Superman To Walk Across America in ‘Grounded’ by J. Michael Straczynski
Superman is perhaps best known for the qualities that make him so different from the average American, like being able to fly, shoot lasers from his eyes, deflect bullets, and generally be a solar-powered, nigh-omnipotent alien. But despite his immigrant origins, the Man of Steel has always prided himself on his relationship to humanity and to America in particular, and in “Superman” #700 this July he’ll be undertaking a voyage across the United States different from any he’s ever taken before in Grounded” by J. Michael Straczynski.
Rather than flying across the continent faster than a speeding bullet, Superman will be slowing down — and walking on foot from city to city to reconnect with average Americans from all walks of life. As Straczynski explained at USA Today, “You have to remember that when Superman was initially created, his fights weren’t against vast interstellar forces. They were against criminals preying on the average guy… Superman was created to be the ally of the average American, the guy who didn’t have lots of money or friends in high places.”
The storyline, which will unfold over the course of about a year, begins in Philadelphia, and will travel through Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington state. Superman will be visiting real town and cities throughout the storyline, and any fans who want to see Superman come to their neighborhood can submit essays to DC explaining why their hometown should be included on his journey, as explained on the Source blog.
ComicsAlliance spoke with Stracynzski about his plans to take Superman out of the sky and bring him back to Earth to walk a mile in the shoes of the average citizens he protects.
ComicsAlliance: Superman is a hero who’s well-known for being larger than life and moving faster than a speeding bullet — what appealed to you about the idea of bringing him down to the ground and slowing him to a walk?
J. Michael Straczynski: For the same reason I put Asgard in Oklahoma [in “Thor”]: for the contrast. It throws both sides into stark relief, and makes each side more its own self, if that makes any sense. It also humanizes him, puts him within our reach, and just that alone affects both sides. Flying over the country at several times the speed of sound, you miss the details, you miss the personal stories happening down below you where you could be of use.During the prime of his tragically short life, Van Gogh learned that Gauguin was going to be in the area, and invited him to come by for a visit. Van Gogh was a huge fan of Gauguin and hoped to get an opinion on his work, so he covered every inch of his small home with paintings. When Gauguin entered, he saw the makeshift gallery, saw what was being requested, and began walking up and down the halls, examining the art. When he finished, he looked to Van Gogh and said, “You paint too fast.”
Van Gogh said, “No, you look too fast.”
For some time now, as he’s flown over the country, Superman has looked too fast. Now he needs to back up, and look again, more slowly…so he can see the details in our own starry night.
CA: Will Superman be traveling as a superhero exclusively or as Clark Kent as well? Will he be intervening as a hero during this voyage, or just observing?
JMS: He’ll be going as Superman pretty much exclusively. And there wouldn’t be much of a story if he didn’t get involved in the personal lives he encounters. You don’t want a situation of Superman thinking, “Oh, gee, look a robbery. Ah, well. Nice flowers they have around here.” This is about re-engaging, not going on vacation.
CA: Superman has struggled with his humanity before in stories dating back to Elliot Maggin or Cary Bates. How will this crisis of identity be different?
JMS: It’s not a matter of struggling with his humanity, as much as it is a matter of taking the temperature of the country, and finding those areas where he could make a difference in ways that don’t involve huge cosmic stories. Remember that Superman was first created to be the ally and advocate of the average guy; his first ten years or more are all about personal stories he gets involved with. He was to be the court of last resort for those who had no one else to call upon. During the War on Krypton story, he was absent from most of the world at times when he could have saved lives. So what else has he missed? What else is he missing? That’s the point of the journey. To recalibrate his focus, not rediscover his own humanity, which is doing just fine.
CA: There’s an unusually strong fan interaction element to this storyline, to the point that fan input will help determine where Superman goes on his journey. What will you be looking for as you make those selections?
JMS: It’s very subjective: enthusiasm is a big plus, and whatever else the town can offer. If the mayor can make it Superman Day the same day the issue comes out showing that town… Letters from kids explaining what Superman means to them and why he should come by for a visit… Any reporters who might be willing to do an “interview” with Superman at a local coffee shop (answers supplied by me)… Anything that will help to make this special. There are vast tracts of the country where building after building has been shuttered up, stores closed, factories shuttered, homes broken, where something as ephemeral but electric as the idea of having Superman come for a visit can lift folks’ eyes up to the horizon a bit, even if it’s just to provide a moment’s distraction.
CA: As anyone who has completed a road trip across the country can attest, there are some major cultural and demographics differences in different regions of the country. Will Superman’s journey reflect some of the cultural diversity — and divisions — in the United States today?
JMS: Absolutely. Fortunately, I come oddly equipped for that: I was constantly moved around the country as I was growing up — 21 times in the first 17 years alone, from New Jersey to Illinois to Texas to California, on and on — so I have a knack for getting across the feel of different parts of the country. And that will be part of the fun, to see him in those different environments.
CA: How will the rest of the world (and the universe) cope without Superman there to rescue them? Will there be any blowback for his decision to step back from his superheroic efforts outside the United States?
JMS: No blowback. If there should be an emergency that only he can deal with, he can go off and do so, provided that he returns to the exact spot where he left, and continue on.
CA: The Hard Traveling Heroes of Green Lantern Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Appa Ali Apsa once undertook a similar voyage across the United States, as they set out to find the “real” America. Do you see this as a similar sort of voyage? Will Superman’s discoveries be primarily external or internal — about America or about himself?
JMS: It’s both…it’s about seeing America through Superman’s eyes, and seeing Superman through America’s eyes.
CA: How is your Superman in the “Grounded” DCU storyline going to differ from your portrayal of the character in the upcoming Earth One hardcover? What are the differences or similarities between them?
JMS: The hardcover is a vastly different story. It’s about Clark first coming to Metropolis, before Superman had been revealed to the world, where he’s trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life. Fact is, if he chooses not to reveal himself, he can be anything he wants: the best baseball player in the world, the best scientist, whatever he wants, the world is his…IF he keeps his abilities a secret. So the story is about that Gethsemene moment when he has to choose to either reveal himself, and give over a large part of his life forever more, or turn his back on his adopted world. This is the pivot-point in his history. The common cliche is that anytime someone gets powers, they automatically become a hero or a villain. But at some point, we all have to choose what we want to do with our lives, and this is Clark’s moment of truth.