Review: SUPERMAN: SON OF KAL-EL 2021 ANNUAL #1
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writers: Tom Taylor
Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr., Steve Buccellato
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Reviewed By: Derek McNeil
Superman: Son of Kal-El 2021 Annual #1: Jon Kent’s first days as Earth’s new Superman have been a trial by fire. His actions have already put those he loves in harm’s way. He has stood strong in the path of constant attacks, but the immovable object is about to meet an unstoppable force. Lex Luthor – the man, the myth, the menace—returns to Metropolis.
Once Jon Kent took on the role of Superman, it was inevitable that he would encounter his father’s archenemy, Lex Luthor. In the Superman: Son of Kal-El 2021 Annual, Tom Taylor brings us the fateful first encounter. Although Luthor and the original Superman have been enemies, there have been times when they’ve been allies as well. Is it possible that Jon might be able to find some common ground with Luthor, or will he have the same adversarial relationship with the villain that his father does?
The story starts with a flashback of the senior Superman and his allies in the Justice League fighting Luthor. Afterward, Superman pays Lex a visit in prison. During their conversation is a revealing exchange. Superman says, “Imagine what we could have done as a team, Lex”.
Luthor’s response is, “I’d be lying if I said the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. Lex Luthor and Superman together. An infinite mind and an infinite reach”. Luthor has been considering how extremely powerful having a Superman at his beck and call would make him. But Clark refused to play his game. Both figuratively and literally, as Superman abruptly abandons the game of chess they are playing over.
Taylor uses the game of chess to good effect making a number of metaphorical statements in this story. First, Superman’s first move is to place his knight before his pawns, which Luthor calls “pathetically on brand”. He’s referring to the fact that Superman himself is usually a knight who places himself between danger and those who are weaker than him.
Secondly, Luthor is upset that Superman abandons the game, which Luthor was enjoying. This reveals an interesting aspect of Luthor’s personality. While he enjoys power and control, he also loves a challenge. And when Superman refuses to play the game, this frustrates and angers the villain.
And finally, Lex plays another game with Jon. But Luthor severely underestimates Jon. Jon uses his super intellect to learn chess in 7 minutes by reading every book about chess in the Metropolis library and researching Lex’s past games. This allows Jon to quickly checkmate Lex. I suspect that this victory holds some symbolic significance. Where Clark refuses to play Luthor’s game, Jon learns how to play the game better than Luthor, then beats him at it.
This seems to me to be implying that Jon is somewhat shrewder than his father. I suspect that he gets this from his mother. This leads me to wonder if the conflicts between Jon and Luthor are going to be more of a battle of wits than of brute force. I think Luthor is starting to learn that the son might be a greater challenge than the father. But we also know that Luthor enjoys a challenge.
Jon also makes some incisive observations. When Lex voices his usual gripe about Clark posing a threat to the world, Jon is having none of it. He responds, “The danger he posed to the world? You’re not stupid. You know the actual danger the world is in”. Jon is referring primarily to the environmental danger the world is in. But Jon also says, “It’s in your self-interest to help this world, ” to which Luthor agrees.
Then Jon adds:
My dad says you like having control. You could use your intellect, your power, and your resources to improve the future of the entire planet. Billions of lives in your hand. That sounds a lot like control.
Jon is masterfully building a case to convince Luthor to fix the world’s problems. He says this as he checkmates Lex, underscoring that he has driven home a significant point to Lex. This makes me suspect that Jon may ultimately make Lex into force for good.
But he’s not going to immediately drop his plans against Jon. We see Lex afterward telling his assistant that Jon is right about the world needing saving. But he then contacts Henry Bendix to discuss something ominously called “the Rising”. It isn’t clear what this plan is, but if Bendix and Luthor are collaborating on it, it can’t be good.
There are some great moments of humor that Taylor works into the story. After winning the chess game, Jon returns the ‘L’ from that had been knocked off the Lexcorp building sign to the building’s roof. He tells Luthor, “you should take the L”, a colloquial phrase that means he should gracefully accept the loss.
Also, Batman pays a visit to the Kent home, allowing for a couple more gems. Jon questions why the Batman politely knocks instead of just appearing in the kitchen. Lois declares, “He did do that once,” with the Dark Knight adding “and I won’t do it again”. Lois clarifies, “No. Valuable lessons about personal privacy and boundaries were taught that day. Even the Batman knows not to mess with Lois Lane.
Also, when offered something to drink, Bruce asks for Earl Grey tea if they have it, which they do. Lois reveals that “Alfred had Earl Grey delivered to every home he thought you might visit”. This is rather amusing, but also touching, showing how much thought and effort was put into meeting Bruce’s needs. Taylor again shows how Alfred’s influence is still very present in the DCU despite his passing.
There is also another hint of an issue that will undoubtedly arise in Jon’s near future. When Lois states, “Jon’s not joining the Justice League, Bruce”, his response is “I’m not here for that Lois. Not yet”. It’s clear that Bruce foresees that the League will need Jon to take his father’s place in the League. But that doesn’t seem to sit well with Lois. This could cause some friction when that need arises. And how will Jon feel about joining the League when that time comes?
However, Batman is there to deliver a message to Jon from Clark in the form of a crystal that Jon can use in the Fortress of Solitude. This crystal can produce a hologram of Clark, much like the one of Jor-El from the Superman movies. This allows Jon to seek advice from his father, despite his being busy on Warworld. This A.I. Clark tells Jon, “we need to talk about Lex Luthor… I don’t want him to hurt you. I got so many things wrong with Lex. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes”.
We don’t get to see what further advice Clark has about Luthor. However, it doesn’t seem that Clark needs to worry that Jon will repeat his mistakes with Lex. As this issue shows, Jon is taking his own approach to dealing with Luthor. It will be interesting to see how successful Jon’s approach will prove, but if he’s making mistakes with Lex, they’re his own ones.
The artwork by Steve Pugh and Clayton Henry is absolutely gorgeous, as all the characters are captured perfectly. This annual is full of many nice little touches, like Batman appearing in his iconic blue and grey Bronze Age costume in the flashback, but in a modern black and grey suit in the present. And I loved that holo-Clark’s shirt has the Smallville TV show logo.
Absolutely no negatives at all. Taylor, Pugh, and Henry have done a brilliant job on the Superman: Son of Kal-El 2021 Annual.
Tom Taylor has done a brilliant job of establishing the adversarial relationship between Lex Luthor and the new Superman. The Son of Kal-El 2021 makes it clear that Jon has an interesting challenge ahead of him as he butts heads with his father’s arch-foe. I look forward to seeing how both Jon and Lex tackle the challenge that each poses for the other.