This oversized issue features three complete stories, though the J. Michael Straczynski/Eddy Barrows tale is labeled as a “prologue.” But it’s a ten-page prologue and it provides a transition from the New Krypton escapades to the upcoming “Grounded” arc, in which Superman walks the Earth. I wouldn’t say it’s a great piece of comic book storytelling, but I’ll get to that in a minute. It’s still a ten page story that has a beginning, middle, and end, even if the end will lead into something yet to come.
But let me tell you about each of these three stories in order.
“Superman” #700 opens with the swan song of James Robinson and Bernard Chang, as Superman reunites — in passionate embrace — with Lois Lane after his return from the “World of New Krypton” and “War of the Supermen.” It’s a moment worthy of one of those toothpaste ads DC has been so fond of running in recent months, and because it’s a superhero comic, Superman has to punch the Parasite a few times before he can get back to the important stuff: grabbing Lois and holding her tight. But as an epilogue to the past year-and-a-half of Superman stories, it’s an effective one, and Bernard Chang’s art looks better than ever. It’s not really much of an epilogue to James Robinson’s run on the series, since his run was mostly about Mon-El’s crazy adventures in the 21st century, but in special anniversary issue of “Superman,” you’d expect plenty of Superman, and Robinson already said farewell to his regular cast last issue.
The only stumble in this opening story is the final splash page, which features Superman and Lois floating over Metropolis, as Superman says simply, “I love you, Lois.” After all they’ve both been through — apart — for so many months, it’s nice, and effective, except the cityscape that dominates the image is really terrible-looking, and it’s blurred to create a focus on the characters, but the blurred background is so hideous that it ruins the moment.
The second story is a Dan Jurgens joint, mostly about Robin, really. A flashback to the olden days of early Dick Grayson adventures, as Robin goes on patrol where he really shouldn’t be and Superman comes in to save him. It’s a weak story, something you might have seen in the back of an Annual in the late 1990s, and it doesn’t add anything to this issue, or add any texture to the characters or their relationships. And it ends with Superman cheating on behalf of Robin, which seems out-of-character, and literally writing in a textbook, as if neither Dan Jurgens nor Superman had actually ever done school work, because textbooks aren’t the places you write the answers to the questions, unless you’re living in the 18th century. The story doesn’t flash back that far.
The final story is the one I mentioned at the top of this review. Straczynski and Barrows, kicking off the Superman-walks-the-Earth-because-he’s-sad storyline that’s scheduled to run for the next year of this series. Barrows has always been a frustrating artist, because he draws some dynamic imagery of a kind of inspired-by-Neal-Adams way, but his characters can sometimes look oddly stretched out, and when he turns characters’ heads to various angles, sometimes they seem bulky, and sometimes they seem weirdly thin. It’s as if his characters are all played by Eel O’Brien. That kind of expressive anatomy isn’t necessarily a problem, but it’s a strange fit with such pseudo-realistic rendering. But even if we accept Barrows as a decent choice for this assignment, Straczynski doesn’t do anything in this prologue to inspire faith in the next year of “Superman” comics. It’s a silly, stuffy, “oh, Superman, why don’t you help the common man” kind of story, and it reads a lot like the first half of the John Arcudi “Superman” serial from last year’s “Wednesday Comics.” Sad Superman, feeling like he doesn’t belong. Feeling like he has to mope around and find out more about life.
I don’t reject the premise of “Grounded,” but this wasn’t a strong start. It certainly wasn’t deftly handled.