Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Review: Superman, Son of Kal-El #2

 Superman #2 came out this last week and some of the worries I had about the first issue have only intensified with this issue. This looks like it is going to be an agenda book with Superman and not a Superman book with an agenda. 

I trust Tom Taylor and so I am going to try and stick this out. But it is clear that Jon Kent is going to try and fight 'real world' problems. We are going to hear about all the hot button issues plaguing the world right now. And maybe we all need to hear about them more.

But there are two problems.

One, I already know about these problems. I already think about these problems. These problems already plague me. I turn to comic books so that for the brief time it takes me to read them, I can forget about these problems. I can escape.

Two, there is no simple way for our hero to solve these problems. Well, one way is for Jon to take over the world Elseworld style and enforce his will one everyone. The other is to show how he is stymied by flawed humanity from doing good and therefore become diminished as a hero in my eyes. Neither of those solutions work for me.

Yes, comic books have always been political. And people will tell me this like I don't know it. But for every early Superman story, for every 70s GL/GA, for every Watchmen, there were dozens of other titles with issues of simple fantasy. 

For every issue of Teen Titans looking at the drug problems or runaways, there were issues where the Brotherhood of Evil was hitting them with a de-evolution ray or Brother Blood sent a giant spider after them.

Comics are supposed to be the fun part of my life. And being preached at is rarely fun. If these were the occasional story, I might be able to deal. If this felt like Taylor was writing Superman I could do it. But I feel, at least with these two issues, Taylor is writing op-ed pieces about social issues that happen to have Superman in them. 

Most importantly, and for emphasis, I am not saying comic books can't  or shouldn't comment on social issues. For people who want to read this, I am glad it is here for you. I am only saying that I don't know if this is for me.

I will say that I love John Timms artwork and this is solid work by him.

We start out with Jon listening to 'The Truth', the social justice website calling out the real problems in the world, like a ship of asylum seekers fleeing the nation of Gamorra. The masked anonymous streamer talks about the rough seas the boat is facing.

Then Jon adopts his new identity of Finn Connors so he can head off to college with some degree of anonymity.

I like this. Jon deserves to have 'regular life'. He needs to be grounded to this planet. And he needs to learn. I don't want him to be Superman 24/7.

On campus, Jon is stopped by a magenta-haired student who wants to know if Jon will join the media department.

We see an ominous sight of someone loading a machine gun clip with bullets that have the words thoughts and prayers etched on the casings. As in 'we send our thoughts and prayers' to victims of shootings.

That's pretty cynical.

Sure enough, on Jon's first day there is an attempted school shooting. 

Thank goodness Jon was there to stop the 67 bullets fired. But alas, this means 'Finn Connors' is no more.

School shootings and terrible gun laws are a problem here in the US.  So seeing the problem in media, like comics or TV shows, makes sense.

I'll come back to this later though as it pertains to the story.

With his new identity ruined, Jon heads to a place to think about things. He is alone in his thoughts on the moon until his dad shows up.

He rattles off the terrible things he sees happening on the planet. Forests shrinking, ice melting, inaction because of selfishness and fear, division and tribalism, and stupid borders.


But it is one thing to say 'how can a super-hero stop The Parasite'. It is another to ask 'how can a superhero stop borders'. How can they? Without taking over or going against a nation's laws? And do they get to pick which laws they decide are worthwhile or not?

The next part of the conversation is the part that really just made me cringe.

Jon wonders, given all the social injustice on the planet, why didn't Superman do more.

You know, why didn't you do more than save the planet and the universe a jillion times. Why didn't you do more than save the lives of the millions you have saved on your own? Why didn't you stop world hunger, climate control, and all the injustice?

How can Superman answer that? Is he allowed to be Clark and have a personal life or does Jon think he should be on perpetual patrol? Should Superman have taken over nations, forcing his will on people? Or would he be a tyrant?

Could he have said 'I was busy supporting our family and raising and protecting you'?

I mean this makes Jon sound naive.

Maybe Taylor is hoping we will ask ourselves why haven't we done more.

Superman talks about leading by example because he is an alien. He thinks Jon should do it.

That also seems like an excuse. 

He was raised on Earth. He is a citizen of Earth. He could do it.

Putting that pressure on Jon also seems unfair.

Maybe he should say that to do the things Jon wants him to do would be to impose his will on the people of the world and that seems wrong. Maybe he can say that leading by example is making sure everyone does their part. 

Instead, he says he is probably leaving the planet and so Jon should do what he thinks is right.

There is no easy answer here. And it is exhausting to think about. I read about super-heroes to escape. Not be exhausted.

The asylum ship we heard about in the beginning of the issue does indeed hit choppy water.

So Jon saves those who have fallen overboard and brings the ship to Metropolis. 

What is his long-term plan for them? 

It is easy to drop them off. That is what being a hero is. But what next? That probably won't be answered here in this comic. Because that is the hard part of decisions like this. This is why comics like this are a problem. Because they can't follow what seem like simple decisions through.

Was he right to save them? Absolutely.

That looks like hundreds of people on the boat. The police arrive to deal with this influx. Their policy is handcuff them. Jon says he will break every handcuff. 

Okay, these aren't criminals.

But what is next?

Will the police bring them to a hospital or clinic to be examined? What if Jon didn't agree with that?

Will the government house them in a facility? What if Jon doesn't agree with that?

Will the government try to figure out how to make them citizens? Run background checks? What if Jon doesn't agree with that.

How far will Jon go to make sure what HE thinks should happen is what happens?

See, it is easy to have him say 'don't handcuff these people'. But then the scene ends. 

What does happen next to these refugees? Because we probably won't see those difficulties, it makes it seem like this isn't a problem at all.

It is hard to deal with a real world problem like this in a 22 page comic book.

Then the student that asked Jon to join the media department reveals himself to be the voice of The Truth.

Now the comic book reader in me says 'it is a little suspicious that the reporter happens to be next to Jon, on the very campus Jon is going to, right when the student opens fire'. Did he know the student was going to do that AND know Jon was going to be there and decide to use that to his advantage? Or was it just coincidence?

I doubt Taylor can make the socially conscious purveyor of truth be a villain. But it seems weird. 

Will Jon now work for this guy? Respond to the things The Truth is reporting? Go on assignment?

Okay, this has been a heavy review. I will again say that my saying this book and its direction might not be for me is NOT my saying 'this shouldn't be out there'. 

But I fear that this is going to be a surface level look at real problems which will do a disservice to both the problem and the characters. I hope to be proven wrong.

Overall grade: C


Martin Gray said...

You didn’t love the comic but I love your review, brilliantly put, sir! I hope Tom Taylor sees this, though I suspect he’s been told this is how he writes Superman, or not at all.

Jon needs to sit down with a pile of Seventies Superman Comics in which Clark wrestled with these very matters. It’s weird he didn’t put the points you made to Jon, who comes off as a very naive kid… I wouldn’t be surprise if he did become the dictator the Spectre predicted he’d be.


Maybe Lois, more of a realist than most, will have a word.

Anj said...

I forgot about the whole Spectre thing! That was in Infinite Frontier?

And yes, Lois should be talking to him about what to do and about credible sites of information.