Review: Superman: Son of Kal-El Vol. 1: The Truth hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

 ·  1 comment

I’ve been reading comics long enough to know that even despite Jon Kent being called “Superman” here, taking ownership of some pretty big shoes, one day his father will take over the mantle again — that we’ll only go so long, even, with Superman’s identity made public, with his job at the Daily Planet seemingly all but forgotten, before something reels us back to the status quo. As it’s been before, it will be again.

But in the meantime, in Superman: Son of Kal-El Vol. 1: The Truth, writer Tom Taylor makes a very compelling case for new Superman Jon Kent, a Superman who does things differently than his predecessor not out of angst or rebellion, but because of the changing attitudes of the world. Both here and in Nightwing, Taylor depicts the optimistic hero, the activist hero, and Taylor appears to have cracked the code such that his heroes are actively, in-story activists, not just espousing such as a narrative aesthetic. Has Taylor captured the post(ish)-pandemic superhero zeitgeist? Will it spread? Can it last?

I’m not sure, but the list of characters I’d like to see Taylor tackle just keeps getting longer.

[Review contains spoilers]

In the 1980s-1990s heyday of the Superman “Triangle Titles” era, much ink was spilled over the idea that Superman can’t be everywhere, can’t do everything, can’t save everyone, and moreover, shouldn’t — that it’s a short jump from Superman defying government laws to becoming a dictatorial force that rules the world (see the Armageddon 2001 tie-in Superman Annual #3, for one such example).

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

That’s eased already in the modern era (including Clark recently getting between the U.S. military and Atlantis in Action Comics Vol. 1: Warworld Rising). But, I still don’t think I’ve seen much like the sequence of Jon rescuing a boat of refugees, and then when a police officer goes to handcuff a refugee, Jon destroys the handcuffs and tells the officer he’ll keep doing so, until the officer has to order his deputies not to use restraints. That’s dictating policy in a way Clark was once, at least, hesitant to do.

Jon follows that by protesting with the refugees and letting himself get arrested, and later confronting Henry Bendix, the dictatorial president of Gamorra. And when Bendix tries to defeat Jon by enhancing his powers so that he can see and hear everyone in trouble — a trick that’s disabled Clark a time or two — Jon proceeds to try to save everyone, even involving himself in a lack of available hospital beds. The latter is the kind of thing writers of the previous Superman generally didn’t involve him in, or only as a demonstration of his limits; here, Jon ferries patients between hospitals without a second thought.

I’ve criticized writers before for portraying their heroes as “doing things differently” but telling stories that are essentially business as usual. Instead, Taylor’s Jon Kent seems legitimately different, acting in ways his father didn’t, and genuinely reflecting the engagement of 2020s youth. In the scene of Jon, love interest Jay Nakamura, and former Suicide Squad-ers the Aerie and Wink conferring, there’s the vibe of the better aspects of DC’s CW shows — young heroes, but not sidekicks (the “Super” on the page is the Superman of the moment, after all), giving a sense of the authentic next generation of the DC pantheon. Apropos of nothing, Taylor uses the phrase “post-human” instead of DC’s customary “metahuman,” as if to break very specifically with what came before.

Granted Jon’s father is off-planet, maybe never to return, and a foreign government is trying to kill him, but Jon’s life seems relatively on track — succeeding as Superman, dating Jay. To that end, I have some of the same concerns as I had with Taylor’s life-on-track Dick Grayson in Nightwing Vol. 1: Leaping Into the Light — that some writers would be bucking up their characters only to precipitate a major fall. I don’t necessarily expect such from Taylor — my sense of the writer is that the optimistic tone of his titles is genuine — but the relative stakes are high; we don’t want to see Dick’s new philanthropic efforts come to naught, but assuredly we don’t want to see Jon Kent’s first boyfriend turn out to secretly be a villain.

Truth has good character work in general across the board, and it’s funny to boot. In Jon’s tendencies toward activism, Taylor emphasizes how Jon echoes his mother’s journalism; Taylor’s Lois is as smart and capable as you’d like, whether breaking in to STAR Labs or dressing down Batman for the Justice League’s lax security after an attack on Ma and Pa Kent’s home. When Ma Kent tells a concerned Green Lantern, “We’re fine, Hal,” you see Taylor’s wise recognition of these characters' long histories and relationships. Though I thought Taylor and artist John Timms both wrote and drew Robin Damian Wayne as too old, I did like the hilarious chaos of the scene where Lois, Damian, and Jay all collide in their separate break-ins. (Timms, overall, offers the perfect amount of youthful animation and clear, clean lines for this book; he should draw Jon Kent forever.)



Pitting Superman Jon Kent against Henry Bendix does seem a tad small to me. Clearly I see Jon’s iteration of Lex Luthor in Bendix, but the fact that this a fight Jon chooses rather than an alien armada attacking Earth might be too minor for Superman’s “first” adventure; then again, I very much see how that works with the trappings of Tom Taylor’s progressive hero. And I liked Superman: Son of Kal-El Vol. 1: The Truth a lot; after lesser depictions of Jon Kent in Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s Action Comics Vol. 1: Warworld Rising, Taylor reminds us what’s great about the aged-up Super Son.

[Includes original and variant covers; John Timms sketchbook]

Comments ( 1 )

  1. Love this book and how it handles Jon's mix of inexperience, idealism and social conscience, but it really sucks that John Timms left after just 6 issues to draw yet another bat-title. Cian Tormey's stuff is competent but just not up to the same level.


To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.