I find J. Michael Straczynski to be a very frustrating writer. If his work was merely bad or uninteresting it would be easy to dismiss him, but unfortunately he is a good writer who frequently comes up with fascinating ideas for the comics he writes. The central premise of his Supreme Power series from 2004, that no one could wield the power of a Superman, Wonder Woman or even Batman without being hopelessly insane, had been touched on before, but never with quite the intensity or attention to realistic historical detail. The problem with Supreme Power, and with most of the series that Straczynski writes, was that he never really finished it, he just let it fizzle out.
Even more disappointing than Supreme Power was the Thor relaunch in 2007. It had a wonderful premise that followed on perfectly from the destruction of Asgard in the previous Thor series, with Thor seeking his fellow Asgardians who had been reincarnated in the forms of mortals and scattered across the world, and establishing a new Asgard in, of all places, Oklahoma. It was a great set up for a series, and the new Asgard’s small town Oklahoma neighbors provided some much needed comedy relief for the traditionally humorless series. But Straczynski seemed to get bored with the whole thing pretty quickly, and he rushed through the search for the Asgardians, then fell back on the same old tired “what’s devious old Loki up to now” plots that have plagued the book for years.
Don’t even get me started on The Twelve, a proposed 12 issue miniseries about Marvel’s forgotten 1950s characters, which never made it past issue 8.
So it was with great irritation that I read that Straczynski would be taking over writing on Superman, one of my favorite ongoing superhero books. I decided that I would have none of it, I wouldn’t set myself up for disappointment again. He was starting with issue 701, so I would end my collection with issue 700, a nice round number. Unfortunately for my plan, Straczynski’s story actually started at the end of issue 700, and in spite of myself I was intrigued enough to want to read on. I read issue 701 with every intention of hating it…
But I have to admit, it was one of the more enjoyable Superman comics I’ve read in quite some time.
The story starts with Superman deciding that he spends too much time up in the sky, that he’s lost touch with the regular people that he’s dedicated his life to protecting. For the most part I agree. The “New Krypton” storyline that has consumed the Superman books for the past two years has been epic and ambitious, but it’s also been a bit too much about fighting and conflict between various super beings, which is all too prevalent in most modern superhero comics. I like Superman best when the stories are about him helping people, whether it’s saving them from burning buildings or getting their cats out of trees, and that seems to be the thing Straczynski’s storyline is going to focus on, as Superman decides to forego flying and walk from one end of the country to the other.
The pacing is nice and leisurely, spending time on little incidents of Superman connecting with ordinary life and ordinary people. No other costumed characters appear in the story at all, and other than a very brief appearance by Lois Lane, none of Superman’s regular cast of supporting characters appear either. It’s just scene after scene of Superman using his powers to help people, and it’s very well written. The dialogue is some of the most natural I’ve seen in a Superman book in years, and this is where Straczynski’s vast experience as a film and television writer are on display. The writing is humorous without being resorting to comic relief, and emotional without being sentimental.
Superman says he’s going to walk the length of the country. Given Straczynski’s recent track record, I’m betting he’ll either give up by the time he gets to St. Louis or we’ll jump ahead to his arrival in Alaska. But if he doesn’t, if Straczynski takes his time to explore this idea before jumping to one of the many other great ideas I’m sure he already has for the character, it could be a journey worth sticking around for. I guess we’ll see.
— Jefferson Powers