. He's still a crime fighter and anyone who has ever been to South Philly knows there are some criminals out there. So Superman just happens to pass by a neighborhood full of drug labs and this little kid comes up to him and says he's worried about it. Never one to say no to a kid, Superman is inclined to help. Then some punk comes up and gives a performance that makes him a shoe-in for the "dip-shit of the millennium" award. The guy comes up to Superman and goes on this big macho rant about how they're not moving and there's nothing he can do. Superman could have just as easily said "I can rip your penis off and throw it into the sun." Instead he goes for the more subtle approach, using his heat vision to ignite their drug stash from afar. It turns the punk from your typical thug to a whiney little bitch in the span of three seconds. This guy has been so emasculated his scrotum has probably collapsed into a miniature black hole.
So he's fixing fuel lines, cleaning storage rooms, and harassing drug dealers. Overall, it's pretty standard Superman stuff on a small scale. It's these little things that have really been missing from the Superman comics. It's why they are so hard to keep up with sometimes. You don't know shit about whatever crazy alien or metahuman plot they've got going on. You just know Superman is going to kick their ass and do it again a few issues later. This is very refreshing in that it takes what makes Superman awesome and scales it down. He just keeps on walking, still getting his share of strange looks. Most people probably think they're high or hung over. Some probably give up smoking pot before work for the rest of their lives. That's how mind-blowing this is for a guy like Superman.
But seeing as how this is a comic book it is bound by international law to have some sort of struggle. This is usually the point where some exotic new alien or some crazed super-villain come in and starts blowing the shit out of everything in sight, forcing Superman to give them some super bitch-slaps. They could have easily gone that route in this book, but they didn't. The big struggle that Superman faces here isn't a cosmic level threat. It's a distraught young woman standing on the roof of a building, threatening to commit suicide. All the superpowers in the world are rendered moot for something like this.
The woman threatening to jump is named Felicity. She lost her job, lost her mother, lost damn near everything and doesn't feel life is worth living anymore. She's basically a representative of anyone who graduated high school only to find out that the whole 'you can do anything you set your mind to' speech was bullshit and had a run in with that unavoidable universal force known as bad luck. At first the woman is pretty fucking hostile. She doesn't want Superman to save her. She doesn't want anybody to give that bullshit talk about how everything is going to be alright and you just need to step back. After hearing the 'be anything you set your mind to' affair the tolerance for that caliber of bullshit drops like the Nigerian stock market.
So Superman gives her his word he won't save her if she jumps. And because he's Superman, he's bound to keep it. He then gives the woman a long talk, saying how the world is unfair and the best anybody can do is try. At no point does he say everything's going to be alright because someone in that mindset will cry bullshit. It helps when it comes from the mouth of Superman so the woman does listen, but she doesn't do anything. Considering she was ready to jump, that's probably a good thing.
The standoff drags out. The woman stands her ground into the night and Superman never leaves her side. Only he can do so without coming off creepy as the guy who spends an hour cleaning the girls locker room. Eventually, his presence and his words get through to the woman. She finally makes her choice and decides not to jump. Superman is even nice enough to fly her back down to the ground. It's probably the least douchy thing you'll ever see a guy in a costume do in comics or in real life.
It's a touching moment and if it doesn't get you to feel just a little bit of emotion, you're either a sociopath or your off your meds. It's that kind of resolution that puts a smile on your face and very few comics do that now a days without showing boobs. What's just as remarkable is that Superman keeps walking even after this tumultuous affair. You get the sense he would struggle a lot less against another battle with Darkseid. But he made it through and he keeps on walking.
That doesn't stop him from encountering a few more douche-bags along the way. At the end one last guy comes up to him and basically calls him out for just walking when there is so much wrong with the world. If anybody in this book deserved to be given an inoperable tumor on the outer edges of their anus, this is it. But Superman shuts this asshole up by giving him a speech saying he doesn't see himself as a hero. He's just living life on a smaller scale again, doing the little things that he's negated. It's a perfect way to bring home the final message of this issue. Even though Superman is a big time hero, he has more humanity than pretty much anybody in comics or in real life for that matter (except for maybe Norman Borlaug). It's a great insight into the mind and heart of the most famous superhero of all time and caps off a nearly flawless issue.
Even though this issue wasn't giant sized like the last one, it still packed the same punch in terms of plot and emotional appeal. It was a wonderfully executed issue that really continued with the themes set up previously. For anybody looking to get back into Superman comics, now is the best possible time. There really isn't a whole lot of bad things to say about this. If anybody didn't like this issue for the way it was told or the message it conveyed, then congratulations. You're a grade-A douche-bag. The only criticisms I could probably point out was some weak art depictions and some confusion over how much time passes between certain scenes. That's really about it. Everything else was super for lack of a better word.
In all I cannot give Superman #701 anything less than a perfect 5 out of 5. This is a great comic that any comic fan should be able to enjoy on some levels. Compared to all the grim and gritty stories that dominate the market today, this is a truly refreshing issue and deserves nothing but the highest caliber awesome from here to Krypton. Nuff said.