It’s simple to see that the foremost objective of Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s early work with Superman has been to try and get this aged up Jon Kent over with the audience, a tall task which most readers would not envy him for. With this in mind, skeptical readers ought to come in and marvel at the work he’s done. While the book might not be perfect, Jon is a likable, mature version of his once youthful and earnest self, and that is a small miracle all on its own.
Johnson builds on a technique he used last issue, which is to build affection for Jon by compelling the reader to see him through Clark’s eyes. While in the last issue it was an attempt to just paint him as likable and interesting, Johnson now seeks a characterization as heroic, capable and humble. It’s a simple yet effective tool as it builds up Jon, develops his relationship with Clark and allows the genuine sweetness of Superman to shine through.
Later in the issue is where readers get to hear Jon in his own words. Once separated from his father, Johnson casts Jon as a young man weighed down by the immensity of his father’s legacy, and unsure of his path forward. He’s easy to empathize with, and in that, he’s so much more understandably human than he’s felt since being aged up. This is really the crux of the book’s emotional narrative.
Its plot is reasonably compelling in that Johnson cleverly crafts a challenge that seems genuinely challenging for this pair of gods. It’s surprising, harsh and compellingly dark at times, but it all makes sense.
Within that, Johnson never loses sight of who he’s trying to get over. The challenge is built up so that Jon can conquer it, and so that readers can be compelled by what he’s able to do. It’s a simple formula, but here it feels so convincingly done. Readers will be waiting for their new hero to come save the day and it will feel right.
In the peripheries of that narrative readers might notice the compelling sci-fi race which has been erected for this story, or the use of a simple Scooby-Doo-like story structure to move things along. What’s most worth readers’ interest though is the gentle, kind and humble voice Johnson infuses Clark with.
Clark’s narration bookends the story, and Johnson uses it to lend credibility to each point he wants to make. As Superman is the real authority within a Superman comic, his voice is used to establish story beats and themes.
It’s almost a shame that this is all depicted in art that doesn’t quite match the level of emotional intelligence the script brings. While Scott Godlewski and Norm Rapmund both deliver fun action and classic comic book stylings, one might wonder if the issue’s quiet dialogues would’ve been better served through a more nuanced art style.
Jon in particular could use all the help available as Johnson re-debuts him here, yet neither artist provides him with much of a unique visual identity. If not for the “S” on his chest, he could be any other young male superhero.
This isn’t to say none of the art works. On the contrary, the simple designs at times allow characters and actions to jump out from the backgrounds. The alien race here, in particular, is serviced by being the most detailed thing in the book. It allows them to stand out as unique, interesting and worth the reader’s attention every time they’re on the page.
It’s also worth noting that as two artists go, Godlewski and Rapmund’s styles blend almost seamlessly together. There is not jarring change, only a slight difference in the shape that faces are drawn.
Johnson, Godlewski and Rapmund deliver an interesting side-adventure which is integral to the re-development of Jon Kent as a prominent character in the DC Universe. They’re pulling it off more successfully than most anyone could imagine following such a negative fan reaction to the character’s initial aging up. It can only be imagined that it’ll just get better from here.
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