By J. Michael Straczynski (writer), Wellington Dias and Eddy Barrows (pencils), J.P. Mayer with Eber Ferreira (inks), Rod Reis (colors), John J. Hill (letters)
The Story: Superman encounters a very young, very special fan who needs rescuing from an all too ordinary villain.
What’s Good: JMS writes the character of Superman well, I’ll give him that. Not that Supes is the most complicated character in the comic book pantheon, but JMS gives him a strong and suitably wholesome voice. He writes Superman’s young fan suitably sympathetic as well—again, not the most difficult of authorial tasks, but it works well within the story.
I’m digging the artwork, especially Rod Reis’ colors. The pencil work walks a fine line between trying to look realistic while still maintaining the fanciful, slightly cartoony look that serves a character like Supes so well. The colors contribute greatly, both by being visually appealing, and by maintaining the upbeat, primary-color infused palette that is a Superman hallmark. In spite of their bold nature, the colors never become so oversaturated that they are overwhelming or distracting.
What’s Not So Good: So Supes looks like Supes, and he sounds like Supes, but here’s the problem: this story is not worthy of Supes. Now don’t take that the wrong way (small spoiler warning ahead); domestic violence, and ESPECIALLY child abuse, is very serious, and nothing to belittle. In fact, it’s exactly the heinousness of the offence that makes it so maddening here, to see it used for nothing but cheap and ham-fisted emotional manipulation.
I’m already on the record as saying that I like the entire concept of this story arc, and I still do. Superman taking some time off from world-saving to reconnect with his human side is a great idea. And if handled well, this sort of domestic violence plot, while a tad cliché, still seems like a natural sort of every day problem for Superman to solve.
Except, the whole arc—and this issue in particular, which finally made me lose my patience with the whole thing—is not being handled well at all. Where the book’s art strikes a nice balance between realism and cloying cartoonishness, the writing takes a flying leap off of that balance beam. None of the supporting characters have any development at all beyond their very basic archetypes—the cute kid, the abusive father, and so forth. It’s grating, juvenile and insulting.
Conclusion: I came into this arc loving the concept, and wanting to like it in the worst way. I gave JMS every benefit of the doubt (see my review of #702), but I have to draw the line somewhere. Putting Superman in an after school special about why it’s EVERYONE’S responsibility to prevent domestic violence is ridiculous, does nothing to further the character, and does nothing to help achieve his set goal of reconnecting with humanity. While it’s hard to argue with the overall message of the book—beating your kid is bad, yo, and you should tell someone if you see a child getting slapped around—is hard to argue with, the insultingly ham fisted and sanctimonious way in which it’s delivered is just too much.
A SECOND OPINION
The Story: We’re back to joining Superman on his “Grounded” walk about, while he continues to make sense of the world that he has spent his life trying to fit into. As he travels to Chicago, he experiences the inhumane nature of adults when he confronts an abusive father and husband. But what he starts to realize is that, even though he’s taking the time to assist with personal struggles of human life, with the right sense of perception, anyone can be a hero and maybe, just maybe, he isn’t needed to take care of the day-to-day struggles that people are so eager to dump on him now.
The Good: As I read through this issue, I was really moved by the storyline that actually had a point to make. I’m sure a lot of this is due to my own job of working with children on a daily basis. Straczynski managed to very clearly capture the voice of victims of physical abuse and the feelings of guilt, shame and responsibility that most victims of abuse have. In this issue, a young boy and his mother are practically brainwashed into believing that they are the cause of the abuse they receive on a daily basis. We also learn that, if there was ever a type of person that didn’t deserve ethical treatment by Superman in society, it would be those who abuse others.
Straczynski gave us a very clear understanding that Superman would be more than happy to employ the ideology of eye-for-an-eye when it comes to abusive people. However, he seemed to almost be handicapped by his own persona, in that it didn’t allow him to do what he wanted to do. He followed his protocol and involved the authorities, but Straczynski gave him a moment of displeasure with “the system” and allowed Superman to offer his own support to the abused child, with an underhanded threat to his father.
The most poignant moment might be the reaction Superman has to being told that this situation needed his involvement. This is where Straczynski delivers an actual message in the issue, in that anyone has it in them to be the ‘hero’ and that it doesn’t take someone with superpowers to save the day. This was followed by an almost “shame on you for thinking otherwise” moment, which really lent Superman the opportunity to start being annoyed at humanity for almost passing all of their problems on to him, leaving in a moment of basic disgust.
After a handful of issues with Superman walking around feeling like he has let humanity down, it was a great change of pace to see him feeling annoyed with humanity for seemingly needing him too much and not taking the time to take care of some of their issues himself. For failing to be able to take initiative and ownership of their lives.
The artistic team also did a wonderful job illustrating this book. The looks on the faces of the characters really convey a lot of emotions that Straczynski’s words are only beginning to express. Again, after working with children as much as I have, you learn to see the signs of problems without having to ask questions. The way a child walks around with a certain expression or plain blank look, as if they’re just lost in their mind. Or pleading for help without even having to say a word. These are the looks that the artistic team was able to convey throughout this issue.
There are moments of fear that are clearly scene on the faces of the boy and his friends when the father first appears, really letting us know what sort of person we are dealing with. In that single panel, we can see all too well that this boy’s life is one that is filled with more physical and emotional pain than anyone should ever have to go through.
The Not-So-Good: There isn’t really anything that I didn’t like about this book. There are those who might argue that it’s a bit preachy or maybe it’s trying too hard to say something, when the books prior to this one haven’t been as forthright in doing so. But who better to give humanity a reminder to get involved and assist others than Superman?
Conclusion: I may have been looking at this book from a different angle than a lot of people, but I feel as though Straczynski brought an old-school feel back to Superman, teaching us, the loyal readers, a life lesson, but still being able to keep a modern feel to it. I’m excited to see how Superman’s character develops now that he’s reached a different mindset in his walk about, grounded journey.