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It's a bird, it's a plane - it's a new Man of Steel! Tom Taylor on Jon Kent taking over in 'Superman: Son of Kal-El'

By Matthew Jackson
Superman: Son of Kal-El cover

Earlier this year, DC Comics revealed that Earth would be getting a new Superman in the form of Jon Kent, son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, who takes over the mantle and the duties of the Man of Tomorrow while his father is away from the planet they call home. This week that changing of the guard begins in Superman: Son of Kal-El #1 from writer Tom Taylor and artist John Timms.

With a cover that harkens back to Superman's earliest adventures and a story that focuses heavily on what it means to be Superman for Jon Kent specifically, it feels like launching this new chapter with a first issue all its own was a natural choice. According to Taylor, though, it didn't start that way, and that change in the midst of the story's conception played a big role in how we first meet Jon in his new role. It also meant that Taylor could go back to the beginning, and give us a peek at the momentous day the son of Superman was born.

"We were writing Superman as if [the main series] was continuing, and then we suddenly realized we were going to do a number one. So I had basically written issue two as a number one, and realized that it doesn't quite sing as number one, and it felt very much like a continuation," Taylor told press, including SYFY WIRE, at a roundtable discussion last week. "So I had the opportunity to go back and write a genuine number one. And for me that meant telling Jon's story, introducing potential new fans to Jon, and the best place to do that was with his birth, to see him through the eyes of the greatest heroes in the DC universe, and to see what that meant to them."

Though his birth has a role to play in the story, most of Superman: Son of Kal-El #1 will, naturally, deal with Jon Kent's new role as the Superman of Earth, as he zips around the planet dealing with various issues. But Jon's not just solving external problems. He also has certain internal questions he needs to answer, particularly because of his heritage and the legacy he has to live up to, that may not always lead him in the direction of imitating his legendary father.

"His Dad is the most famous person on the planet and the greatest hero on the planet. And, you know, a lot of people kind of feel that way about their father, but with Jon, it's the truth. So, yes, there's going to be an element of imposter syndrome, but there's also an element where Jon challenges his own father," Taylor explained. "He looks at what Clark's done and looks to see how he can improve, or wonders why he hasn't done more. And he challenges him on that and says, 'You know what, when you have this much power, when you can see what I can see, when you can see what happens to the world, when you can look at the climate crisis, when you can look at so much inequality, how can you find symptoms?' And so that's a big part of Jon's mission. But yes, of course there's going to be an element of imposter syndrome. And because he is young, he's not quite sure which way to go yet."

That sense of Jon's youth, of his slight uncertainty despite tremendous ability, also extends to his depiction in Timms' art, which gives the book a certain sense of young, impulsive energy while also reminding the reader that this is a Superman who hasn't yet fully found his footing.

"He has this length to all of his characters. They all look like [they're] kind of leaping forward all the time. They always look like they're ready to spring," Taylor said of his co-creator. "And for a comic like this, I think this Superman is somebody who is ready to spring. He's ready to leap all the time. He's not his dad. He's not as mature, he's facing situations where he has to react. And we don't always know how he's going to react. We know how Clark Kent reacts to situations and we don't know how Jon reacts. So I think not only are we getting a sense of that physicality from John Timms, we're also getting a bit of that innocence and that naivete. He brings that to the facial expressions as well."

When Son of Kal-El was announced back in April, DC Comics emphasized that the book would be replacing the monthly ongoing Superman title, further emphasizing Jon Kent's place as the Superman of Earth. The publisher also made sure to emphasize that the new series is ongoing, not limited, and Taylor himself underlined that point For the moment at least, Jon Kent as Superman is the status quo on Earth, as Clark Kent heads out into the cosmos to deal with other issues in the pages of Action Comics. But this is more than just a changing of the guard in terms of character titles and publishing schedule. In discussing the book, Taylor emphasized over and over again, that this new Superman will embrace the concerns and struggles of his own generation, in the same way Clark Kent did when he first appeared in 1938.

"You go back to 1938 and he was a radical hero. He was a hero in his first issue that was fighting against domestic violence. Later on he was kicking down doors of corrupt politicians," Taylor. "He was a hero for a time, and then he was a hero for another time. And a big part of this series is asking, 'What is Superman today? What could Superman be today?' And yes, just because he's angry about the climate crisis, or he's angry about guns, or he's angry about dictatorships, or is angry about or upset about all empathizing with refugees, it doesn't mean he can act on all of that without destabilizing the world. You know, he has to tread lightly, but he is younger. He is rawer. He is feeling these things in a way that a guy who's been around for a very long time may not."

What Jon Kent's outlook on life and the state of the world means for the broader DC Universe remains to be seen. With this first issue, Taylor and Timms deliver a Superman who's still learning about the kind of hero he wants to be for Earth, still grappling with the tremendous legacy he carries with him, and still learning how to be Superman while also remaining Jon Kent. One thing Taylor did promise, though, is that Superman: Son of Kal-El will at its core be a story of optimism and aspiration, like his favorite Superman stories as a child.

"I want entertainment that not only entertains me, but makes me want to be better, and so that will be a big thing for this book for Jon," Taylor said. "And for me as a writer, I like telling positive stories. It's the same thing we're doing over on Nightwing. We're telling just this incredibly, really driven, positive tale of a positive person. And Jon Kent, [who was] raised by Clark Kent and Lois Lane, can't help but be a positive person. And obviously he's getting to have that fire of Lois and that desire to change things, and take on real world problems. But then he's got all of that compassion of Superman and all of that empathy."

Superman: Son of Kal-El #1 is in stores Tuesday.