THIS WEEK: We examine Superman: Son of Kal-El #1 and how it relates to Superman comics of yesteryear.
Note: the review below contains 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 #1
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: John Timms
Colorist: Gabe Eltaeb
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: John Timms
When it was announced that the main Superman title was ending, and the book was being turned into Superman: Son of Kal-El, I was a little leery. I like a lot of Tom Taylor’s work, even if I did grow a bit tired of Injustice and DCeased by the end. Nightwing is a smash hit that I just can’t get enough of, All-New Wolverine made Laura the great character she is. I’m less sold on John Timms art, as his faces sometimes do not really do the trick for me. Something about them seems too long and thin, but he’d been the main artist on the book before the switch, so it’s not surprising that he’d stay on the team.
Even more, though, I wasn’t sure how I felt about Jon Kent taking the mantle of Superman. It’s not that I think that Legacy characters shouldn’t get the shot at doing so, I honestly think that Dick Grayson should still be Batman. But it still felt too soon for Jon. After all, it was only five years ago that he was a ten-year-old. But Bendis shenanigans and not wanting to write a kid later and now he’s 17.
That’s not to say that Bendis didn’t do some good work with the character after aging him up, but the age up itself felt rushed and unnecessary. And Philip Kennedy Johnson has done some fantastic work with the relationship between Jon and Clark. But it still felt too early to have him step into his father’s red boots.
Well, I’m eating my words. This issue was a kick in the pants for the franchise. Johnson has been doing great on the Superbooks, but something about this just felt fresh. I loved that this first issue spent half its page count recapping the story of Jon’s birth during an attempted alien invasion. It was a nice little story to show us how the Justice League helped Clark to be able to be there for his son’s birth and also established something important about Jon. While the parent that everyone thinks of first is Clark, is Superman, is the greatest hero the world has ever known; Jon is special because of both of his parents. His mom might be human, but she is just as fierce of a hero as her husband and is unrelenting in her pursuit of truth. Taylor said as much during the “Truth, Justice and a Better DC Universe” panel this past weekend.
It’s this combination of traits that drive him as a character, that actually makes him a good Superman for the 21st century, which is what we see in the rest of the issue. And part of that is in what the action of this issue is and how it ties into the history of the franchise.
In Action Comics #1 in 1938, Clark Kent didn’t fight aliens or super-villains. He didn’t punch a robot or take laser beams to the chest. No, in his first appearance, Superman fought political corruption by working to pardon an innocent woman condemned to execution. He fought a wife beater and threatened a corrupt senator. In his first appearance, Superman was a champion of social causes. And this continued well into the Golden Age of comics. Over the next years, Superman fought war profiteers and for union rights. He forced the government to build affordable housing, he was the champion of the oppressed. Over the years, this aspect of the character has come and gone, often overshadowed by Superman needing to be the savior of the world or even the galaxy. The little things don’t play as big of a role anymore with alien invasions every other month.
Sure, sometimes you get a creative team that taps into that. Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove did, for sure. And of course, that was the whole basis for Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run. But more often than not, it’s the big effing hero portrayal that wins out over the champion of the oppressed.
Which is what made this issue feel special to me. The threats that Jon faces down in Superman: Son of Kal-El #1 aren’t things he can just punch. He’s fighting climate change and fighting mental health issues. And maybe a northern California wildfire hits me a little closer to home than it does others, since I know people who lost everything in “once in a hundred years” fires that we see every summer now. But seeing Jon work to not only combat the blaze but to help calm down the panicking meta-human that started the fire? That’s the kind of Superman we need right now.
If this first issue is indicative of what Taylor has in store for us in his Superman run? It’s set to be one for the ages.
- Icon and Rocket Season One is an incredible update of that book for a modern age. So far both of the Milestone relaunches have knocked it out of the park, and I’m so excited to keep reading.
- Good week for Joshua Williamson as both Robin and Infinite Frontier continue to be must-read books. I can’t wait for Robin #5 after that cliff-hanger ending.
- Action Comics #1033 has some of the best work of Daniel Sampere’s career, including a Superfamily splash page that I’m sad I can’t afford and some of the best Lois Lane panels of the 21st century.
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