Robot 6

A ‘Grounded’ Superman gets lost in Philadelphia

From Superman #701

From Superman #701

The Man of Steel’s much-discussed yearlong walk across America starts off on the wrong foot this week in the City of Brotherly Love.

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Michael Klein takes note of a caption box in Superman #701 that sets the scene in “Philadelphia, Pennsylvania … the South Side,” specifically, on the 500 block of S. 48th St. The thing is, the city doesn’t have a “South Side” — it’s South Philadelphia or, more commonly, “South Philly” — and even if it did, that block wouldn’t be in it. You see, the intersection of 48th and Larchwood streets is in West Philadelphia (aka University City, aka where the Fresh Prince of Bel Air was born and raised).

“Is this the comic book version of revisionist history?” one commenter asks. “Maybe you should have started in Texas.”

The misstep is, of course, one of the pitfalls that comes with setting a story in such a specific real-world locale. With Lex Luthor otherwise occupied, perhaps the geographical goof will fill the role of archnemesis in the “Grounded” arc, as J. Michael Straczynski and Eddy Barrows take Superman through Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington. (I’m guessing the “South Side” caption will be changed for the collected editions.)

Okay, so Straczynski botched the neighborhood, but how did Superman #701 score with the other Philadelphia touchstones? Well

“[Superman] stops at a diner for a ‘Philly cheese steak sandwich’ but is short on money,” Klein writes, “so the waitress allows him to work it off by cleaning the storeroom. He also thwarts drug dealers by setting their stashes on fire with his X-ray vision and talks a woman off a ledge. Standard stuff.”

We’ll have to wait until Wednesday to learn whether it was the term “Philly cheese steak sandwich” that drove the woman to the ledge.



This is a pretty clunky oversight on the part of writer and editor, but…

I don’t recall anyone, ever actually portraying my hometown remotely correctly in comics. Or, in fact, pretty much any part of my state. Of course, those comics aren’t usually making a big deal about a cross-country walk, but they are similarly fudging details that seem like they could be resolved with ten minutes of Googling,

Haven’t read the issue, and don’t plan on it, but I’m struck by how similar the work-in-a-dine bit sounds to a Season 4 episode of the ’70s Hulk TV show (“King of the Beach”). I suppose it’s an old trope in fiction where you work to pay off a meal you can’t afford by washing dishes, etc., but it strikes me as old hat since it’s already been done in the superhero genre. I guess that’s the danger with having Superman do what David Bruce Banner already did 30 years ago, even if for a different purpose.

Being originally from the Philly area, this is really annoying. Especially the “South side” part. Wasn’t really interested to much in this, but now I’m definately not getting it. Sticking with Action Comics for now.

As a Philadelphia resident, and an avid cheesesteak consumer, I find myself very tempted to buy this issue.

To be fair though, 500 s. 48th street kinda does look like that. It’s just the caption that’s fudged.

Nitpicky to the extreme.

It’s a comic book. In the real world, there might not be an area of Philadelphia referred to as the South Side, but there isn’t really a Metropolis or a Smallville either.

Yeah, if you’re going to make a big deal about Superman visiting specific cities, why not research the cities, even visit them yourself, before trying to capture their character? This went from decent idea to just another lame, long-winded story arc for sales’ sake pretty quickly.

Also, to be fair, if the image is right but the caption is wrong, the implication is the artist did his research (Google Maps, perhaps), and the writer didn’t. If the writer can’t get the geography right, we can only assume he’s writing to his preconceptions or stereotypes of each city, not about the city’s character itself. I’ve never been to Philly, so is this the blind leading the blind?

Further, I notice Supes isn’t going to Arizona. So, he won’t be dealing with any REAL issues, like the nationwide SB1070 debate? What a missed opportunity, since comic book historians often try to legitimize the medium by describing Superman as an immigrant himself. I’m guessing we’re in for a series of country bumpkin driven stories with very little roots in reality — which would be perfect for a comic book, if it wasn’t promoted as a ground-breaking, down to earth stroll across today’s America.

There are immigration issues in Philly.

Maybe Superman confronts Joe Vento (owner of Genos Cheese Stakes) and convinces the backward proprietor to abolish the “English Only” order policy at his greasy tourist trap?



Blammo. Superman talked a teenage girl off the ledge in ALL STAR SUPERMAN #12, but there sure was no Philly cheese steak sandwich involved. Did Superman, in his zeal to work off his debt to the diner, possibly make a Philly cheese steak sandwich (rather a Philly MELT, perhaps, given microwave eye vision burn stare) that was so poorly sandwichered as to drive that woman up to that ledge?

It sounds like a very serious story.

I’m not sure about driveways being on that block rather than street picking, but will freely admit that’s a nitpick.

I should point out, I actually sort of meant that I am so used to seeing my hometown misrepresented, I just don’t care anymore. And I absolutely do not find it surprising. Its a bit shocking when anyone actually gets the details correct. Its a big planet.

Definitely no driveways on 48th St.

Does Superman have nothing better to do than to walk around America?

This is fun! I can’t wait to be this snarky when Superman visits Seattle, which is apparently on his itinerary. I miss the days when we could be nitpicky over “Frasier.”

“He also thwarts drug dealers by setting their stashes on fire with his X-ray vision ”

wish this was:

“He also thwarts drug dealers by setting their ‘staches on fire with his X-ray vision “

Steven R. Stahl

July 12, 2010 at 11:17 am

It’s unfortunate that Straczynski is putting his limitations as a writer on display. It remains to be seen how many states and places Superman will travel through. Decades ago, romance novelist Janet Dailey produced the “Janet Dailey Americana Series,” which had a novel set in each of the 50 states. That was an accomplishment. I doubt that Straczynski could do the same with his Superman stories, even if he wanted to, but having Supes stop in a few places and getting details wrong to boot will make him appear to be a fool.


hahahaha “Philly cheese steak sandwich” hahaha. okay first off, obviously, drop the word sandwich. second off, you’re in Philly, so just call it a “chesse steak” — i think most people will get that.

i hope he makes it to Pittsburgh on his way west. so many hilarious things to mess up.

I’m pretty sure geographical mishaps will be the least of the storytelling transgressions in this lousy story. God, why can’t anyone write Superman anymore?

Paddy McGinley

July 12, 2010 at 12:47 pm

The driveway thing I can let slide, that is sort of nit-picky. Also, I’ve known many a tourist who refer to it as a “Philly Cheese steak Sandwich,” but they would never put that on a menu, nor would they put “Philly Melt” as someone above suggested. We just call them cheesesteaks here. The fact that they said “south side” or that they think 48th St. is part of it, well I feel like 5 minutes of research could have cleared that up. I don’t think that’s being too nit-picky seeing as how the story is centered around the locations he visits.

To be sure, the fictional cities and towns scattered hither and yon across DCU American are going to complicate things as it is. Philadelphia in particular already has a DCU-specific district tacked onto its western end: the “formerly independent-of-Philadelphia” Civic City. The JSA used it as a backup headquarters site on occasion when the main HQ in NYC or Gotham was out of bounds for whatever reason.

“i hope he makes it to Pittsburgh on his way west. so many hilarious things to mess up.”

– Nick Marino

He’ll redd up this place, for sure. In the Superman comic that exists only in my head, he unclogs the ridiculous traffic on the Parkway West by tossing cars ala the cover of ACTION #1.

“God, why can’t anyone write Superman anymore?”

– Matt Halteman

I’m not a big Superman fan so maybe this isn’t my place to say but I was under the impression that everyone was tired of the mopey, introspective Superman, with the absolute final straw being his showing in WEDNESDAY COMICS. Do you remember that shit? In the first installment, an alien calls him a poopy dumbhead (or something along those lines) and he spends the rest of the series crying about it. He cries about it to Batman, he goes to his mom’s house and cries about it there… and I’ll admit that while human drama is more interesting to me than punchy-explodey stuff, you don’t need the histrionics in a damn superhero comic.

Now, I’m told that JMS is stepping up to save Superman comics and make everything awesome but it’s just more mopey, introspective Superman again? Isn’t this just like that thing where Hal Jordan took a trip across America to find himself? What gives?

This is all pretty nitpicky to me. Does everyone put the same amount of scrutiny every other time a city is represented -like say New York City- in a comic, especially a Marvel comic? Nope. So why the hard-on about t his is beyond me. And by no means am I a JMS apologist I just like to try and be fair and realistic. If you all want to raise a stink about a couple of things like that then every comic needs the same treatment.

Not doing the research to add the authentic flavor that is more than can be gleaned from a few postcards is the difference between doing a schlocky gimmick storyline and something amazing, like Brian Wood’s Local. So far this is more schlock than Local.

Otherwise, why not just have him walk through any of the cardboard fake cities that litter the DCU?

Oh god who cares.

Leave a Comment


Browse the Robot 6 Archives