After a pickup basketball game featuring an after-school special type shining moment for the kid who was left out, Superman continues on his walk through the Motor City. Or maybe it’s the Glass City, or the Windy City, Bay City, or even Midway City. Nothing helps distinctly identify this as Detroit. Sure, there’s a closed automotive plant. There are unemployed people, there’s hope buried under the day-to-day grind, but the landmarks are lacking.
Beyond that, it seems to me as though the landmarks aren’t the only thing lacking. Superman is walking the streets of the United States attempting to connect to people, but his walk is unspectacular. The security guard at the boarded up plant is the closest anyone comes to marveling at the Man of Steel. He could just as easily be strolling along as Clark Kent.
Straczynski attempts to give Superman a tougher personality than the Big Blue Boy Scout is traditionally associated with, but lines such as, “The hard part isn’t hurting me. The hard part is surviving me,” sound a little cold for the Man of Steel. Straczynski’s underlying story here is one of Superman confronting himself. Aliens from Natalla have settled in Detroit, but once Superman sniffs out their location, they seek to reason with Superman to remain here. Straczynski puts everything right by the end of the story, but he also sets hope and promise against a backdrop where little hope and less promise exist in the world “Superman” readers occupy. There is no Dokkco ready to revitalize the economy here. The harsh reality of Michigan’s economy drains all resonance from the upbeat end this issue delivers.
On the upside, the combination of Barrows and Rod Reis on the art is great. Reis is easily one of the best superhero colorists on the scene right now. The effects he uses combined with the brilliance of his color choices make this book glow. Barrows experiments quite a bit with the page composition. For the most part, the end result is spectacular and innovative. Very few artists today can jam six full panels into a page from top to bottom and fewer still can deliver the page layout choices Barrows uses for talking heads. He places panels in the body of the head, giving the story a crisper flow.
I didn’t know what to think about this story when it was announced. It smacked of headline-grabbing gimmickry, a non-event for the sake of being different. I thought after two years of Kryptonian onslaught, it might make a little sense to investigate what makes Superman important, but this doesn’t address Superman as Superman. Moreover, it removes him from what defines the character. It saddens me that the one comic on the shelves actually featuring Superman (how is it that the most recognizable superhero only has one comic?) is reduced to this gimmick of a story. It’s a great concept, sure, but maybe for an annual, a special, or a miniseries. I can appreciate that Straczynski wants to investigate the “man” and leave the “super” off to the side, but the end result is flat. If Superman’s only going to be in one title, that title should be celebrating everything Superman is to the absolute fullest.