It’s rare that a character and the piece of art which is centered around him face the same struggles, and carry the same weight, but both Jon Kent and Superman: Son of Kal-El find themselves wrestling with the legacy of Clark Kent’s Superman. It’s a singular clarity of purpose which makes Tom Taylor and John Timms’ initial outing so intriguing. This is of course compounded by the ongoing rehabilitation of Jon Kent’s character, following the unpopular aging of his character in Brian Michael Bendis’s Superman (2018), and the Future State promise of a new generation of heroes.
Taylor, hot off a fan-favorite depiction of Jon Kent in DCeased, takes this first issue in order to establish a simple mission statement for the main universe’s version of Jon. Encapsulated in a classic story about making the right decisions to help people, and recognize human dignity, Taylor introduces the titular theme of, “truth, justice and a better world.”
SPOILERS AHEAD for Superman: Son of Kal-El #1!
Without necessarily making a deal of it, Taylor structures the story to introduce Jon to three of the biggest elements of Clark’s tenure as Superman: the Justice League, the military and, in Jon’s case, Damian Wayne rather than his father. Each allows Jon an outlet to explain to readers his world view, the expectations brought upon him and how his sense of agency is developing behind the iconic “S” shield.
In an interesting turn, Taylor has fully retconned Jon’s birth as the child of the post-crisis Clark and Lois Kent from 2015’s Convergence, and instead inserts an original depiction featuring Clark, Lois, Wonder Woman and Batman. Jon notes that, “four of the greatest heroes in the world,” were there for his birth which helps both communicate the scale of his expectations as well as helps endear him to readers — it’s always endearing when someone considers their mom their hero.
From there, Taylor seems to actually be re-capturing the charm of 12-year-old Jon, who fans fell in love with. He’s at once friendly, thoughtful, compassionate and aware that people want him to live up to the name of Superman. Rather than finding some angsty way to be angry about that, he approaches it with an earnest intention to do his best. So, like Clark and like Gleason and Tomasi’s depiction of Jon, Taylor’s version of the characters seems to once again represent the best of us.
It can’t be glossed over how powerful of a metaphor the central story in this issue is. When Jon responds to a simple problem in a forest fire (a problem many Americans face today), readers see him approaching a real, tangible problem. Additionally, they see him literally walking through the fire to try and make things better. Whether he’s got powers or not, that’s such a strong imagery of compassion, and Taylor’s incredibly clever to have made it one of the first things readers see Jon do in this series.
Furthermore, the retention of Jon’s friendship with Damian, as also seen in Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s Action Comics, brings Jon down to such a much more human level than he had inhabited under Bendis’s pen. Readers can recognize the sincerity of their friendship, and see their own relationships in that.
Timms might be putting out some of the best work of his career in this series. For maybe the first time, it feels like his work could easily serve as the iconic depiction and art style for a character here with Jon. The simple line-work, mixed with the skilled composition of form and dynamic movement communicate a similar sincerity as does Jon himself.
Additionally, Timms displays a strong grasp on what makes each character visually unique, whether it’s Damian’s shifty eyes, Wonder Woman’s strong conviction and posture or Jon’s trusting demeanor.
His depictions, and importantly his framing, are also integral to the way in which Taylor’s imagery comes across. Readers wouldn’t receive the same impression of Jon, his compassion and what that means for other people if Timms wasn’t so intentional with how certain moments are framed.
For example, the way in which Timms changes the angle from which Jon is viewing the military as his perspective on them moves from one of being treated as an equal, to being treated as different. The simplicity of being underneath when one feels underneath is a great communication of intent.
Lastly, it isn’t necessarily a problem with this issue, but Johnson established certain new characteristics for Jon in his short run on Superman — specifically, Jon’s creativity with his powers, and how that makes him different from Clark. That isn’t present here in this introduction, but it will be interesting to see if it’s adopted as the series goes on.
Taylor and Timms establish a great introductions to who in all likelihood will be one of the most prominent heroes in the DC Universe going forward. Readers will be happy to have a Jon who feels connected to his original depiction, and the promise of a future which sees him fulfilling his potential. This series feels akin to Taylor’s Nightwing in that it could just be banger after banger each month.
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