Review: Superman: The One Who Fell trade paperback (DC Comics)


It is the positive reviews I’d heard of Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s Action Comics that keep me from being more concerned about Superman: The One Who Fell. Kennedy’s inaugural story on the main Super-titles felt to me melodramatic, if not a reductive presentation overall of Superman and his son Jon Kent. Fortunately, Clark-and-Jon stories will not necessarily be what Johnson is up to in the near future, and again, many of you have told me there’s good things on the way.

There is a nice bit of sci-fi mystery here, and also the creation whole-cloth of a years-ago Superman adventure that seems plausibly that it could have happened. Post-Crisis, when Superman was a relatively smaller figure on the DC landscape — and not, for instance, a leading JLA member — cosmic alien-planet-set adventures were more rare, such that they were often touted as special events — the “In Exile” storyline, for one, or a particular 1994 month of Superman in space [starting with Triangle Titles 1994:5, kids! — Ed.]. One Who Fell feels old-school in that vein, taking place mostly off-planet.

I guess one would rather have a Superman who’s treacly than a Superman who’s irreverent or uncaring, and I’ve seen writers try and fail at both of those. So not the best, but not the worst, and I’ve got the next trade right here to see if it gets any better.

[Review contains spoilers]

The One Who Fell makes no secret of what it’s about, kicking right off with discussion of parents and children and that time when children begin to see their parents as no longer infallible. That moves exceptionally swiftly to a scene where Clark is treating Jon somewhat childishly, and right after, Jon declares Clark can’t answer the next distress call because, future knowledge tells him, this is the day that Superman will die (again. Ish. You know).

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

It’s in this swiftness where One Who Falls first stumbles. First, I feel like “I’m not ready to be Superman” has never quite been one of Jon Kent’s character traits, especially given he’s put on a costume, gone off to join the Legion of Super-Heroes in the future, fought his way through the Legion of Doom and Leviathan, and so on. Sure, I agree that Jon would be distraught if his father were endangered or dying, but not stepping up to his duty or not wanting to be seen as Superman-esque doesn’t feel like the confident Jon of Brian Michael Bendis' recent run.

Second, this whole sequence of events presupposes that while in the future, Jon went and looked up how his father dies, which also doesn’t seem like something Jon would do or something it doesn’t seem like the Legion would let him do, letting alone that the excuse has often been that the Great Disaster or whatnot has kept the future from having such specific records of the past (see Superman: Time and Time Again, for instance — apparently it’s old home week for me).

And then, not only did Jon come back from the future and keep the details of his father’s imminent death to himself, but then it’s not until midway through a separate conversation that Jon thinks to warn his father that the very next mission is said to be his last. Not getting a week’s head start on the whole thing and involving the Justice League, just telling Superman minutes before that he essentially needs to let an alien invasion proceed unimpeded, and also that Jon won’t agree to be Superman either.

Of course, I recognize here that Johnson is likely dealing with editorially mandated elements (up to and including the “old Superman” path that 5G was supposed to take vis a vis Superman and the Authority); I’d be more concerned if we were farther in than the first arc. And while again, I think Johnson risks sentiment to the point of saccharine (Clark thinking of his son as his “little barn swallow”), indeed One Who Falls improves once the panic over Superman’s death is off the table.

The “One Who Fell” arc proper (following the initial two part “Golden Age”) has the additional problem of being “just” a one-off four-part story, disconnected from ongoing events in Action or the Superman: Son of Kal-El series that followed (another guess is that “One Who Fell” is mainly running out the clock on the Superman title so that Action can link up with Son where it’s supposed to). At the same time, it’s for this same reason “Fell” reminds me of a Triangle Titles four-parter, with shades (catch this one) of Marv Wolfman’s Superman: Infestation, for instance.

But I like this idea that Superman has fought many space battles and so has random friends across the cosmos. Johnson makes these relationships immediately appealing, as with the alien scientist who jokes when meeting Superman’s son, “So much of him, I see in you, poor homely child.” And from those beginnings, Johnson spins well a tale of conspiracy and alien terror. I also enjoyed Johnson’s take on Jon’s powers, demonstrating them as naturally different than Clark’s, or that Jon, in growing up with his powers, has learned to use them in subtly different ways.

“Golden Age” arc is drawn by Phil Hester, always a joy to see. Hester draws a strangely emaciated Mongul toward the end, which doesn’t match at least Mongul’s appearance on upcoming covers, so I’m curious how that shakes out. The rest of the book is by Scott Godlewski, who draws a consistently smart, boisterous Superman (a la Ed McGuinness), though at first I thought his out-of-costume Jon was his younger Super Sons self and not the aged-up present.



Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s Superman: The One Who Fell is a start, and if a reader were starting here having skipped the run-up to Dark Nights: Death Metal, they might (be confused how Jon Kent got so old and) enjoy this just fine. As someone who hasn’t missed an issue, One Who Fell seems repetitive and simplistic, but none of this is without precedent for a new writer’s first volume. Nowhere to go but up (up, and away).

[Includes original and variant covers, cover sketches]

Comments ( 4 )

  1. Great review. I thought that Johnson is certainly capable of more than what he did with this storyline....I remember finishing it rather quickly and then just thinking.....huh....guess it was ok. I've read his other work, and he's a strong writer.....I just think that this story was a filler......till he could align all the chess pieces and move into the Warworld storyline that was much better.

    This goes into the read it once......don't need to reed it twice pile for me.

    All that being said.....Phil Hester's artwork is always nice to see, especially in mainstream work. I still love his Green Arrow work from a while ago.....and of course Powers......

    1. AnonymousJuly 19, 2022

      Yeah, Hester is still the definitive modern Green Arrow artist in my mind, too, thanks to the Kevin Smith, Brad Meltzer, and Judd Winick runs having just come out when I began reading the comics 20 years ago.

      Anyway, yeah, this isn't Johnson at his best, but it's really...think of it as more of a warm-up and a last traditional Suprman story before things segued into the War World Saga and Tom Taylor's Son of Kal-El.

      The better stuff's still to come.

    2. Phil Hester didn't work on Powers, though... are you thinking of Michael Avon Oeming? Very similar styles!

    3. Review to come, but I did enjoy the first Warworld book much more!


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