Sunday, October 17, 2010

Walkin', yes indeed

Let's start with the good, shall we? This is easily the most in-character Superman has been during Straczynski's arc. Moreover, it's nice to see some discussion of the New Krypton events, and some repercussions thereof, even if they're fairly fleeting. Moreover, the "superheroes invite trouble" plot, while a bit overplayed, is the kind of story that this arc should be telling: what happens when Superman visits small towns that aren't used to superheroic battles and action and such? It's also good to see that Straczynski did enough research to get the name and mascot of Danville High School right.

That being said, the issue still has a boatload of problems, the biggest of which being the mischaracterization of Batman. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to think that Straczynski wrote this issue with Bruce in mind, then made a few changes to turn it into Dick when it became clear that Bruce wouldn't be around. Frankly, I wish he'd just used Bruce, because the conversation doesn't work as one between Superman and Dick. It's way too familiar, and not nearly as reverential as I expect Dick to be around Superman. Moreover, I don't think Superman would call Dick a "psycho," no matter what mask he was wearing.

But then there's the whole notion that Bruce and Dick are out of touch with the common person, which is predicated on almost exactly the same stupid notion that the whole story arc is based around. Superman isn't out of touch with the common person because no matter what happens, he's still a Kansas farm boy. You don't get much more "common person" than that. With Bruce and Dick, the case is a little easier to make, seeing that both have been world-traveling millionaire playboys, but in those dark alleys that Superman suggests are so isolating, most of their patrolling typically involves street-level thugs, gangs, and other ne'er-do-wells. Batman's in touch with a different class of "common people," the "common people" of Gotham City, but it's not all aristocrats and supervillains as Superman suggests.

Then there's the continuing problem of race, as Superman dangles a stalker who's visually quite similar to the drug dealer from the first issue, and now a schoolteacher of color who ends up the sinister pawn of a Kryptonian artifact, for no discernable reason1. I guess it's all okay, because the redneck truck driver from "Superman II" gets to have some superpowered revenge2.

And at the end we get the "Batman was right" ending, where everyone's upset with Superman and he gets a new reason to angst about whether he's a force for good or ill. It's a paint-by-numbers angsty Superman story, of the sort that people have been complaining about for years. Me, I'm the kind of guy who doesn't necessarily mind when Superman cries; I am the kind of guy who minds when Superman doesn't do anything else.

And maybe that's not a fair criticism of this book, since Straczynski hasn't been writing Superman since Our Worlds At War, or whenever we want to pin down the start of the "angsty Superman" problem. But, like his tone-deaf characterization of Dick Grayson's Batman, it would be nice if he actually spent some time reading modern Superman comics, and seeing that "hey, let's have Superman question his usefulness" is about the most overplayed plot in the last several years. Heck, they made a movie about it.

It's like destroying Themyscira over in "Wonder Woman." I only read "Wonder Woman" regularly from about the time of "Our Worlds At War" on, and even I know that this is at least the third time it's been destroyed in that timeframe. Straczynski seems to think he's breaking new ground and telling these deep and meaningful stories--and maybe he is in "Wonder Woman," which I dropped--but at least in Superman he's walking over well-worn ground. And while he's got Superman walking on Interstate Geoff Johns from Arcuditown to Singerville by way of Azzarello Heights, old Route Cary Bates is gathering dust.

And that's a damn shame.

1. That's not really a criticism; 'Kryptonian artifacts making people superpowered and evil for no discernable reason' is a time-honored tradition (cf. Every "Smallville" episode ever).

2. He actually doesn't look anything like said trucker, but man, that seems like a missed Easter Egg opportunity.

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