Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Chronic Review: Superman # 700!

Superman # 700
DC Comics

Scripts: James Robinson, Dan Jurgens, JM Straczynski
Pencils: Bernard Chang, Jurgens/Rapmund, Eddy Barrows
42 pages for $4.99

Is it a bad sign when the best element your epic Superman launch by superstar JM Straczynski is a Robin story by Dan Jurgens?


Superman # 700 is actually three different stories. The first is a disgustingly sappy little number where James Robinson chokes us to death with tired emotional cliches.

Clark's been away for awhile dealing with New Krypton stuff, and we get a peek the lovers' reunion. Maybe it's just my return to "Ryan the Robot" mode, but I doubt it. I'm not the problem. This is the problem:

We've heard all of this before from dime store novels and the Lifetime network. Didn't work for me then, doesn't work for me now. What is ultimately more disappointing about it is that these kind of scenes used to be in Robinson's wheelhouse in Starman. Interpersonal relationships were the life's blood of that book; always fresh, always interesting. I don't know what this is, but it's beneath James Robinson. NEXT!

The second installment is a Robin story by Dan Jurgens. Yeah, I know that Superman appears in the tale, and that this is Superman's book. This is a Robin story.

And it's a pretty darned good one. Batman decides that Bruce Wayne needs to make a public appearance to maintain the illusion, so he hangs up the cowl for the evening and tells Robin that he's to take the night off as well on pain of blood. He's instructed to do his geometry homework and relax.

Of course crime doesn't ever take a vacation, and when young Dick Grayson sees trouble brewing, he sneaks out of the house and bites off a little more than he can chew. Cue the man of steel for a quick save from the gun runners, and then cue him again to save his unfinished math homework!

That's right, folks, Superman helps Dick Grayson cheat on his school work. Awesome! That was worth the price of admission right there. The story ends with Batman sending Clark an adorable little "I know what you did" letter. This was an entertaining, done-in-one tale that reminded a little of Straczynski's Brave & The Bold. And that's a good thing.

Speaking of Straczynski, you may have heard something about him taking over Superman. Straczyinski's life long dream begins right here, with spotty results.

It's bee well spoiled at this point that his plan is to send Superman on a walkabout journey across America to re-connect with us normal folks. Kind of a ballsy idea, and not without some danger. In fact, Straczynski warned Didio and the DC brass that they would need " cojones the size of Stonehenge for any publisher to go along with this, because the odds of failure are freaking immense."

Telling more human and personal Superman stories isn't necessarily a bad idea, but it does a feel a little strange. He just got done spending a great deal of time away from his wife and Metropolis, and now he rushes out to leave it all behind and pull a Kwai Chang Kent? It feels false at first blush.

There's nothing inside this issue that would to alter that opinion, either. What massive epiphany sets Clark on his new wandering journey? Well, a grieving Stamford survivor....err...I mean, random woman off the street interrupts his press interview, cracks him across the grill like a pimp and then blames her husband's death on Superman's absence.

It's very weird. What's super extra weird is that Straczynski writes bystanders remarking on how bizarre her complaint really is. How is her husband's medical condition Clark's fault? He's busy saving the planet, a couple of guys with brain tumors are going to slip through the cracks, OK lady??

Rather than just recognize that bad things happen to good people and you can't possibly solve everyone's problem every time, this nonsense starts Clark soul searching about his role in the universe.

He talks to Batman, he talks to the Flash, he remembers some old chestnuts from Pa Kent. Again, maybe this is Ryan the Robot but I found nothing that felt emotionally correct in any of that stuff. It felt like an assembly line conveyor belt toward his "Superman does the Bill Bixby thing" goal he had in mind, come hell or high water.

Before I get accused of reactionary histrionics, it's possible that these wandering monk stories might end up being good. This is just set-up. What I'm saying is, the set-up feels false and poorly rendered. This is not a denouncement of the "grounded" concept, but neither is it a good omen. I'm going into these stories not buying into the motivation even a whisker, and that's hardly ideal.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing in the book is the very back end where DC allowed the other writers in the Superman family to pitch reader's the next year's worth of stories. Cornell's Action Comics pitch sounds pretty interesting, actually. Obviously some eyes are going to fall on this anniversary issue, and I think it was a sound marketing idea.

Bottom line? If you were expecting to be wowed by the new Superman, I think you're walking away disappointed. You've got two warm up acts with varying quality, but neither of which have anything to do with the bold new direction or will be remembered as key pieces of the mythos. The Straczynski material feels forced and emotionally off-key. Welcome the new era!

- Ryan

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