Saturday, February 12, 2011

Superman #709 - Skewing Real and Fantasy Caliber Awesome

For the past few weeks I've been hung up on reviewing Marvel comics. Don't get pissed at me. It's not my fault they release all their good X-men shit in one week. I hope the fine, attractive, and non douche-bag readers of this blog don't take that to mean I've forgotten about DC books. I have been keeping up and I'm aware that DC is capable of churning out the same caliber awesome (and the occasional pile of shit) as well. Besides Brightest Day, the DC book that has captured my imagination in the way Tiger Woods captures porn stars is Superman. I know that Superman has been seen as uncool over the past few decades because he's not a drunken, murdering, mentally unstable, sociopath with a past so convoluted that it makes Lost look like an episode of Shit My Dad Says. Apparently a superhero that actually is heroic became a bad thing at one point. It's like being rich without being a douche-bag. Well there's a reason why Superman is the most iconic character in the history of comics. Heroic or not, he's part of some awesome stories.

Since the end of the War of the Supermen arc, DC has brought Superman down to Earth both literally and figuratively. For the last eight or so issues, Superman has basically been walking the cities and towns of America. He's not flying overhead and using his X-ray vision to spy on nude sunbathers at a Swedish Modeling school as I'm sure most male comic readers would. He's been reconnecting with the people he protects. It's led to some stories that don't involve the universe exploding or some supervillain throwing a hissy fit. Instead, these stories show Superman the man instead of Superman the superhero.

The last entry of this walk down the average Joe's block, he faced a moral crisis. He discovered that a chemical plant was taking a tip from BP to lax on it's safety protocols. This led to a disaster that wasn't quite as big as Chernobyl, but it did put Superman in an awkward position. It turns out his wife, the ever unlucky Lois Lane, was trying to do a report to expose these shenanigans. In doing so she would cost everyone who worked at that plant their job and their livelihood. Now most men who value their penis and balls being attached to their bodies would have sided with their wife. However, Superman did an about face. He sided with the workers and most likely earned himself a trip to the couch of solitude for the foreseeable future.

This scuffle with his wife put Superman into a world of doubt. All the while he's not aware that some crazy woman who was exposed to some crystals (a product of the War of the Supermen arc) is toying with him. While he's sulking at how he may never see Lois naked again, Superman gets some unexpected visitors. In DC that usually means a crazy message from the future and this time is no exception. A bunch of kids who look like high schoolers going to a Halloween party show up and say they understand the crisis he's going through and they can help. They urge him to step through a portal, which is the DC equivalent a windowless van from a middle-aged unmarried man with a history of seeing unicorns in his dreams. But Superman being in a vulnerable state decides to go with him. They didn't even have to offer him the proverbial candy, which in and of itself may be more disturbing.

The portal doesn't just lead to the future. It leads to a place called the Fortress of Solidarity. Now it may sound like a cute euphemism from North Korea, but it has a purpose. Whereas the Fortress of Solitude is where Supermen go to be alone, the Fortress of Solidarity is where they got to be together. Who is they you ask? Well apparently in the future Superman no longer holds the copyright to the big red S. Countless others have taken up his mantle. How they do this isn't clear, but if nothing else it's a hell of a fan club.

Even Superman can't help but be impressed. While he's picking his jaw up off the floor, the crazy kids who brought him there introduce themselves as the Superman Squad. They probably use a cute euphemism like S2, but that's assuming the future doesn't have lower standards of awesome. Superman isn't completely oblivious though. He recalls a message from another future (try to keep up, time in comics is more flexible than Snooki on a vodka bender) that tells of a band of Superman from various eras that ban together to protect the time stream. So they're like the bouncers that wrestle Snooki from trying to ingest a shot of tequila, aftershave, and battery acid. To accomplish this task, there are a wide variety of Superman. There's a Superman/Batman, a Superman with a mullet, and even a monkey Superman or Supermonkey if you will. I'm not shitting you.

It's at this point the whole "Grounded" idea seems to have fallen to the wayside. For readers just joining the Superman series, it'll fly over their heads or they'll think they got some bad weed. Now the Grounded arc has had it's share of aliens and physics-defying plots that would make Stephen Hawkings stand up in outrage. But this pushes it a little further and maybe a few feet over the ledge. There is still some real, down-to-Earth style dialog that saves the scene.

Superman gets a refresher course in the events of War of the Supermen and how it affected him. He also got a reminder of how he suffered a Superman style breakdown, which is equivalent to an Asian school-girl with an overbearing Tiger Mom getting a B- on her report card multiplied by 1000. Somehow Superman being really bummed out about losing New Krypton would fuck everything up. He starts doubting the whole truth, justice, and American way bullshit that republicans use in their campaign slogans. The Superman Squad gather together to offer some encouragement, Good Will Hunting style. They tell him it's not his fault and that traveling America would reconnect him with his values and determine whether the world really needs a Superman. It seems like a dumb question like "Do I really need a penis?" Well I guess when you're bummed, you question everything.

So after that complete deviation from the concept of "Grounded" the Superman Squad send Superman back to his own time. Maybe as a joke, they transport him back to Lincoln, Nebraska. If that weren't bad enough, he gets transported there in the middle of a storm. Seeing as how the Midwest has been more ravaged than Japanese school girl in anime porn by storms recently, it seems quite appropriate. Superman is still in a doubting mode, flying over the city and seeing only the trivial shit that doesn't require a man who can bench press the Statue of Liberty. Then he sees a bus full of kids fly off a bridge and that helps do a way with any doubts.

Superman saves the kids and they're naturally ecstatic, probably because they've been spared a hospital bill and years of therapy. That's all well and good for the kids, but then Superman faces another dilemma. He sees in the distance that a tornado has formed and is looking to use the town as it's personal toothpick. He also sees the city getting flooded Katrina style complete with people standing atop cars begging for help. If he helps the people, he's screwed because the tornado will fuck them up. If he stops the tornado, those people are screwed. The man is Superman and even he can't get a break.

That's when he gets some help from yet another guest star in this series. A few issues ago it was Batman who showed up. This time it's Wonder Woman, complete in her new costume that has had fanboys outrage in between masturbation sessions. Somehow Wonder Woman wearing skin-tight black pants is controversial. I don't get it either, but she appears to be having a crisis of faith herself and offers to help Superman. So while she helps the people, he flies off to stop the tornado before it does to the city what Michael Bay does to cars in his movies.

It seems like a solid enough plan. Wonder Woman plays the role of rescuer while Superman plays the role of Tornado killer. It seems only logical that people would want to be rescued by a beautiful woman in skin-tight black pants. However, there is a hiccup along the way. Remember that crazy stalker woman that got a touch of superman power a few issues ago? Well she's still stalking the big man and Wonder Woman is like that bush that's blocking the view of a hot cheerleader's bedroom. She wanted to see Superman make an impossible moral choice. Because of Wonder Woman he didn't have to and she shows her appreciation by giving her the Ben Rothelsburger treatment minus the booze.

Now you would expect this to be a great time for DC to unleash a hot girl-on-girl fight. Some fans might already have their dick in their hands while reading it. But sadly, it never develops. The crazy stalker woman reminds Wonder Woman that she's a hero. So rather than stick around and beat the shit out of the person who is actually responsible for this crisis, she has to go save lives. It's devious, but still disappointing. Fanboys by this point should put the baby oil away and save it for the next issue of Power Girl.

Superman returns after stopping to tornado to find that Wonder Woman did her part, forgoing her usual inclination to beat the shit out of anyone who opposes her. She reveals she's been on her own personal quest only hers involves more violence and fighting, which may be her way of saying she's more awesome in addition to having boobs. But she gives Superman a nice pep talk, telling him how he really inspires her. She was trained to be a warrior. All of her sisters were trained like that. Superman shows that being a warrior and a hero are two very different things. It's a nice compliment from Wonder Woman. And any time a beautiful woman in skin-tight pants compliments you, you no longer have an excuse to be depressed.

It's a nice moment. It seems like it would go a ways to helping Superman get out of this funk he's in. What isn't clear is why he needed a message from the future to be involved in this. Wouldn't he have helped out in a disaster like this either way? It's not like he's so depressed that he's shying away from his duties. He's been doing it all throughout the Grounded arc. So it seems as though that trip to the future was nothing more than an overpriced bit of encouragement that he may or may not have needed. At least the ordeal ends with an ominous hint of new conflict. That woman that Wonder Woman clashed with earlier is still stalking Superman. She didn't get a chance to test him this time. Like any determined woman trying to fuck up a man, she'll find other chances. It's not the most ominous cliff-hanger from a Superman comic, but it's enough to make you want to pick up the next issue.

Since the beginning of the Grounded arc, I've had a lot of good things to say about it. I've got nothing against stories that involve aliens blowing shit up and Superman punching Lex Luthor so hard that his brains leak out of his toes, but Grounded has been very refreshing. It's been a very personal story for Superman as he deals with the aftermath of War of the Superman. For the most part, the stories have been awesome in how they showed Superman coping with this process. It's been about the little things, making just as big a crisis over a disagreement with his wife as he does saving the universe from Darkseid. It's walking a fine line, playing with moral ambiguity when Superman is one of the only characters who never plays that game. Yet in this issue, someone done tripped and fell over that line before even trying to walk it.

I'm not going to say that the whole visit from the Superman Squad was overdone, but it was about as modest as Lady Gaga's dress sense. As I said earlier, it's not really clear what good it did. They could have left Superman alone and he probably would have found his way to the disaster in Nebraska. Not much seems to have changed as a result of their intervention. All they really did is remind Superman why he's so depressed and that he needs to keep doing what he's doing to get over it. It really feels unnecessary. It's like driving a tank through a toll booth. It's completely unnecessary and pretty contrived.

Also, this issue didn't address any of the events in the previous issue either. Lois never even came up in a thought bubble. That was such a powerful moment in the last issue and for this one it's just up and forgotten. To this point the transitions have been fairly smooth so this came as a let-down. It was a powerful emotional moment with Superman and Lois. To not even mention it seems like an oversight that even the Egyptian government would scorn at.

There was still plenty of great material in this book. Wonder Woman's presence was a nice touch. She kicked ass and looked hot doing it like she always did. There wasn't a great deal of action aside from rescue operations, but that's been a theme for most of the Grounded arc. The chat between Superman and Wonder Woman was nice, but had some of the same problems as the chat with the Superhero Squad. It was good in spirit and light on details. While the end was enough to make the next issue worth picking up, this issue still has a fair share of weaknesses. That's why I give Superman #709 a 3.5 out of 5. I still love the Grounded arc, but it needs to stay...well, grounded for it to be awesome in it's own right. Nuff said!

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