I did read #700, though I remember very little of it. I bought it for largely the same reasons you did, though I did not follow up with "Grounded" as the reviews I read were poor, and the reactions I read later (including this one) made me feel good about my decision. I have the same fundamental problems with the story (or rather, the impetus of the story) as you outlined here: year in space or not, Superman doesn't need to get back in touch with humanity; he's the one character who NEVER loses his humanity. As far as I'm concerned, the "little" things he does in "Grounded" (stopping drug dealers, helping suicidal people) are the kinds of things he does ALL THE TIME, between tossing Luthor in jail and saving the city from Brainiac. He's Superman; he CAN do all that and more. We just don't see him doing it that often, because, frankly, it's kind of boring (as some of the critics of "Grounded" have attested). I'm also reminded of a quote from Luke Cage that came up in one of my recent X-amination posts, about how the heroes of the Marvel Universe can fight Dr. Doom or Galactus, but there's only so much they can do to combat societal ills like drug addiction, which I thought was always a handy answer to the whole "what about the black skins?" question (aside from, you know, the fact that Green Lantern/Superman/etc. have saved the planet on which the "black skins" and that slapping lady's husband live dozens of times over). Incidentally, I too enjoyed Busiek's "Fall of Camelot" and thought it did a great job of handling the "does the world need Superman?" question, as well as examining the effect of Superman on society, without also having the kind of issues "Grounded" seems to have.
Yeah, Grounded was a losing formula: bad premise + 12-issue arc from writer not known for keeping schedules (x 2 when you factor in both Wonder Woman and Superman).I've kept up with it due to being such a DC fanboy, though. More on its basic problems in response to your next post, in case you raise them there... I will say that my interest was piqued beyond just morbid curiosity when Chris Roberson came aboard and again when the New 52 reboot was announced, since I wanted to see if the storyline would dovetail into any kind of farewell for the characters in current "continuity". You have to wonder how much of a reboot they were originally planning at the end of Flashpoint — and if this was in the works for as long as you kind-of hope it was for the sake of the material, not to mention for the sake of the sanity of everyone in the DC offices, you also have to wonder why they put JMS on year-long arcs that seem so counterintuitive so soon before a total reboot, altering Wonder Woman's history with so few consequences on the one hand and priming Superman for some kind of psychological rededication on the other as if the character was going to progress from there instead of essentially vanish. Might a valedictory run of some kind not have been a better approach?"Philly cheese-steak sandwich" really bugged me, too.
I was really surprised when Gary Frank started his run on the Superman titles with Geoff Johns (with the LSH stuff in Action, if memory serves) because his style looked so different from his days on Hulk. To me the change was an improvement, and I appreciated the way that he modeled Clark Kent / Superman after Christopher Reeve, but then he went and bizarrely gave just about everybody that same face with the flat, thin nose and taut chin. And lots of his figurework looked very statically posed, awkwardly so, as you pointed out re the cover to #700. Like many folks I had a lot of trouble with the jumper in #701. You don't want to think that Superman would let her take her own life but you're also prompted to admire him for promising not to get in her way if she decides to do it. Plus him staying up there with her all day is a nice bit in microcosm, yet it begs the question of what alien invasion he's not stopping or even what other cancer victim he's not saving (if you believe he tries to do such a thing, which was a storyline in Supergirl not long before New Krypton in which Superman maturely tried to teach Supergirl the limitations of their powers and what promises never to make people).VW: polizzin — Enforcing the law in Germany.
One of my other main quibbles with Grounded crops up as early as #700, too, namely that whenever these big-idea storylines come along it's as if each writer doesn't merely feel the need to put his own stamp on it but actually thinks he's the first person to get there. Just like you can't tell me that Superman hasn't wrestled over division of his resources before — being Clark vs. being on patrol, saving lots of people singly vs. saving the world from huge threats — you can't tell me that he hasn't compared notes about what it's like to experience the world at super-speed with The Flash (who in the form of returned Barry Allen is struggling through the same aforementioned everywhere-at-once demons — like that hasn't been done). I'm reminded of when everybody had to write their own scenes of bitter words and reconciliation between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson for, like, a decade after Crisis.