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With a tattered cape, Jon Kent/Superman floats in space in Superman: Son of Kal-El #1 (2021)). Image: Tom Taylor, John Timms/DC Comics

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It’s hard to punch the climate crisis, but Superman’s son is gonna try

Jonathan Kent considers a new way to be a superhero in Superman: Son of Kal-El #1

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Lois Lane gave birth to Jonathan Samuel Kent in the 2015 Convergence crossover event, but Superman’s son grew up fast, thanks to being held captive on an alternate Earth and traveling to the future with the Legion of Super-Heroes. Now he’s learning to be his own man and comic book protagonist.

Like the title implies, this is not a Superboy story, but the new mainline Superman title. It’s also a chance to reimagine what the role of an incredibly powerful superhero should be.

Who is making Superman: Son of Kal-El?

The series is written by Tom Taylor, who previously worked for DC on the zombie apocalypse limited series DCeased and the comic prequel to the fighting game Injustice: Gods Among Us. Both heavily feature a corrupt Superman, with Jonathan Kent fighting his father in DCeased. They demonstrate that Taylor understands just how much of a fulcrum Superman is in the DC Comics universe. John Timms provided the art for a few issues of Brian Michael Bendis’ Superman run and Future State: Superman of Metropolis, which centers on Jonathan Kent, so he’s already got plenty of experience drawing the character with a square jaw and piercing gaze, but with a slighter frame and cockier smile than his super-dad.

Colorist Gabe Eltaeb provides some beautiful bold hues to scenes like Green Lantern protecting the Justice League from guns-ablaze alien warships firing on a starry backdrop, or the sun rising over the Fortress of Solitude. Dave Sharpe provides lettering, using a wide variety of different styles to indicate Martian Manhunter’s telepathy, panicked firefighters, and an out-of-control pyrokineticist, helping to add extra emotion and context without taking up too much space on the panels.

What is Superman: Son of Kal-El #1 about?

The comic opens with some retconning, smoothing the weird multiversal shenanigans in Convergence that led to Jonathan being born in the Batcave and giving him a similar but tweaked “origin” story. But the bulk of the issue is firmly in the present, with Jon intervening in a California wildfire, growing dissatisfied with treating the symptoms of problems like climate change and military brutality rather than the causes.

Taylor and Timms are setting up a story about Jon learning to be Superman his own way. As a special guest character notes, “It’s easy to punch a ninja. A little harder to punch the climate crisis, inequality, the erosion of a free press, and the rise of demagogues.”

Why is Superman: Son of Kal-El happening now?

“it’s going to be okay,” Jon Kent/Superman says as he swoops down to a family huddling away from a huge forest fire, “We can fight this together,” in Superman: Son of Kal-El #1 (2021). Image: Tom Taylor, John Timms/DC Comics

Generational stories are hugely popular in superhero media right now, a reflection of the real world conflicts between Millennial and Gen Z activists furious with Boomers for not doing more to protect the world for the future. DC Comics is leaning into the trend by focusing on a younger class of heroes, like Jonathan Kent, Yara Flor, and Crush. Superman: Son of Kal-El also nicely ties into the CW’s Superman & Lois, which is a loose adaptation of the Jonathan Kent plot. In that version, Jonathan is a jock with no powers, and his emo brother Jordan, who doesn’t appear in the comics, is the one developing abilities he can barely control.

Is there any required reading?

Superman: Son of Kal-El is very accessible if you know the broad strokes of Superman and the Justice League. Having read some of the comics leading up to this might actually be confusing, given the retcon. But if you want to see more of Jonathan Kent’s childhood and relationship with his parents, you could read Bendis’ recently wrapped Superman run. To explore his friendship with Damian Wayne and some of their adventures, read Super Sons by Peter J. Tomasi and Jorge Jimenez. Future State: Superman of Metropolis also provides a look at the character and the heavy burden placed on him as Superman’s successor.

Is Superman: Son of Kal-El #1 good?

Taylor is plotting a bold new course for Superman to keep the character relevant in a way reminiscent of Action Comics #900. The title of the issue is “Truth, justice, and a better world” rather than “the American way,” acknowledging that sometimes doing what’s right for humanity or the planet means defying the U.S. government. Superman has often been painted as a patriotic patsy, but Jonathan is showing he’s more willing to question authority and try to cause systemic change rather than just literally putting out fires.

Jon Kent/Superman talks with Damian Wayne/Robin as ninja weapons bounce harmlessly off of him in Superman: Son of Kal-El #1 (2021). Image: Tom Taylor, John Timms/DC Comics

The intro feels very much like a transition from Bendis’ run, right down to the banter between the members of the Justice League as they keep telling Superman not to worry about the attempted alien invasion. There’s some good humor, like Wonder Woman informing Batman that conducting tests on Jonathan right after his birth really isn’t helping his reputation as a paranoid weirdo, and Damian apparently being a shōnen manga character fighting off ninja trying to interfere with some mysterious tournament he’s competing in. [Ed. note: He’s running away from his feelings in the Robin series by joining a Mortal Kombat-style assassin tournament on an island where no one can die.]

Bendis turned Jonathan into a galactic peacemaker by having him suggest creating a space United Nations, which time travelers then showed up to endorse. The whole thing felt far too easy and hollow at a time of rising global tensions. Taylor is acknowledging the serious problems facing the world with lines like “Firefighters said this is a once-in-a-hundred-year fire. Seems like we have those every year now.” The comic also acknowledges the influence of Lois Lane and her journalistic mission to expose corruption and injustice on Jonathan, setting him on the path to embodying the best parts of both his parents, alien and human.

The question facing both Jonathan and Taylor is how a superhero can really deal with systemic issues without overstepping to the point that he takes over the world, an issue that was dealt with extremely poorly in Netflix’s adaptation of Jupiter’s Legacy. This run shows a lot of promise, but it will be a real challenge to live up to the lofty goal of reinventing the world’s most iconic superhero for a new generation.

One panel that popped

“I’ve got you,” Jon Kent/Superman says, hugging a flaming and naked male figure at the center of a forest fire in Superman: Son of Kal-El #1 (2021). Image: Tom Taylor, John Timms/DC Comics

This panel and the scene that leads up to it is reminiscent of the segment in Grant Morrison’s All-Star: Superman, where Superman talks a suicidal teen out of jumping off a building and gives her a comforting hug. In both cases, the writers make a strong case that compassion is Superman’s greatest power.