After the short prologue in last month's "Superman" #700, the J. Michael Straczynski-penned "Grounded" begins this week with Superman beginning his walk across America by stopping in Philadelphia. The idea of "Grounded" has divided a lot of fans between those that want Superman to have big, exciting adventures and those that prefer the quieter, more introspective stories. While I fall in the latter camp, it's hard not to find parts of "Superman" #701 laughable in its cheesiness, right down to a premise that brings to mind "Forrest Gump," complete with Superman's lack of explanation, stating that he's walking "that way" and not much else.
That doesn't mean that Superman does nothing while walking through Philadelphia. He helps people in a variety of ways: using his powers to notice what's wrong with a car, listening to their troubles, dealing with a bunch of drug dealers that set up in a neighborhood, and talking to a suicidal woman. None of it is the 'fight against a world-threatening menace' fare that some would prefer, but it's not just masturbatory pontificating and whining; It's Superman taking an interest in different sorts of problems and trying to see what it's like to be a regular person in an effort to do his job better. Is it the best way to improve? I don't know, but it's a pretty good idea.
Despite the good parts of the issue, there are some negatives. The first being Eddy Barrows' art, which is like watching a high school production of a Shakespeare play with overacting and hamming it up for the audience. Ideally, you want to understand a comic based just on the art, but all of the facial expressions and body language here are so overdone that it works against the script. Expressiveness is good, but not to the degree that it's clownish, which it is here. Barrows needs to reign it in a little, because, otherwise, his art has a nice polish to it and is workmanlike in a good way.
Straczynski's decision to use real cities doesn't work entirely here, because, as Robot 6 pointed out on Monday, the details aren't correct and, more than that, there isn't much in this issue that makes the story specific to Philadelphia. It's just a generic city; while that's preferable to some cheesy caper involving the Liberty Bell, it would be nice for there to be something about the story that ties into the city it takes place in considering that one of the apparent selling points of the comic is the use of real locations. If the idea is to simply slap a name on a generic city, why bother?
As well, the dialogue in places is cornball. While Superman lends himself to earnest writing, the line is crossed in some places. But, Straczynski does handle Superman well when he talks to a suicidal woman. He doesn't lecture her, he listens, and speaks honestly. The highlight of the issue is the final scene where Superman provides an explanation, of sorts, for what he's doing to a man who asks why he isn't off saving the world.
"Grounded" gets off to a somewhat mixed start, but leaning in the positive direction. Eddy Barrows shows the right instinct to make sure the emotional aspect of the comic is apparent in the art, but overdoes it, while Straczynski alternates between great and cornball dialogue, especially with Superman. There's also the question of how well this sort of story will work as it progresses since one issue of Superman cleaning storerooms and reminding people not to run red lights is fine, but could easily become tedious after a few more.