Superman’s About to Trade in His Cape for a Midlife Crisis

Superman’s About to Trade in His Cape for a Midlife Crisis

Though Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment’s been hard at work developing stories featuring some markedly different incarnations of Superman, the comics publisher’s ongoing “Warworld Rising” arc is trying to get at the essence of the original Man of Steel at a time when he’s reevaluating what kind of presence he wants to be in the universe.

During the “Truth, Justice, and A Better DC Universe: A New Future for The Man of Steel” panel at this year’s virtual San Diego Comic-Con, DC Comics Editor in Chief Marie Javins chatted with Superman: Son of Kal-El writer Tom Taylor, Action Comics writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Superman and the Authority artist Mikel Janin, and Superman and the Authority writer Grant Morrison about what the future holds for Clark Kent as he prepares to leave Earth behind. Though Clark’s wanted nothing more than to spend time with his family, Johnson explained how the events of “Warworld Rising” make it impossible for him to stay on Earth, as he knows that there are others out in the galaxy who need him more.

“In the events of the World Rising arc that we’re showing now, we’re establishing Superman as part of the universe, you know, the multiverse,” Johnson said. “We’re really trying to put the ‘super’ in Superman on as big and epic scale as we can. So we’re introducing some aspects of Warworld that really highlight that, I think.” Johnson teased that a new Mongul who’s gained control of Warworld will feature largely in “Warworld Rising” as a presence who prompts Superman to make the difficult decision to leave his adoptive home planet. Johnson also explained, though, that as hard as his decision to leave is, his faith in his son Jonathan factors into why he made it. “Not because he’s not because he’s not going to miss his son, because he obviously will certainly after the time he’s lost with Jon,” Johnson explained. “But because of the trust he has in Jon as a hero himself — the trust that he has in his character, his judgment, his power, his maturity, and using it. He knows that Earth is going to be safe in his absence.”

Image: John Timms

As the newly-appointed Superman, it falls to Jon to protect the Earth in his father’s absence, and while he’s more than up to the job, the things he sets out to accomplish aren’t exactly the same as Clark’s. Taylor detailed how, in addition to fighting traditional villains, Jon’s upbringing in the Kent/Lane household instilled a deep sense of morality and justice that will shape the kind of hero he becomes. “It’s easy enough to punch a space robot, but it’s harder to punch social inequity and the climate crisis, for instance,” Taylor said. “It just doesn’t work. So it’s going to be questions like that that he’s going to be asking, and we’re going to fill a cast of characters around him to help him answer that.”

This new, present-day Jon will still be good friends with Damian Wayne, Taylor assured, but given Jon’s recent time-travelling adventures, the Supersons’ age gap will be reversed with Damian now being 14, and Jon 17. Much like his son, Clark will also be teaming up with other heroes in Superman and the Authority, who Morrison compared to a kind of midlife crisis for the Kryptonian hero. In the series’ first issue, you see historic moments from Superman’s past that all speak to the different voices Clark’s been written with throughout his history in DC’s comics.

But as the series goes on, Morrison elaborated, what Superman’s going to be grappling with is whether the person he is in the present — the sum of all of his previous selves — is who he actually wants to be. “So it is kind of about a Superman who doesn’t have to be what the world wants him to be anymore,” Morrison said. “Suddenly he’s looking at himself and thinking, ‘it’s not so much ‘have I not achieved,’ I’ve achieved all this. But was this what I wanted when I was 20? When I started to look at my own son, was this what I wanted?’”

Fitting with the overall theme of midlife crises, Superman and the Authority’s given Clark a simplified, but nonetheless striking look that feels more a piece of the Authority’s tendency towards brawling as opposed to grand, majestic fights. Even though Clark’s new look has an emotional significance to it and is something other characters will notice about him, Janin admitted that the decision-making process that went into both costumes was fairly straightforward. “It was pretty easy because we had the depiction of the brand in the script with a kind of sporty look, like something very modern,” Janin said. “So I took the image of the New 52 from Grant and Rex Morales’ design of that young Clark, and a bit of the classic Kingdom Come from Alex Ross — the shield — and all that and merging all together.”

Action Comics #1033 by Becky Cloonan, Michael Conrad, Phillip K. Johnson, Michael Avon Oeming, Daniel Sampere, Adriano Lucas, and Taki Soma hits stores July 27. Superman: Son of Kal-El by Tom Taylor and John Timms also hits stores on July 27. Superman and the Authority by Grant Morrison and Mikel Janin hits stores on August 17.