‘Superman: Son of Kal-El’ is bisexual, against climate change, and an imperialist tool
Last October saw a shocking event in comics news as we learned that Superman is gay. Well, technically bisexual, though Superman: Son of Kal-El has yet to show any scenes of him being sexually attracted to a woman. Then about a week later, we learned that Superman would march in a climate change rally. One tiny little distribution issue rendered these two big moments absurd. DC had released neither comic featuring these events to the public. Superman: Son of Kal-El #5, featuring the gay kiss, came out, no pun intended, on December 28th. Superman: Son of Kal-El #7 came out on January 18th. So it’s only just recently that anyone could actually try to find out for themselves the context behind these seemingly bewildering scenes.
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Now, you’re probably wondering why anyone would try to do a woke marketing push for comic books no one can actually read. The answer to that is simple enough. Woke messaging is its own reward. DC Comics being able to give itself a nice pat on the back for creating gay Superman is more valuable to its various parent companies than actually selling any comics. If you’ve ever wondered how it is that superhero movies are of such exceptional importance to the zeitgeist while superhero comics are almost entirely irrelevant, this is a pretty big reason why.
But it’s not for a lack of trying, at least from the perspective of the comic’s creative team. Credit given where it’s due–the climate change rally highlighted in issue #7 doesn’t completely come out of nowhere. The comic’s beginning introduced to our hero, Clark Kent’s son Jon Kent, rescuing a polar bear trapped at sea due to decreasing ice. Later events include a climate change induced wildfire…that was actually induced by a fire-themed metahuman unable to control his powers. Then in issue #7 a hibernating sea monster surfaces because of climate change deoxygenating its ocean floor water…which a supervillain looking to pick a fight also caused.
The problems of the climate change metaphor in a world filled with superheroes are fairly obvious. The superheroes themselves could probably solve the issue. Or maybe they even created the issue. The point being, any message about the importance of climate change can only make sense to us as readers living in the real world. In-continuity, Superman himself could easily get rid of climate change by deploying whatever super-science nonsense also allows him to memorize entire chess strategy guidebooks within fractions of a second just to prove a point to Lex Luthor and force him to take the L. I’m not turning a phrase here, Superman himself very literally and very groansworthily forces Lex Luthor to take the L.
Internal monologues on Superman’s part where he wrings his hands about how to make people take climate change seriously don’t fare well in this context. And as far as context goes overall, I should note that there is not actually a climate change rally. That’s just the cover of Issue #7, and its so relevant to the actual content of the comic book in question I suspect the creative team came up with the cover first, spent a couple of months failing to figure out any way to actually work a climate change rally into the story, and finally just gave up.
The gay kiss scene doesn’t fare much better. While it does at least take place in the actual story, it’s kind of out of nowhere. A fire blast, which greatly enhances his abilities, hit Superman at the end of Issue #4. This is actually bad, because since he can sense nearly every single problem on Earth, his sense of personal justice compels him to try and solve every last one of them, working himself to exhaustion.
He finally lands at the door of Jay Nakamura, a refugee from the authoritarian island nation of Gamorra and fringe online journalist The Truth, for the purpose of just taking a nap in Jay’s apartment. After resting, Superman kisses Jay. They have only met a few times over the entire story. It’s a very shoehorned, irrelevant, and distracting romantic subplot that’s only really in the story at all to justify the existence of the gay kiss panel.
So at this point you’re probably wondering what exactly Superman: Son of Kal-El is about, since it’s apparently about neither climate change nor Superman being gay. Well, thematically, it’s about passing the torch. The Clark Kent Superman has to go off into space indefinitely for…some reason that’s not very clear, and is leaving the Jon Kent Superman as his successor. Hence the social-justice interest. The Clark Kent Superman sees his mission as inherently unachievable, since he’s not really from Earth. Jon Kent is, and as a young person, he’s more in touch with what the world really needs.
This is all pretty inoffensive. Then the story takes a hard swerve into regime change territory. Remember Gamorra, the authoritarian island nation? This really bad guy named Henry Bendix, who stole Gamorra’s elections and won’t give them back, runs the country. Refugees are escaping from Gamorra. Henry Bendix denies this is happening, because Gamorra is a paradise no one would want to leave. Superman heroically stands up for the refugees, something which the world’s governments will not do because Gamorra has many precious natural resources that everyone needs. And so Jon Kent becomes the symbol of revolution which Clark Kent never could.
There’s an obvious political message here about the importance of standing up for refugees. This is wholesome enough on its face, but breaks down completely under almost any scrutiny. The most obvious problem with the metaphor is that it ignores who refugees actually are and what motivates them. The reference to Gamorra being a paradise and refugees being liars is an obvious reference to North Korean state propaganda. Likewise, the idea that people tolerate Gamorra being a human rights wasteland only because of its natural resources is reminiscent of how Western media often portrays China.
But authoritarian dictators outside the world order didn’t create the refugee. It was, to the contrary, created by certain esteemed members of the world order deliberately fomenting conflict in countries with governments they considered undesirable. Despite superficially attacking the refugee policy of the United States government, Superman: Son of Kal-El actually gives them a significantly more sympathetic motivation than the one in the real world–and suggests that more regime change, spearheaded by dissidents, is the solution to the problem, not the cause of it.
Despite claiming to be a woke allegory of speaking truth to power, Superman: Son of Kal-el is noteworthy mainly for providing excuses why we shouldn’t. The greatest fantasy in the series isn’t the superheroes, it’s the idea that Jay Nakamura has to resort to Internet pirate radio to get out his controversial message that countries with refugees escaping from them have bad governments. While I went into Superman: Son of Kal-el expecting to find the gay kiss and climate change elements to be absurd, I at least found them to be earnest, if clumsy. The Gamorra stuff that makes up the actual story is much worse by comparison–and much harder to spin as rage against an unjust world. Which is probably why we didn’t have any celebratory “Superman assists in Bay of Pigs style military operation” articles last October.