Graphic Novel Review: Superman: Son of Kal-El Vol 1 – The Truth by Tom Taylor & John Timms ★★★1/2

Last year, the predictable crowd of perpetually outraged ‘commentators’ were in a flap because Superman came out as bisexual. Not the meek reporter Clark Kent that everyone knows, but a new character who took over the mantle, Clark Kent and Lois Lane’s son, Jonathan. The first six issues of Jon’s solo series, Superman: Son of Kal-El, that caused all the uproar are now available in a single volume titled, The Truth.

The new series sets up the status quo, Jon’s super-dad has to depart Earth on a mission, leaving him as the new, solo Superman. Younger, less experienced and still coming to terms with his own advanced adolescence (he was aged up from a kid to a teenager because… comic-books). Around him are his childhood friend, Damian Wayne (son of Bruce, and the current Robin), his grandparents and his fathers group of super-friends. Jon is determined to live up to his father’s legacy. His personal motto? “Truth, Justice, and a Better World” (no mention of “the American way” which also annoyed some people).

Jon starts getting news from an undercover outlet called The Truth (not connected to the Twitter-banned former President’s social network), and with their help tackles the problems that the mainstream media don’t focus on. Fighting for refugees, clashing with cops and eventually making himself the enemy of a foreign dictator, Henry Bendix. When the leader of The Truth reveals himself to be a young refugee meta-human named Jay Nakamura, well reader, they kiss!

If you’ve been around any commentary regarding Superman anytime in the last decade you’ll hear a familiar question: how do you fix Superman? He’s too powerful, too much of a “boy scout”, too boring. Zach Snyder tried to fill him with angst (it didn’t work), at one point DC Comics turned him into a pair of energy beings instead of the strongman we know (it didn’t work), they even killed him off (it didn’t last). With Jon Kent, writer Tom Taylor has flipped the equation; it’s not about how powerful he is, it’s about his outlook on life. His priorities are more aligned with a politically active college student than an older “beacon of justice” like his father. He has no innate respect for the mechanisms of law and order when they aren’t achieving their goals. As he learns early on in the book, he can not hide who he is and there’s no point trying.

These six issues set the scene for what has become one of DC comics’ freshest and brightest current comic books. Perhaps not coincidentally the other personal bright spot in the DC universe is Nightwing, also written by Taylor. Or maybe I just have a thing for brunettes in tights? Jon’s relationship with Jay is a slow burning subplot, and the idea that commentators could get that worked up by a single image of two guys kissing is as ridiculous as it sounds. It builds from here, but this volume lays the groundwork.

Turning the long-running villain of Henry Bendix into a foil for Jon Kent is also another great move. Bendix (a former Professor-X style leader who got drunk on power) is twisted and bitter. He’s a sad old guy in power who can’t handle the rise of a young queer superhero. John Timms’ art captures the youth of its protagonist with suitable superhero flair; the art is crisp and clean giving Jon a languid, teenage style in keeping with his character.

Superman: Son of Kal-El takes the Superman mythos and plants it in the modern era, instantly feeling more vibrant and vital than the exploits of his father (and don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed many great Clark Kent comics). Jon Kent joins DC Comics’ legion of queer superheros that cover every main franchise under their umbrella, and it’s great to see one with a “Super” symbol on his chest.

By Chad Armstrong

Superman: Son of Kal-El Vol 1: The Truth is available now in hardcover and digital, paperback being released in 2023.

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