Back to the Streets
I have a theory about Superman. My theory is that the reason why so many people are put off by Superman is that he is essentially, what is called in the literary world, a flat character. He must conform to the prescribed rules of his nature, and this can make it hard to relate him. At the end of the day no matter how much Red Kryptonite is involved Superman is always going to do everything he can to save the day. But, what does that mean "save the day". After a giant battle with some crazy space alien that ends up with half of metropolis in ruins, what is it that he has saved... really. Straczynski sets out to explore this and similar questions beginning with this issue.
In recent years this type of issue has been addressed in many different mediums in many different ways, perhaps most famously with what I believe is often referred to as the Stormtroopers lament from Kevin Smith's Clerks. Basically, it is the idea that in the midst of these giant epic battles it is easy to lose focus on the human element. Here Straczynski takes the interesting angle of taking our main character out of those epic battles and putting him back right in the heart of the people. Superman is not focused on some world destroying enemy, but on like that of a bad fuel line. As he tries to figure out what it really means to be a hero.
All too often it is easiest to put Superman in the position of world savior simply because he must. He is the only one who is strong enough, or fast enough, or powerful enough, and Straczynski links this to a quote by Thoreu, about how that kind pressure can be a prison, a prison not only that Superman says he wants to be in, but one in which he wants others to join him. Sure Superman is strong enough, and fast enough, but is he compassionate enough? Do we dare chain ourselves to the problems of others? See usually, when faced with world destroying doom Superman is often the only one with the unique skill set to stop it, but the problems he is facing in this book anyone can help with, but we don't. We think we are not qualified or capable, or it is some other persons job. So Superman has set on a journey, for himself as much as anyone else, to remember that yes helping people is burden, but it is learning to shoulder that burden that makes a person a hero, not their super powers.
So yes this issue is super preachy, not unlike I have just been, and the fact of the matter is it is also surprisingly dark. Even in the daylight of a quite Philadelphia suburb the artists keep everything tinged with a high degree of black. Personally I wish they had left out the drug dealer sequence, I think the concept of an issue without an identifiable villain would have hit the point home even more. But, this gripe is, I feel, offset by the profoundness of the scene with the suicidal women. The concept of taking all the full power of superman and holstering it and instead taking all that strength and power and represent it by having him just stand (or float) there and be still and be patient waiting. I can't remember the last time I waited for anything let alone waiting ON a stranger. Powerful stuff.
In her review Sara asked if there is enough action here to keep people interested. I think there is a different type of action going on here. It is not a battle of flesh and steel, with huge explosions, but it is a battle for the hearts and minds of those lost. Those who feel that they don't matter, that no one cares. There are huge battles taking place on these pages, but the question is do you have eyes to see them?