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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Hope for a better tomorrow: returning Superman to his roots by looking towards the future

There’s a wildfire in California. Firefighters swarm in to help evacuate families from the area, but are overwhelmed by the blaze. Things seem hopeless, until something swoops down from out of the sky. It’s Superman! After rescuing a family from the fire, Superman scans the area, looking for the original source. He finds it, a scared metahuman with pyrokinetic abilities who has no memory of how he got there, how to control his powers, or even who he is. Superman, sensing that he is dealing with a victim here and not a new supervillain, steps closer to the man in an effort to calm him down. “Hi,” he introduces himself. “I’m Jon.”

 

The character of Jon Kent is a fairly new addition to the DC comic book. The son of Clark Kent, the original Superman, and Lois Lane was born during an event, Convergence, that only exists because the publisher needed to cover up a gap in publication while they relocated to the West Coast. He was later featured in Peter J Tomasi’s Superman series during DC Rebirth as a ten year old, before Brian Michael Bendis used time travel and alternate reality shenanigans to turn him into a teenager. This change has been met by almost universal revulsion due to fans’ fondness of young Jon, and the general resistance to change that exists within the comic book fandom. After spending some time in the far future with the Legion of Superheroes, Jon Kent is now headlining his own solo series, titled “Superman: Son of Kal-El,” where he has taken the name of Superman as his own after Clark goes off planet to help a group of alien refugees. 

 

What could be a fairly standard new series is turned extraordinary by the hand of Australian comic book author, Tom Taylor. Among comic fans, Taylor is known for writing the comic prequel to the “Injustice” video game, which famously features Superman turning into a dictator after being tricked by the Joker into killing Lois, and “All-New Wolverine,” a series that had Wolverine’s clone/daughter, Laura, step into the name after his death. The influence of both of these past works is clear in Taylor’s Superman story, despite the fact that the series is only three issues in.

 

Tom Taylor’s previous work, including other series not listed, are also unabashedly liberal. “All New Wolverine” frequently dismantled the toxic masculinity that Logan embodies at times, and a recent issue of “Injustice Year Zero” featured the wedding of that universe’s Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, much to shipper’s delights. From the first three issues, Taylor builds on Jon’s previously established personality and adds to it. Jon’s version of Superman is acutely aware of his father’s generation’s failings. He’s concerned about the climate crisis,  and is trying to figure out how to help. He  sees people, not problems, when encountering potential threats. When a group of refugees fleeing from a country that refuses to acknowledge their existence are almost killed during a storm, Jon completely disregards the potential political consequences and swoops down to save them, later allowing himself to be arrested alongside protestors when the government tries to extradite the refugees. The gesture is entirely symbolic, which all of the characters of the book are aware of, but it still makes a statement. This Superman is trying to save the world, and he doesn’t care who he pisses off in the process.

 

Although Tom Taylor’s critics claim that he is needlessly adding politics to a comic book about superheroes, Superman has always been an inherently political character. In his first appearance, way back in “Action Comics #1” by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman stops an abusive husband from beating his wife. Another early issue of Action Comics almost acts as a PSA about the need for social services to help those in need, rather than just throwing them in prison. As Tom Taylor uses Jon to point out in issue #3 of the new series, the original Superman was a refugee, so it would be incredibly ignorant or frighteningly naive to think that Superman wouldn’t support other refugees and immigrants.

 

Starting last week, Tom Taylor began teasing a major announcement on his Twitter account. On Oct. 11, International Coming Out Day, DC Comics made good on that promise by releasing an image from the upcoming fifth issue of “Superman: Son of Kal-El” drawn by series artist John Timms: an image that shows Jonathan Kent kissing his new male friend, Jay. DC’s new Superman is officially bisexual. It should be pretty obvious, but that is a huge deal. No matter how long Jon’s tenure as Superman actually lasts, LGBT kids are always going to be able to look at the biggest superhero in the world and know that he also stands for them. 

 

DC also added another chapter to Superman’s political history over the weekend during DC’s Fandome, a virtual convention event, by formally changing Superman’s catch phrase from “Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” to “Truth, Justice, and a Better Tomorrow.” While it is important to note that this is far from the first time the catch phrase has been changed, in the comics it has been informally “Truth and Justice” since last February, that does not diminish the significance of this change. Superman is no longer fighting for any one country. He is fighting for the future.

 

Issue number four of “Son of Kal-El” comes out this Tuesday, Oct. 26. In around a month, issue number 5 will be out, cementing Superman as a member of the LGBT community, making history and continuing the history of Superman being a politically conscious character. “Truth, Justice, and a Better Tomorrow” is not only a better catch phrase, but it is also the perfect mission statement for Taylor and Timms’ new vision of Jonathan Kent. Jon Kent is a new type of Superman, one who isn’t merely content with the current state of affairs of the world, but willing to not only fight for a better future and  inspire us to create one ourselves.

 

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