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Superman #701
writer: J. Michael Straczynski
artists: Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer

Seventy-two years ago, Superman made his first public appearance, the creation of two kids from Cleveland, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. As originally envisioned, the Man of Tomorrow fought bullies and stood up for that most mythical of creatures, the common man.

Years later, a Cleveland V.A. Hospital clerk named Harvey Pekar would decide that the common man needs to fight for himself in comics, launching the autobiographical series American Splendor. We may want to believe a man can fly, but Pekar believed that the real heroes are those regular joes that get up every day and just try to make it without doing anybody harm.

So it's fitting, if a little bittersweet, that on the week that Pekar passed away in Cleveland, one of the city's other most famous -- if fictional - sons returns to his roots as a man looking at the injustices of daily living instead of fighting earth-shattering menaces.

With Superman #701, new series writer J. Michael Straczynski begins "Grounded," a year-long arc in which the Man of Steel chooses to play Forrest Gump, walking instead of jogging across America. And yes, JMS uses his story to remind us that even in the DC Universe, just getting through life can be a valiant struggle.

Not everyone's going to like it. While it's funny when Superman uses his x-ray vision to help some guys repair their car, there's also just a tinge of smugness to him. A little unavoidable, perhaps, when you can change the course of mighty rivers with your bare hands, and yet that, too, hearkens back to the character from 1938.

JMS also takes a shot at reporters dogging Superman's trail, and their portrayal, aided by artists Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer, seems mean-spirited. They're not mainstream media; Superman has a confrontation with someone clearly meant to be a blogger. In short, one of us.

The impulse is understandable; nobody likes to be criticized for doing their job and yes, the internet gets shrill at times. But we don't all look like we need to put down the donut and go for a run, do we?



Everyone knows that Superman is supposed to care about us. Even in the movies, that's been a defining trait to the point of occasional overplaying. But JMS looks to be getting to the heart of what that means, and a dawning realization that it's easy to inspire looking up in the sky, but to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, we're doing it from down in the gutters. It's makes more of an impression when your inspiration gets down there, too.

If you're unsure of where JMS is going, just look to the last couple of pages as Superman quotes Thoreau. However, I think it might be more incisive for this to suggest that Superman is remembering to live by something Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. wrote in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, "there's only one rule that I know of, babies - god damn it, you've got to be kind."

And so Superman #701 didn't just please me. I found myself moved by a Superman story, which admittedly has happened on occasion. If this first chapter is any indication, "Grounded" will have a place in my heart with three Superman masterpieces - "For the Man Who Has Everything" by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Birthright by Mark Waid and Leinil Yu, and All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. These are the works that remind me why I love Superman, and JMS reminds me that while that's okay, we all have our own never-ending battles to fight.

Side note: Because it also made me think of Brad Meltzer's foundation, which raised money to save the childhood home of Jerry Siegel in which Superman was created, I want to include a link here again.There's always more work to be done changing the world for the better. More on Brad a little later, because he's got a cool panel at Comic-Con.

Derek McCaw

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