It’s that time of year for extra-sized annual issues, and this week Superman: Son of Kal-El gets to create a ruckus. It’s a story that features a key matchup between Lex Luthor and Jon Kent aka Earth’s new Superman. What is Lex up to now that Clark is gone, and can Jon go toe-to-toe with the smartest man on Earth? The answer might surprise you.
Written by Tom Taylor and drawn by Steve Pugh, this issue opens with a flashback to a time when Superman and his friends defeat Lex Luthor. The opener is a nice reminder Lex can be outwitted, but is he ever really outmatched? In a key scene involving chess, we get to see two perspectives on either side of the board between Lex and Superman. Their relationship has always been a bit like a game and it’s fitting how the chess game goes and what they talk about.
Cut to now, when Clark is no longer Earth’s Superman and Jon has taken over. Taylor utilizes the quieter non-action scene moments to flesh out character moments. We get a great scene with Batman, for instance, and a nice reminder of how thoughtful Alfred is. There’s plenty of Lois, too. Seeing Jon as a teenager is rather new for DC Comics and Taylor capitalizes on the various relationships in his life.
I wouldn’t say this comic is political, but political-minded ideas do pop up, like why rich people aren’t doing more to save the Earth from climate change. In fact, there’s a nice moment with a polar bear that’s somewhat disheartening as Jon helps the pregnant bear out. Fans of Twitter discourse will also want to note the name of the bear. This leads to a touching moment with Jon that Clark has experienced as well. It’s a nice nod to Clark’s lack of a family and Jon’s new position without a father to talk to.
This issue does two things very well. The first is to set up Lex in a new light starting with a scheme involving blackmailing other rich people around the globe and eventually leading to him with a new mission. The issue also explains how a man who is so obviously evil could still be accepted by the general population. Sadly, it’s a reminder folks like Donald Trump will never fully go away.
The second is getting some blockbuster action with Lex in a mecha-suit and Jon by his side fighting some robots. Taylor doesn’t forget we’re here for action and splashy heroics and he delivers, along with Clayton Henry who draws much of the issue.
The book in general looks great, especially with the character acting by Pugh and Henry. There are thought-provoking conversations here and you feel the emotion no matter the scene. Lex is a trickier character to pin down while also making him seem three-dimensional, and both artists do well to accomplish that. They’re paired with color artists Romulo Fajardo Jr. and Steve Buccellato who supply a brightness and positivity that suits Jon Kent.
The only downside of the issue might be the plotting, which jumps around a lot. Starting with a flashback, cutting to Jon, then whisking him off to multiple locations only to have him arrive to face off against Lex can feel jarring. The flow of the book is a bit off.
Superman: Son of Kal-El 2021 Annual is a good one-shot, building on Jon’s experience as Earth’s new Superman while building towards something intriguing with Lex Luthor. It’s a great example of how Taylor is one of the best at crafting genuine character interactions no matter who is in the room.
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