Tuesday, April 16, 2024
ComicsComics Corner

Comics Corner – ‘Superman: Son of Kal-El’ is the most important LGBTQ+ comic right now

If you love superhero comics and have a hankering for some brilliant LGBTQ+ representation, there’s one title on the stands that you absolutely should be reading: DC’s Superman: Son of Kal-El.

Written by Tom Taylor, and pencilled by artists including John Timms, Cian Tormey, Clayton Henry, and Bruno Redondo, the series launched in July 2021, focusing on Jon Kent – the son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane – as he grows into his role as Earth’s new Superman. Much of the series has seen Jon learning the ropes solo, with his father off-planet trying to liberate Warworld, with the young hero struggling to live up to Clark’s legacy and reputation, and how he can be more than just a symbol to those in need.

Homaging 1939’s Superman #1, Son of Kal-El went on to become one of the most important queer comics in years! (©DC Comics)

The comic has been a masterpiece of generational storytelling, with Taylor taking Jon on a tour of the DC Universe and receiving lessons in life-saving from other heroes, old and new. Nightwing has become something of a mentor to Jon, as has the Wally West iteration of The Flash, both knowing something about being legacy heroes themselves. Batman has been a semi-regular presence, and Jon has allied with newer characters such as Wink and The Aerie.

While the series’ major storyarc has seen Jon investigating the rogue nation of Gamorra, and its ruler Henry Bendix’s attempts to create superhumans to order – selling them off as weapons to the highest bidder – Son of Kal-El has also quietly but confidently cemented itself as perhaps DC’s most LGBTQ+ friendly title currently being published.

The major factor has been in establishing Jon himself as bisexual. While previous appearances of Jon in titles such as Legion of Super-Heroes had seen him in a burgeoning relationship with Saturn Girl, albeit only when he was visiting the team in the 31st century, Son of Kal-El introduced a new love interest for him – Jay Nakamura, an investigative reporter (the Kent men have a type, it seems) and Gamorran refugee. Initially an ally, running an underground activist news network called The Truth, Taylor wasted no time in pairing Jon and Jay up, with the pair kissing in issue five.

The groundbreaking first kiss of Superman and Jay Nakamura! (Art by John Timms, ©DC Comics)

Since then, the series has been a brilliant exploration of newly realised queer identity, from Jon grappling with his feelings to struggling with coming out. Taylor brilliantly captured the fear LGBTQ+ people can experience of coming out to family, with even someone as powerful as Superman nervous about coming out to his mother. Lois, of course, unflinchingly accepts her son – a beautiful moment in issue 10 that may be especially poignant for any readers unlucky enough not to enjoy such acceptance themselves.

It hasn’t all been about Jon’s – or Jay’s – journey though. Son of Kal-El has been a spotlight and springboard for many of DC’s other LGBTQ+ characters, and all have been handled as respectfully as its protagonist. The aforementioned Wink and The Aerie, created by Taylor in his earlier run on Suicide Squad, are queer and non-binary, respectively, and have enjoyed a prominent role in recent issues, where Superman and his allies have taken the fight to Bendix.

Arguably the biggest cross-media moment came in July 2022’s Son of Kal-El #13, which saw the main DC Comics debut of Dreamer, a trans woman hero who originated on television’s Supergirl show. With the civilian name Nia Nal, Dreamer was loosely based on another character from the futuristic Legion of Super-Heroes character, Dream Girl, with the present day Dreamer as her many times great-grandmother. Both possess precognitive abilities, with Nia also able to travel through dreams, and channel ‘dream energy’ into energy blasts and weapon constructs.

While Dreamer had made a handful of comic book appearances before this, mainly in previous DC Pride instalments, their canonicity was debatable, with the stories possibly being in continuity with the Supergirl show. Son of Kal-El brings her fully into the DC Universe, presents her as a potential powerhouse to watch, and does it all under the guidance of actress Nicole Maines, who portrayed the character on television and co-wrote the issue with Taylor. A trans woman herself, the fact that Maines – who also wrote the Dreamer short in DC Pride 2021 – continues to help define and evolve the character into an important hero in the ‘prime’ continuity is a remarkable commitment to authenticity on DC’s part.

From the TV screen to the printed page, Dreamer has become one of DC’s most important and recognisable trans heroes! (Cover to Superman: Son of Kal-El #13, ©DC Comics)

Another important aspect of Superman: Son of Kal-El has been its focus on the importance of visibility. While much of this has been framed in the context of superheroics, with Jon being willing to make public stands and hold power to account in ways that his father wouldn’t – peacefully protesting for asylum seekers’ rights, for instance, using his recognition and public standing to shame political authorities into action – the most recent issue, #15, ends with him publicly kissing Jay, in front of the world’s cameras after the pair helped liberate Gamorra.

Within the internal narrative of the DC Universe, this is a big deal. While news of a bisexual Superman drew real-world headlines when the story direction was announced, in-universe Jon had only told the people closest to him. While he has already headlined a Pride parade in DC Pride 2022 and wore a patchwork Pride flag cape while doing so (in a story that was unfortunately overshadowed by some poor dialogue and questionable flag inclusions), within the DCU, that could have been seen as mere allyship, rather than being open about his sexuality. Even though he kissed Jay at the end of that story, he had flown the pair up into the sky first – a dramatic and iconic shot for readers, but away from prying eyes in-story.

The kiss to change the world? Superman’s very public display of affection could have major ramifications for the DC universe! (Art by Cian Tormey, ©DC Comics)

Now, with the eyes of the world on him – as much for overthrowing a dictator as for kissing another man on-camera – the DCU public will be analysing and debating his sexuality in ways that could prove truly fascinating. Taylor has already spent much of the Superman: Son of Kal-El series exploring how Jon is attempting to be more progressive in how he protects the world, and how the powers-that-be respond to that, and Jon’s now-public bisexuality opens up many more intriguing story possibilities that could expand on that.

Would Superman be welcome flying to the rescue in a country that bans same-sex activity, and how would he navigate being told not to save people because of his sexuality? Would homophobic politicians in his native US try to legislate against him, and DC’s other LGBTQ+ heroes by extension? Or at the other extreme, could Jon find himself held up as a paragon of the wider queer community, unable to meet conflicting expectations and struggling to be everything that everyone wants him to be?

Hopefully such issues will continue to be explored in coming issues, although at time of writing, Jon will be busy dealing with the return of his father to Earth following his Warworld battle. As a series, Superman: Son of Kal-El is currently solicited up to issue 18, due for release 13 December 2022, which concludes the “Kal-El Returns!” storyline ahead of the landmark Action Comics #1050. The entire future of the DC Universe is also in flux, with the major event series Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths currently rewriting the very rules of its vast multiverse.

All being well, Jon’s solo series will continue beyond this, allowing Taylor and his fellow creators to continue exploring Jon’s legacy and his importance as perhaps the world’s most visible and important queer hero. It’s already proved itself as a groundbreaking title, and if you’re not already reading it, you owe it to yourself to start.

Matt Kamen

[He/Him] Matt Kamen is a veteran media writer based in the UK, specialising in video games, film, and comics. If found, return to nearest coffee shop.