THIS WEEK: Three very different Superman books come out this week, and we take a look at how Superman: Son of Kal-El #2, Superman ’78 #1, and Superman vs Lobo #1 all compare to each other as takes on the character.
Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdicts.
Superman: Son of Kal-El #2
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: John Timms
Colorist: Gabe Eltaeb
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: John Timms
Last month, I praised the first issue of this run, as an exciting new take on Superman. But at the back of my head was the worry that Taylor might lean a bit too hard into “how to use superheroes to fix social problems” like he did in X-Men: Red. That seemed like it was one of the driving ideas behind this new title, but it also seemed like it was done with care and tact in the first issue. I’m sad to say that that same tact and care seem to be missing as we come into Superman: Son of Kal-El #2.
This issue opens with Jon going off to college in a bad wig and a new secret identity since Jon Kent is a known identity. Right off the bat this really nags at me because it really works against a lot of the work that Bendis did with the secret identity stuff if Jon’s going to immediately go into hiding. This though, is a minor nitpick to what comes next though.
No, the first scene in this comic is a school shooting written by a man who doesn’t live in America. It’s a school shooting played remarkably ham-fistedly, with the shooter loading bullets into his gun that are labeled “thoughts” and “prayers.” If that didn’t read enough like terrible satire, as the young man opens fire on the college crowd he yells, “Shut up! It’s too soon to politicize this.” But here’s the thing that Tom Taylor doesn’t understand about the reality of school shootings in America, about the reality of all mass shootings. It’s not the shooter who says that. The shooters do want their work politicized. They often want to be martyrs for their cause. The people who say those words are the pundits who don’t want their own views lumped in with the terrorist. Now that’s not to say that Taylor can’t write about these issues, but he has to realize that he’s coming at it from a very different viewpoint than an American. Kids in Australia don’t have active shooter drills as part of their yearly education. Teachers in Australia don’t have to worry about whether they’re going to have to die to try to save the children in their care. This is a topic that needed to be approached with nuance, and this wasn’t it.
There is good in this issue too. A heartfelt conversation between Clark and Jon. Talk about how as someone who is just as much human as he is Kryptonian that Earth is really Jon’s to save. That Jon can be a leader of Earth in a way that Clark never could. And a new friend for Jon among the kids that he saved at the beginning. But in the end, it’s hard for me to get past how bad that opening was.
Superman vs Lobo #1
Writer: Tim Seeley and Sarah Beattie
Artist: Mirka Andolfo
Colorist: Arif Prianto
Letterer: Fabio Amelia
Cover: Mirka Andolfo
The Black Label line is overwhelmed with Batman and Suicide Squad takes, which make sense with how dark those characters can tend to get, but I feel like there’s more room for other DC heroes too, and with Superman vs Lobo, we get the second Black Label take on Superman after Frank Miller’s Superman: Year One.
And as bad as Superman: Year One was, if more Black Label stories for Superman mean the likes of Superman vs Lobo, then I’m fine letting this imprint just be the Batman show because this book is incredibly bad on multiple fronts. The fact that it opens with Perry White telling Clark to go easy on Lex Luthor boggles my mind. That’s not something any iteration of Perry White would ever do, and it immediately breaks me from the story.
There’s also nothing really here that tells me why this book needed to be a Black Label book. The point of this imprint was supposed to be to allow creators to tell adult stories and take risks, but if Tim Seeley and Sarah Beattie can’t even let Lois Lane cuss without grawlix? Where’s the risk? Despite being a story with Lobo, it’s not even absurdly violent.
I struggle to find a reason for this book to even exist. It tries to be a commentary on the overt negativeness of social media, and that could honestly be a fun Superman story to tell, but the book is hampered by bad characterization and phoned-in art.
Superman ’78 #1
Writer: Robert Venditti
Artist: Wilfredo Torres
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Cover: Torres & Bellaire
So the first two Superman books of the week were duds, but fear not, because the best in the lot is Superman ’78 #1. This is, of course, the Superman mini-series set in the world of the Richard Donner movies, in the same vein that Batman ’89 is set in the Tim Burton movies, and much like that title, this book is able to capture that same magic.
It’s fitting that this book actually opens with a one-page tribute to the man who made it all possible as Donner passed away shortly before this book went to print. It’s a nice touch, and it meant a lot to see it when I opened the issue.
This being a sort of adaptation, it’s important that Wilfredo Torres was able to nail the likenesses of Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Jackie Cooper, and Mark McClure. His Reeve and Coope in particular are immaculate. Even more, it’s fun that he actually does the chest emblem right, and nails the exact look of Reeve’s symbol. It’s subtle, but it’s also a detail that could be easily ignored to just draw the house-style logo, so it felt like a nice touch that he took the time to get it right.
As important as the artistic likenesses were, it’s also important that Robert Venditti get the voices of the characters right, and I’m happy to say that all of these characters feel like they are in a better version of Superman III, the version that I wish we’d have gotten with Brainiac instead of a menacing computer.
The action between Superman and the Brainiac robot is fun and kinetic but still feels like it’s the kind of action that could have been done in a 1980s studio film. All in all, Superman ’78 #1 is absolutely the best take on the character of Superman out this week, and I look forward to seeing Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor next issue.
- Action Comics #1034 also comes out this week, so there are four Superman books, but who’s counting. Philip Kennedy Johnson continues to write a fantastic book, and Christian Duce does a good job of filling in for Daniel Sampere.
- Speaking of fill-in artists, it’s incredibly disappointing that the conclusion of the first Tamaki and Mora arc of Detective Comics is instead a fill-in issue from Viktor Bogdanovic. The story suffered in each of his fill-in issues, and having the conclusion hinge on him makes the whole arc seem less cohesive.
- The rest of the Batkids showing up in Robin #5 was incredibly fun, and if that’s what the Robins series later this year will feel like, I’ll be very happy with it.
Miss any of our earlier reviews? Check out our full archive!