Monday, October 18, 2010

Superman #703 - Walking the Line of Awesome

It's been a lot easier to love Superman comics lately. Since the War of the Supermen arc, readers haven't had to have their heads in the deepest virginal recesses of the bitch known as deep space to connect with these stories. Before, DC seemed to be of the mind that those reading Superman would appreciate stories that were so out there and so overly Sci Fi that they could only come from a stoned Joss Whedon. Well that was fun for a while, but anyone who has ever taken too many shrooms knows the head can only stay in the clouds for so long until it detaches. So for the past few issues, DC is taking a different approach. They've made Superman walk the streets of normal, non-alien infested Earth on foot rather than flying over it like an oil tycoon on his private jet standing near a window waving his dick at the poor masses below. The stories haven't been quite as mind blowing, but they've been pretty damn awesome.

The whole essence of the Grounded arc is that Superman is being the hero he's always been, but he's doing the little things. He's helping people not by killing aliens or destroying giant robots or making Lex Luthor look like a bigger douche than he already is. He's helping them with problems that are actually believable, some of which people who are reading this comic may have themselves. It's a very different take on Superman and one that has really helped reconnect him with his humanity. But like the space arcs of War of the Superman, how long can that continue before a readers nanosecond attention span gets bored?

Superman #703 picks up where the last two issues left off with Superman continuing his stroll through middle America. This time the little things he's doing to help involve scaring the shit out of stalkers who don't take no for an answer. Now any feminist, waitress, or ex of a jealous boyfriend reading this should get a pussy boner at the mere presence. But Superman isn't exactly as nice as he's been in this case and there are those who notice that.

One who does notice is Batman, the one guy on the planet who has no superpowers but can stand on Superman's level without being intimidated or daunted. He takes Superman aside for a pep talk to voice his disapproval over this new "helping the little guy" act. Now arguing against what Superman is doing is like arguing against giving toys to orphans, but Batman does make a valid point. Superman is basically walking around average people and in doing so he may be able to relate to them better, but he'll also attract more attention from his enemies. And if those enemies attack him, how many innocent people would get caught in the crossfire? In essence Batman is trying to get Superman to realize what he's known for years. Heroes like them can't walk amongst the people and do the little things. Not without paying a very high price.

Despite Batman's valid concerns, Superman continues his journey. Although it's safe to assume the buzz has been killed faster than it would if his mother walked into his room while he was slamming the ham. If that weren't enough, Superman gets a call from Lois that a report just came in about how debris from New Krypton found their way to Earth. Seeing as how when pieces of old Krypton found their way to Earth, it ended up becoming Superman's ultimate weakness it would definitely be cause for concern. So now he has to become the flying hero again and find these piece. Unfortunately, someone else already has and it isn't Luthor or Darkseid who found them either. It's a few regular people and in some ways that's even more dangerous.

Superman now has to play detective like Batman. And like Batman, he enlists some help from the local authorities to help track down the stones. What he doesn't know is that those stones have already switched hands and the power within them found it's way to the town drunk. In that sense Superman should feel somewhat lucky it didn't reach the town rapist or his ass would be in worse shape than Krypton. That's because by touching these stones, these ordinary people now pack the heat Superman packs and have none of the conscious that he has. It's essentially like giving a pyromaniac the keys to nuclear weapons.

It gets worse. The town drunk armed with Superman's powers puts up the kind of fight that gives Lex Luthor wet dreams. He doesn't just match Superman's strength. He can fly like him as well. This adds several dimensions to this fight that Superman isn't prepared for. In a way it would be easier if this was someone like Luthor because Superman wouldn't be afraid to let loose on him. However, this isn't Luthor. This is a regular guy who just happened to come across his power. It doesn't make him evil. It just makes him a bigger asshole and that can be even more dangerous than a super-villain. Unlike big baddies, at least you know the kind of shit that comes out of assholes like Lex Luthor and Darkseid.

The fight escalates and leads to some heavy property damage that would give insurance companies heart attacks. Since Superman is the experienced fighter, he eventually does gain the upper hand. It also comes to no surprise that the powers the town drunk attained were only temporary. Eventually he goes back to being the whiney asshole drunk he's always been. Except now he's pleading ignorance. He claims he doesn't know why he attacked Superman. That comes off as pretty contrived given the man seemed pretty coherent when it all began. His goal was as simple to understand as any. With this power he felt his balls were now too big for his boxers and he wanted to test them against the Man of Steel. It doesn't even fall under the old "it seemed like a good idea at the time" or "and then we started drinking tequila" category.

After the fighting is over and the damage is done, the real story starts to unfold and it's a story that seems to prove Batman right. The destruction caused by the fight between Superman and the drunk really messed a few people up. This is another incident of those little things being the key to this arc. After a big fight between Superman or any hero and a bad guy, the story of the people caught in the crossfire is never told. The people whose streets, property, and businesses are damaged never get a chance to speak up. Here they make their voices heard on a news report. A man loses his wedding photos. A woman with failing health loses her house. It's the kind of aftermath that is so rarely covered in comics, but makes the story so much more compelling.

In the midst of it all there's this one woman, who happens to be the woman who found one of the shards of New Krypton from earlier, that chews out Superman as being completely responsible. Never mind the fact that it was the drunk who started it and the drunk who couldn't control himself. It was because Superman was walking around in these small towns like this that assholes like a superpowered drunk were drawn to him. As a result, people got caught in the crossfire. It's a profound statement and one that probably hits Superman harder than anything that drunk could have pulled off. Batman himself watches the news reports and isn't inclined to say "I told you so" even though this is an instance where he was proven right in a painfully obvious way.

The book ends with a profound statement. Superman has lost two worlds, old Krypton and New Krypton. He never had a chance to call those worlds home. He calls Earth his home, but after fights like this where his presence brings destruction and pain to those who will never be able to relate to him it would seem he's as much an alien there as he is to both Kryptons. It's not like it's his fault that his worlds keep blowing up. However, by whatever bad luck that follows him is it worth putting Earth in that kind of danger? It's a big question and one that strikes at the heart of what the Grounded arc is all about.

While the fight with the drunk was somewhat contrived, Batman's presence in this issue really gave it a new layer of complexity. This issue didn't just show Superman doing the little things. It showed how these little things had unintended consequences that even Superman can't see. People suffered because he was walking amongst them. Danger seems to follow him as it does with every superhero. The issue never shows his reaction to this, but it goes without saying that it would mess him up more than seeing Lex Luthor star in a gay porno with Zod. That lack of reaction is probably being saved for the next issue, but it not being present makes the issue seem somewhat incomplete even if it is awesome.

The past few issues of Superman have been a testament to his ability to deliver awesome longer than any other superhero. However, this issue was different and it had some shortcomings that the other issues didn't. The story didn't feel quite as coherent even if it was well-developed. The whole premise of a drunk fighting Superman with his powers is not a bad one, but it was underdeveloped here. Even so, Batman's presence and the promise of a new kind of conflict adds plenty of potential for this arc to keep it exciting.

So for the first time since I started reading the Superman comics again, I can't give Superman #703 a perfect score. I can come pretty close though. This issue gets a very respectable 4.5 out of 5. It has opened the door to new story potential, but not without stumbling a bit. It's still an awesome comic that acts as a testament to the Man of Steel. Any DC fan who isn't a complete douche-bag would be wise to at least consider this book for their collection. Superman is and always has been a standard for which all superhero comics are measured and issues like this show why.

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