Down To Earth, Grounded Superman Finds His Humble Home (And Men Should, Too)

Andrew Belonsky :: Friday, July 2nd, 2010 10:00 am

Superman has had a hard time: his long-lost planet, Krypton, recently came back from the dead, only to be destroyed again. Now he’s back on Earth, celebrating the 700th issue of his titular comic book. And the Man of Steel, like so many of us, is feeling a little downtrodden.

Unsure of where to go with his life, he realizes that he’s been flying far too fast, letting the heart and soul of America go by in one big blur. So, for the next few months, Superman will embark on a storyline called “Grounded,” walking, strolling and perhaps even jogging from coast-to-coast. This archetypical hero’s self-imposed humility may be more powerful than his laser vision, and provides a potential road map for the American male.

This new storyline truly harks back to Superman’s early days. “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 writer J. Michael Straczynski told USA Today’s John Geddes. “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.”

After decades of fighting cosmic and supernatural foes, and zombie version of his friends, Superman feels disjointed and wants to get back to his American roots. And they’re not always pleasant, like rampant poverty. “We will be asking hard questions, and Superman will learn the extent to which even he may not be able to change things,” Straczynski says. Considering Superman represents the best of mankind, his latest excursion serves as a reminder that even the most powerful of men need to take themselves down a notch to fight the good fight.

The original Superman movie starring Christopher Reeves opened, even before Krypton’s destruction, by highlighting the Daily Planet’s upstanding ethics and obedience to the greater good. “In the decade of the 1930s, even the great city of Metropolis was not spared the ravages of the worldwide depression,” a child narrates. “In the times of fear and confusion, the job of informing the public was the responsibility of the Daily Planet, a great metropolitan newspaper whose reputation for clarity and truth had become a symbol of hope for the city of Metropolis.”

The camera zooms in on the Planet’s iconic globe, and then into the stars, where it settles on Superman’s home planet. The fictional newspaper, and its revered ethics, was just as important as Superman, whose alter ego works to further the Planet’s journalistic mission. It’s a humble profession, yes, but one that Superman, realizing the weight of the world’s problems, readily embraces. Now he’s reclaiming his modest humanity. The real men among us should in turn embrace superman’s humility.

The role of men today has been coming up a lot as of late. An entire “Men’s Rights” movement continues to build momentum, and Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker caused a stir this week, when she wondered whether President Obama “[suffers] a rhetorical-testosterone deficit when it comes to dealing with crises.” She went on to write, “It isn’t that he isn’t ‘cowboy’ enough, as others have suggested… It is that his approach is feminine in a normative sense.”

Maureen Dowd agreed, telling George Stephanopoulos, “I agree with her in that President Obama has what are seen as traditionally female management traits: consensus and compromise.” Many people perceive this “inaction” as weakness. It may be just the opposite: women, it turns out, are more bipartisan legislators precisely because they’re more inclined to listen than their male counterparts. “Weak” feminine traits like sitting back and approaching matters with consideration, in that context become, tools for effective governing.

The aforementioned Men’s Rights movement claims that society has shucked men aside, preferring women and minorities, or that men are “scorned.” Perhaps that’s not the case at all. Perhaps there’s a sense of – well, I hesitate to use the word entitlement – “assumed authority.” And it’s not necessarily men’s faults. They’re often coddled and groomed for greatness, or their parents’ opinion of greatness. Then the world doesn’t turn out to be as easy as they imagine and it’s a total bummer.

Assuming that’s the case, or even partially the case, then Superman’s “Grounded” road trip becomes not simply a comic character’s self-reflective journey. It’s a lesson in the importance of humility. This is a man who could do anything he wants: he could blow out the sun, or use his x-ray vision to scan some human skin. But he doesn’t. He should have been able to save his new homeland, but he couldn’t. Now he’s walking, not flying, to reconnect with his adopted planet and its people. As Straczynski says, “We will explore the language of hope and feature the stubborn noble strength of the average man and woman trying to survive in a difficult and changing world.”

Before returning to the blue planet, Superman recalls a childhood moment with his human father, back on the farm in simple Smallville. “If you want to grow anything worthwhile, it’s all about soil,” says the hero’s pops. “You have to rotate back to fertile ground, to the soil you that nourished you, back to Earth.” That’s a message even mortal men should remember.