Phillip Kennedy Johnson is joined by Future State: Superman: House of El artist Scott Godlewski for his second issue of Superman. The two both mount an attempt at entrenching Superman in a classic sci-fi story, unlike most anything he’s done in years, and solidify the family structure of the book introduced during Patrick Gleason and Peter Tomasi’s run. Jon is truly at the forefront of this book, and in his current state that seems to be Johnson’s biggest hurdle towards crafting a truly memorable Superman run.
This issue picks up the pace in every way from the series’ introductory story. There’s more happening. There are stronger character interactions. There’s more new characters. And there seem to be bigger implications.
Clark and Jon’s sci-fi adventure here has all the feelings of a young adult meeting their parents’ work friends for the first time. It’s an excellent setup to both deepen readers’ empathy for Jon as they recognize a situation they themselves have likely been in, as well as make Clark a little more complex and mysterious. It’s cool to be reminded there are whole worlds and cultures Clark is often saving off page.
It’s really Johnson’s interpretation of Clark that shines throughout the book. While having a strong understanding of Clark’s voice, he also peppers in nuances that make him feel as human as he’s ever felt. At times, Clark’s typical humility starts to sound like imposter syndrome, and his hope for his son can drift into wistfulness for the years he hasn’t, and won’t have with him.
It’s also in this Johnson finds his secret weapon for making Jon endearing. Throughout the book he’s framing him through Clark, and Clark’s love. Readers are met with the deep admiration and full understanding of a father gazing upon his son, and it becomes one of the first times where teenage Jon feels right. He doesn’t feel like just a malformed replacement of a character readers once fell in love with, but a wholly fresh entity to which they might become endeared again.
Externally though, the Kent boys are dealing with a new threat that puts an interesting twist on an oft-used sci-fi trope. However, it isn’t the villain that seems to be the most threatening thing in the issue. Readers will come to learn about this new planet’s culture, and Johnson specifically lays out a difference in their father-son relationships compared to Earth’s. It has all the trappings of sowing seeds of conflict between Clark and Jon.
Everything in the book is cleverly crafted around the two of them, which gives the book a two-handed dynamic that isn’t often seen in a Superman book. It feels like a story structure and inciting event that is rife for a long-form, slow-burn story centered around the development of this father-son relationship.
Outside of the book’s two leads, Johnson introduces some other interesting supporting characters. His Lois Lane is perfectly fun, and Superman’s old allies introduced here feel appropriately unique. There’s even a really fun brand of humor brought to them, which is always welcome in a Superman book.
Godlewski in instrumental is solidifying the tone of this book, which makes all of Johnson’s work possible. His blocky, cartoon art-style allows the book to really sit in this classic superhero vein, which lends the characters and circumstances and heir of credibility and timelessness.
It’s the simplicity of the work which is often deceptive towards the complexity of the characters and convinces readers to let their guards down early into the story. Thus allowing the full humanity of Clark, Jon and the supporting cast to wash over readers.
The simplicity can also be Godlewski’s weakness, as each panel seems to be staged against the backdrop of a bland, characterless setting. Whether it’s a blank landscape, or an nondescript shot, few things in the environment truly add to the character of this world or this story. This is a shame too considering how far some of those details could go in a classic sci-fi story.
This is a book which, unlike Superman #29, truly feels like the start of a journey. It’s teasing dynamics and conflicts for the future while deepening the relationships between its main characters in meaningful ways. This is all done against the backdrop of classic comic art, which should satisfy any comic fan.
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