Thursday, December 16, 2021

Back Issue Box: Son Of Superman; Part 1

It's been a while since I combed the back issue box to review an issue which echoes current books.

With Jon currently acting as Superman in his own title, Superman Son of Kal-El, I thought it would be interesting to look at Son of Superman, an Elseworlds from 1999. 1999! This is a story where Jon Kent, son of Clark and Lois, becomes Superman and decides to fight for social justice! Sound familiar?

This Elseworlds one-shot was written by Howard Chaykin and David Tischman. These two collaborated a lot in the late 90's so no surprise to see both names here. But this is clearly a Chaykin book. Now I understand that Chaykin is an acquired taste but I love his books. The plots are intelligent and complicated. (Yes, they occasionally wallow in sleaze but not here.) Chaykin's politics skew left but he also understands that neither political side are 100% perfect. We see that here. There is also a sort of Frank Miller style of story-telling here with frequent plot advancement made by news reports, many seeming more like entertainment reports. 

The art is luscious by J.H. Williams. As this is set in the future, Williams gets to give us some updated costumes and fashions. I have always been a fan of his work. Really beautiful stuff.

Finally, even though this was a one-shot, it was a thick 100 pages. So I'll be covering this in three parts. 

The story starts out in a future without a Superman. Lois Lane is a bleach blonde who has quit journalism and is writing Hollywood screenplays that sound like tepid retreads.

Jon has never manifested super-powers before. He is a top notch biochemistry major in college. 

The buzz at school is that significant solar flares activity is happening. It will bathe Earth in it's radiation soon. The science students all wonder if this will somehow spur changes in the environment.

We also learn that there are social terrorists out there using the name Supermen. Even more interesting, Jon seems to side with them, bringing up other groups who used violence in the name of social progress.

Hmmm ... I wonder if Tom Taylor has read this?

We see that these Supermen aren't the heroes they believe they are.

Using bombs ordained with the S-shield, they blow up places where they feel there is wealth inequity. Here we see them blow up a block in Beverly Hills. 15 are dead and 30 injured.

More interesting is the reveal that they are led by Pete Ross and Lana Lang. These two believe that there actions are following the motto of 'Truth, Justice, and the American Way'. They are waging a war against 'wealth segregation' and they clearly aren't against violence.

The Justice League shows up, aging and donned in black. It is interesting that they are garbed in the villain's colors. Chaykin was always a bit leery of classic superheroes, thinking they border on fascists or oligarchs.

Hopefully we can all agree that regardless of intent, an action like this is reprehensible. I also wonder if Tom Taylor will explore something like this as his Jon fights for justice.

As I said, Chaykin uses television reports as a method of exposition. Above we saw the news report. Here we see a robotic business reporter bringing up Luthor getting richer. 

And then we get a snappy TMZ style news show hosted by Snapper Carr. You can see that all levels of media integrity are covered here.

The aforementioned radiation finally does reach Earth and kicks in Jon's latent powers.

Overwhelmed with strength and hyperacute senses, Jon heads home.

When Superman disappeared, Lois hid all Jon's history from him. I think it is hilarious that Jon immediately thinks Lois had an affair rather than Clark and Superman being the same person. 

I do love Jon's response when he accepts that he has powers. He is going to use it to have fun.

And so a new Superman is suddenly flying around Metropolis saving the day.

Once more in a newscast we learn that Superman disappeared when he was on a mission in war-torn Europe.

I do like the design of Jon's costume. The triangle smacks of the earliest Superman costume. And the laced boots definitely feels like a home-made suit.

The idea of a new Superman makes Luthor boil. We have seen a cowboy named McAvoy talking with Luthor while working in a subterranean lab in Arizona.

It is also hinted that Lex is giving the tech that the Supermen are using in their raids.

But most importantly, we see that Luthor has something hidden in the depths of the Arizona lab, something in deep freeze in a vault called 401K. 

Chaykin is known for wordplay. Having Lex hiding something in a 401K safe is amusing. Is this his hidden fortune?

While Jon is out on a date, a minor bomb goes off nearby.

Springing to action, Jon is joined by the JLA. It has been many years since any of them have seen Jon but they can tell he is Clark's son.

But before that conversation can go far, the Superman show up in battle armor. With a stun bomb and a flash ray, they incapacitate the League and grab Jon.

The armor definitely has a sort of Lex-o-suit feel to it. So no surprise when Batman says that the tech used by the Supermen isn't traceable. So it almost has to be Luthor in origin.

When Jon awakens, he is face to face with Pete Ross. They planted that bomb as a diversion to make sure Jon was the new Superman. So you can see that to try and lure Jon out they almost killed some people. There is extremism on all sides.

Ross says he was friends with Superman. His group is out to bring equity of wealth to the world.

And he wants Jon to join him.

Ross gives some backstory.

A new street drug came out, highly addictive. It ensnared people, forcing them to rob and steal to keep up their habit. In the meantime, the rich made subtle changes to laws and life so that the distribution of wealth widened. Now only the most elite Haves have it.

The Supermen want to correct that, bringing wealth to all. 

They ask Jon to join them. 

At first, he declines becoming a terrorist.

But then Lana Lang shows up. She says the Supermen are investigating the secret underground lair in Arizona. The Supermen think that will shed some light on the original Superman's disappearance.

I wonder why Jon is giving Pete so much time to discuss things. Ross is a killer either himself or the group he leads. But Jon let's him plead his case. 

But the idea that maybe they can give him some answers about his father is too much.

He joins the team.

That RV is the entrance to the underground lair, guarded by an intense alarm system in the form of a housecat. And Jon is there.

This seems like a fine place to pause.

I am a sucker for Elseworlds. And the idea of a Son of Superman joining a socially progressive group to right the economic wrongs is an interesting one, especially 22 years ago. It is a modern look at some of the social issues the original Golden Age Superman fought.

That said, this is an ugly version of social progressives, willing to kill innocents to get their point across. It is such gray politics I hope Tom Taylor will show us in his book instead of showing a skewed and simplified version of these issues.

Williams art speaks for itself, sizzling.

No grade until the end but so far so good.


Martin Gray said...

I love an imaginary story, but this doesn’t look my cup of tea, for one thing, Jon seems dumb beyond not working out what the ‘affair’ was all about. Then there’s moaning about missing a date, and school. And as you say why is he giving Pete the time of day?

What’s the 401K pun?

Anonymous said...

That's literally the number of the subsection of the IRS tax code that established employer-based tax-deferred retirement savings plans for employees.

This artwork is indeed terrific.


Martin Gray said...

Not a gag that travels, then!

Anj said...

I get it Mart! I bought this more because of my like of Chaykin than the idea.

Remember I am only 1/3 through so maybe the rest will be more palatable!

Anonymous said...

One of my favourite comics back in the day. While Clark Jr. and Bruce Jr. will forever be the true Supersons(tm) for me, Jon Kent of Elseworlds was what I expected from a Superman title that tried to be the Dark Knight of Superman comic books. Instead of a an old man reclaiming his city it's a young hero figuring out what he has to do with his life and the whole series also works as an amazing coming-of-age story, paralleling the heroics of Jon with how a young man first experiences adulthood, love, politics and confronting issues of the past / parents and overcoming them.

Needless to say, I like it far more than whatever Tom King, TOm Taylor and Brian Bendis have been doing to the Superfamily these past few years.