Spotlight Sunday 8.1.21

Spotlight Sundays

A lot of alleged comic book fans engaging in a “Tell me you don’t know anything about Superman without saying that you don’t know anything about Superman” challenge online means that there are spoilers ahead for…

Database entry with a picture of the cover of Superman: Son of Kal-El #1 with information about the comic, including Writer Tom Taylor and Artist and Cover Artist John Timms, and a plot synopsis:
Jonathan Kent has experienced a lot in his young life. He's traveled the galaxies with his Kryptonian grandfather and lived in the future with the Legion of Super-Heroes, who were intent on training him for the day his father, Clark Kent, could no longer be Superman. There is a hole in the Legion's history that prevents Jon from knowing exactly when that will happen, but all signs point to it being very soon. It's time for the son to wear the cape of his father and bear the symbol of hope that has told the world who Superman really is. Join writer Tom Taylor (Nightwing, DCeased) and artist John Timms (Infinite Frontier) as they usher in a whole new era for the House of El!
Colorist: Gabe Eltaeb
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Variant Covers: Inhyuk Lee, Stephen Byrne, Jen Bartel
Associate Editor: Diego Lopez
Editor: Jamie S. Rich
Superman Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster
Superboy Created by Jerry Siegel
By Special Arrangement with the Jerry Siegel Family

Yes, it’s Superman–strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman–defender of law and order, champion of equal rights, valiant, courageous fighter against the forces of hate and prejudice, who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth and justice.

A few months back, DC had an “event” called “Future State,” consisting of several specials telling stories about the future of the DC Universe. One such special focused on Jon Kent, the son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, who, in his father’s absence, was filling the role of Superman.

Since that time, DC has been incorporating some of the characters and concepts introduced in “Future State” into the current line of comics. By way of example, there’s the comic we’re here to talk about today.

The issue opens with some narration from Jon talking about what his father said was the greatest day of his life. This greatness was not, presumably, related to the alien invasion – or rather attempted alien invasion, as everyone kept describing it to Superman as they tried to shoo him away – but rather the event transpiring on Earth, in the Fortress of Solitude.

This event was, of course, the birth of Jon. (Which is why all of Superman’s friends kept shooing him away as he tried to help fend off the attempted alien invasion. He had more important things to attend to.)

I love that Jon – correctly – numbers his mom among the greatest heroes in the world.

This telling of the birth of Jon differs from how it was originally told several years back, because continuity is for chumps, and also because it serves as a considerably less convoluted jumping on point for new readers. (I guess it was changed by “Rebirth,” or “Dark Knights: Metal,” or “Dark Knights: Death Metal,” or “Infinite Frontier,” or…well, like I said, the general attitude is that continuity is for chumps, so this is the way it happened. For now.)

From there, we jump ahead to the present day, in which Jon is a young adult, though really he should still be 10-12 years old, but…well, things happened, and he grew up fast, at least from the perspective of the people who knew him. For Jon, trapped seven years in the past in a different universe, it happened in real time.

We find Jon helping to put out a wildfire, and we get the first thing that has led to people who weren’t going to buy this comic anyway dismissing it as “woke trash,” because Jon has the absolute temerity to make a reference to climate change.

However, climate change alone isn’t responsible for the fire, as Jon looks through the blaze and sees that there is a very frightened metahuman at the center of it, one whose powers are out of control, and whom the military is trying to take out.

Flying through the conflagration, Jon talks to the young man and gets him to calm down and get his fiery abilities under control, and hands him over to the military who will, Jon hopes, get the young metahuman the help he needs.

Or not.

Despite what the caption from his BFF Robin at the bottom, Jon didn’t save him, and, as we switch to a conversation between the Super Sons, it’s clear that this fact is weighing very heavily on him.

While helping Damian defeat some pesky ninjas, Jon talks about his legacy, the expectations that come with it, and about what kind of Superman he wants to be. Even though he has a lot to live up to, he feels that there are ways in which he can do even more than his father has.

Damian isn’t the least bit surprised by this, given that Superman isn’t Jon’s only parent.

From there, we close with a splash page shot of Jon flying above the Earth as he hears Damian’s parting words.

“…it’s time for Superman to stop fighting the symptoms. You’re powerful enough to be the cure.”

Thanks to an article published about how “DC makes Superman drop ‘the American Way'” or somesuch, and, more importantly, a ragebait tweet linking to the article that provided no context indicating that it was about Jon and which, bafflingly, included a picture of Henry Cavill, that line about what Jon wants the symbol to stand for got the Usual Gang of “No Politics in Comics!!!1” Idiots in a tizzy. I haven’t checked, but I imagine there are currently a bunch of videos of comic book YouTubers ripping up copies of this issue.

To state the obvious, “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” is a political statement, so the comic wouldn’t become magically apolitical if that’s what Jon had said.

The “never-ending battle” catchphrase has its origins outside of the comics, appearing primarily in other media such as the radio show, and has undergone several permutations over the years, as can be seen by one example of it that doesn’t include “the American Way” in the quotation that opens this post.

It first became “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” on the radio show – for nakedly political reasons – during World War II, at a point when the war wasn’t going well for the US and its allies, the same era during which Superman comics featured stunningly racist caricatures of Japanese soldiers on the covers and within the story pages.

After the war ended, that line, having served its purpose, fell into disuse, but was revived for the TV series The Adventures of Superman – once again for nakedly political reasons – in response to the Red Scare. Much like adding “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, it was a shibboleth for keeping the Godless Communist Menace at bay, or a kind of magical protection spell. This was when it truly cemented its place into the consciousness of the general public.

And this is hardly the first time this kind of thing has happened. A while back there was a storyline in which Superman renounced his American citizenship, declaring himself a “citizen of the world.” And there were, of course, reactionaries who reacted. There were recent complaints about another variation that included “tolerance” being used on the Superman and Lois TV series.

Of course, the larger complaint this time around is about “woke-ism” and “Superman is a Social Justice Warrior now!” To that latter point, I say, “Now?” From the very start, Superman has been a Social Justice Warrior. There have been a lot of different takes on the character throughout the decades, in all media, and even the worst of them has always understood that at his core, Superman is a fundamentally decent person who cares about social justice.

The “No Politics” crowd has, from what I’ve seen, gotten a little bit savvier recently, recognizing that yes, there have always been politics in comics, but they argue that it’s different now, that comics are force-feeding a specific agenda, at the expense of the story and of characterization.

It can happen, sure. There are writers who are not particularly deft at getting their message across while telling an engaging and interesting story. It’s true of any medium.

It’s not true in this case, as the case for Jon to pursue this agenda is perfectly stated by Damian. Jon is the son of Superman and Lois Lane. Of course he’s going to pursue social justice. How could he not?

And of course as a young person in the current era his pursuit is going to relate to modern issues, and is going to look beyond the confines of one country and some vague notion about that country’s “way.”

Beyond that, Tom Taylor very much is a particularly deft writer, one who is able to get his message across while telling an engaging and interesting story, one that is going to resonate with people who don’t have a knee-jerk freak out as soon as someone mentions something like climate change.

Anecdotally, this does resonate with young people, as when I was buying this comic, the young woman – I don’t know how young, but certainly she was much closer to Jon Kent’s age than Jon Maki’s – ringing me up was excited to see it in my stack of books. “Nice! This was my favorite book this week!”

The kids are alright.

As for the comic itself, I will say that it could have used a bit more action, but as it was a place-setting first issue, that’s understandable and not much of point against it. And it wasn’t that there was no action – we saw Jon and Damian fighting ninjas, after all – but the balance of the action bits and the talky bits just seemed to skew too much towards the talky. Still, it wasn’t a set-up for a multi-issue arc facing off against a specific villain – though I’m sure we’ll return to that military unit and the young metahuman at some point – it was setting the tone for what lies ahead as Jon works towards becoming his own man and Superman.

I loved the scenes depicting the birth of Jon, with the Justice League constantly telling Superman to be where he’s actually needed during the no-sweat-we’ve-got-this attempted alien invasion.

And I especially loved this exchange between Lois and Diana.

I also like that we see, even as he struggles to figure out what his approach will be, that Jon approaches things in a way that is similar to his father’s, but is also distinctly his own, such as when he talks to the metahuman firestarter, starting the conversation with, “Hi. I’m Jon.” It helps set the stage for the later discussion about what kind of Superman he wants to be.

There was solid art from Timms throughout, with a good flow and some interesting layouts, and a unique style that I look forward to seeing put to use on more action-focused scenes in the future, based on the action sequence we did get here.

I also want to thank Dave Sharpe for his lettering work, as there were several pages containing dialogue captions that had different colors – and logos – to indicate who was speaking and they were all legible thanks to the color choices. Too often in books – particularly books featuring the Super Sons – the low contrast between text and caption box colors makes them very difficult for my aging eyes to read. I just want to say “Thank you for not including any red text against a black background.”

Some final thoughts:

  • Loved that there was so much focus on the fact that Jon is also Lois Lane’s son.
  • Damian’s dialogue felt a bit off; Taylor wrote him much the way he wrote him in his DCeased books, which was fine there, but doesn’t really fit here, as Damian hasn’t lived through those experiences. It’s a minor quibble, though.
  • I’m curious to see how much of what was in Future State comes to pass here.
  • I don’t hate Jon’s costume, but I am glad to see that he’s getting a new one in the next issue.

Anyway, with that, it’s time to turn the Spotlight off for now. For those who were mad – or even pretend-mad for the sake of clicks and views – I say, calm down, because…

Speaking – earlier – of my comic shop…

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