Monday, August 16, 2010

Walking with Superman

So there's this year-long storyline in Superman in which our hero decides to take a walk across the breadth of America. He doesn't explain his motivations for this, though it seems to be precipitated by a woman slapping his face because while he was in outer space, her husband died of cancer, which she believes he could have cured somehow. Superman was off in space at the time, trying to keep 10,000 other Kryptonians from conquering Earth (under which rule, presumably, her husband still would have died). But the details don't matter too much to me (though the notion that this is actually happening as a reaction to Superman witnessing his own people wiped out a second time is intriguing). In new writer J. Michael Straczynski's first story, Superman gets slapped, Superman goes walking. And -- I hoped -- we would get a year's worth of done-in-one stories where Superman would come into a city, identify and solve a problem, and then walk on. He's Shane, he's The Lone Ranger, he's Superman.

And these problems, I expected, wouldn't be entirely super-villain oriented. In walking on Earth, Superman would be encountering the recession, corporate greed, pollution, maybe the effects of global warming, who knows? It'd be a return of the Social Justice Superman from the Golden Age. The guy who kept landlords from raising their rents and evicting goodhearted people. The guy who puts the heat on corrupt senators. This guy (click to enlarge and read):

"You can announce that henceforth my mine will be the safest in the country"
 And to a certain extent, I was right. In the most recent issue, #702, Superman walks through Detroit. He encounters tons of people who are out of work, but he also meets up with some technologically advanced aliens living incognito in one of the city's neighborhoods. They fight, they talk, and Superman wonders whether to evict them from Earth or not. (They've fled a tyrannical government, and argue that their situation was no more tenable than an exploding planet.) Basically, he tells them they should be doing something for the community.

Later on, Superman brings them a guy who's sick and obviously dying, and they use their technology to heal him. And then Superman has an idea, and this happens (click to enlarge and read):

"It is expected that as many people as were fired during the automobile shutdowns will be rehired to handle the wave of equipment slated to be produced by these factories."
Immediately. Detroit's unemployment problems are solved!

Now, this is definitely over-simplifying real-world issues. I got to the point where the aliens set up a medical research firm and gave everyone jobs, and I thought "Oh, come on!" But then I realized something:

That's exactly how something like this would have been handled in the Golden Age. Find a problem, find a solution, and Outta Here! (I mean, look at how that Golden Age mine-safety story was wrapped up. In one panel!)

And while that isn't necessarily satisfying to today's readers (it wasn't initially satisfying to me), I think it's an interesting choice for JMS to make, particularly because it goes against the grain. And I have to consider -- do I really want five issues with pages devoted to the aliens putting this company together? There's something to be said for getting it done and capping it off with a happy (though facile) ending.

When this storyline started, my biggest hope for it was that it would give us done-in-one stories of the "Social Justice" Superman of the Golden Age. And in this issue, that's exactly what we got.

So now that I've seen it, I've got to decide... is that really what I wanted?

I'm not sure. It's still not entirely satisfying to me, but I have to admit it's something of a catharsis to see someone essentially punch unemployment in the face.



Travis said...

Now I'm reading it, but I do like the idea of done in one. There are plenty of multi-issue never-ending storylines. Hell Superman just got off like 4 in a row or whatever it was. I think it is a nice break.

That is something I've been enjoying in reading some of the Silver/Bronze Age comics I am reading. The hero needs to break into the villains lair. He does it, either off-panel or in one-panel. Not 10 pages of watching him sneak around. Quite refreshing.

So, I guess I am saying you should enjoy it, even if you don't. ;)

Rob S. said...

Oh, I definitely will, even if I won't!