Superman #711

Written by J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Roberson
Penciled by Eddy Barrows
Inked by J.P. Mayer
32 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

Chris Roberson has gone off the marked path, so to speak. Several months ago, he came on board Superman as a co-writer, to finish up J. Michael Straczynski’s "Grounded" storyline off of an outline, while Straczynski departed the title (as well as Wonder Woman) to spend more time working on a sequel graphic novel to Superman: Earth One. And while I’ve been having a sneaking suspicion that "Grounded" has gone in a rather different direction than originally planned with the arrival of Roberson, this latest installment is in many ways the ultimate example of the new direction.

The early chapters of "Grounded" could best be described as human interest stories. Superman walks across the country, encounters local people’s problems (immigration, domestic abuse, heart failure, that sort of thing) and tries to find a way to help. With the arrival of Roberson, though, things have changed. You can still see what must have been the germ of a chapter idea from the original outline still showing up, but from there it veers into a different direction, big time. For example, Superman #711’s main plot has to do with the electrically-powered Livewire going berserk in Las Vegas, and Superman trying to find a way to pull her back from destroying everything in her radius. But aside from getting the key to the city of Provo, Utah, and the mysterious despair-causing villain from the earlier chapters making a return appearance, there’s nothing else to connect this to the rest of "Grounded," or at least not the Straczynski-solo issues. Delete the mystery villain and this issue could have been told at just about any time in Superman.

Is that a bad thing? In this case, no. It’s an entertaining story, taking developments from the last few years with Livewire (but not making having read those stories necessary) and building on them, as well as coming up with an idea for her erratic behavior and presumably different portrayals from different writers. The science in the story may well be pseudo-science, but it feels logical enough to follow. It’s a fun little tale, and one that demonstrates Roberson as being someone who should clearly be in the running to write Superman with #715 (theoretically the first post-"Grounded" issue) when it rolls around in a few months. The only part of the story that doesn’t quite click is, ultimately, the "Grounded" element with the annoying villain’s appearance. After getting spotted by surprise guest star Iron Munro (who clearly is suspicious of her, based on his own dialogue), she’s suddenly ignored for no real reason, save for perhaps that the outline dictates she isn’t being pursued by Superman himself just yet. Considering that the character in general feels grafted on to the story, it’s no surprise that it’s the weak spot in the writing.

Penciler Eddy Barrows is providing a slightly erratic look to the art in Superman. There are some pages where it works well, Barrows drawing the characters in a realistic, interesting manner. On other pages, though, we get strange shifts; Superman suddenly appears to have expanded to the size of a barrel, or Jimmy Olsen looks like a child rather than an adult. (I did appreciate that Barrows kept Olsen’s hair style from the slight redesign provided by R.B. Silva over in Action Comics last year.) And when Superman flies off with Jimmy, well, is it just me or have we seen this expression on Superman’s face every month courtesy Barrows? Overall it’s not a bad art style, but more variety on faces and more consistency on bodies would make me more interested in the art month in and month out.

Superman #711 is the kind of issue that makes me wish we could somehow get to see the outline that Roberson is working off of. It certainly comes off to the reader as far from what "Grounded" was in Straczynski’s mind for the second half of its run. Based on how much better these Roberson-helmed issues are, though? I can’t help but think this swerve into new territory is a good thing for readers.

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