Deep in the Bermuda Triangle, in the new Fortress of Solitude, Superman, Lois and robot major domo Kelex are running tests on Jon Kent. He’s come back from what was meant to be a summer trip to outer space several years older and, understandably, there are concerns. While he’s lying under an array of sensors, Jon tells his parents of the day he realised he wanted to return home.
But, as the great Douglas Adams observed, ‘space is big’ and getting back to his parents isn’t easy. Jon doesn’t ask the grandfather he now realises is nuts to take him back, he stays by his side and helps out on peacekeeping missions. One day, finally, he bumps into people who can get him home.
Before writer Brian Michael Bendis gained possession of Jon, he was his father and mother’s son – outspoken, not scared of anything. This version? Not so much… rather than continue his conversation with the Green Lanterns in front of Jor-El, rather than simply tell his oddball grandpa that yes, he’s had enough of outer space and him, he shuts up, stays by Jor-El’s side and becomes the loneliest kid in the universe. He pines for home, watching newsreel of the Teen Titans. What happened to the fearless, sparky, outspoken kid we knew?
It seems the blind spot when it comes to Jor-El isn’t just a Jon thing.
None of this is new; Jon and, initially, Lois going into space with the mad Jor-El – lunatic villain Mr Oz, remember – never made a smidgeon of sense. This issue, even Jor-El realises he’s a plot point too far.
Lois is feeling guilty, Superman wants to hit something, Jon… actually, despite my not liking the situation he’s in, I do like that now he’s home, he’s a glass-half-full kinda guy.
Well good on you, Jon. Me, I’m confused. I don’t understand why Jon has aged when his trip didn’t involve going into the past or future and spending years there before returning to 2019. I don’t get why experienced Lanterns Kilowog and Arisia would skulk off when Jor-El appears rather than stick around and listen to the concerns of an obviously worried kid. I don’t see why, if Jon has been building a legend, news of his adventures hasn’t reached his parents… Basically, I don’t understand why saved-by-Dr-Manhattan Jor-El is still a thing – it was a seriously unconvincing reveal in Action Comics and should have been just waved away.
The issue does have what at first seems like a great cliffhanger, as Jon meets a very scary bunch of people – but he’s narrating the encounter in the present day, safe and unharmed, with only a characterful facial scar to show for whatever happened next. That doesn’t make for a whole lot of tension.
What to make of Bendis having Lois and Clark admit letting Jon go off with Jor-El was terrible parenting? It’s not like he’s pointing out the error of another writer, he’s the guy who had it happen in his Man of Steel mini-series? Perhaps he plans to have Lois and Clark move heaven and Earth to undo Jon’s ageing, although not, as I said, understanding why he’s older, I couldn’t guess how.
I do like that we see why Jon thought the cosmic vacation was a good idea.
He was a kid, that’s it.
Jor-El, as usual, makes not a lick of sense. His science defines him, but he wants a guiding hand?
Things I did like: Jon watching one of those Nathaniel Dusk movies we’ve seen in Doomsday Clock, with artist Brandon Peterson homaging one of the great Gene Colan’s covers from the gumshoe’s original mini-series; Jon’s room on Jor-El’s spaceship being a typical teenage tip; and Lois, ever the reporter, after Superman returns from taking out his frustration on one of his old foes.
Line of the issue, definitely.
The art is a treat throughout. Peterson draws the flashback pages, while Ivan Reis pencils and Joe Prado inks the Fortress melodrama. Everyone looks good, bar Jor-El with, first, that tufty hair so unbecoming of a nutter of a certain age, and then with the matching beard he grows. The brief battle with Mongul is excellent, while Kelex’s examination of Jon is fascinating.
And a spread by Peterson of Jon, Jor-El and some space types fighting Thanagarians is superb – but what’s the deal with the force field arm? Has Jon now got TK, toned purple to match his Ma’s eyes? Alex Sinclair and Josh Reed also deserve credit for their exemplary lettering and colouring.
There’s a variant cover by Rob Liefeld that will likely please his fans, while the main cover by Reis, Prado and Sinclair provide a decide symbolic cover. It’s interesting that he’s Clark and Lois’s bundle of joy is billed here as simply ‘Jon Kent’ when he’s been ‘Superboy’ for quite a while – has returning Young Justice member Conner Kent grabbed the name back?
Theory time: at the close of the issue, Jon meets the Crime Syndicate of America, the evil JLA of Earth 3 or Earth 2 or somewhere else altogether – it varies these days. In that scene and the preceding ones, he’s wearing a pretty traditional Superboy outfit. In the present day, he’s dressed like Superboy Prime, the crazy, villainous teenage Clark Kent of continuities past. Could it be that Jon hasn’t aged, that this ‘Jon’ is an unreliable narrator, actually the son of the latest CSA world’s Lois and Clark, up to no good? That would explain the DNA match, and the fact he hasn’t got a convincing story to cover his ageing (he’s mentioned a couple of times that his memory of time passing is off). Could the real Jon be captive on, let’s say, Earth 3? Might the classic Jon, our tween hero, be back with us after a rescue mission by Lois and Clark? I do hope so!