Superman #10

Originally published at AiPT!

2016-11-01

Tim Drake, in applying for the position, famously put forth the argument that Batman always needs a Robin. If not always under that mantel per se, Batman has never been long without a partner, many of whom were his own sons. Dick Grayson was his legal ward and adoptive heir, but the rest – Damien Wayne, Bruce Wayne Jr., and Terry McGinnis –  were all his biological offspring (by Talia Al Ghul, a computer simulation, and a very long story, respectively). While seen more as a solo act, Superman has sired several sidekicks as well. Christopher Kent was, like Grayson, adopted, but the others – Johnathan Kent, Clark Kent Jr., and Connor Kent – are all actual sons of the Last Son (by way of Lois Lane, the same simulation as aforementioned, and Superman’s stolen DNA being spliced with Lex Luthor’s to create a clone chimera, respectively). Given the plethora of protégés between them, this first meeting of Damien and Johnathan is part of a proud tradition of team-ups between the Super-Sons, albeit the least congenial so far.

The blame for such almost entirely falls Damien, whose abduction of Jonathan is uncharacteristically rash and lacking in strategic foresight – how he did not anticipate so swift a response from Superman and his father is, in fact, immersion breaking. When Morrison first introduced the character, he was headstrong, but respected a strong sensei; ruthless, but committed to justice. But fans mistook his self-assuredness for simple surliness, his strong sense of right and wrong for rashness, and those are the characteristics that seem to have stuck. Though Morrison’s Damien is my second favorite Robin (after Burt Ward’s Dick Grayson), I’ve long been of the opinion that, having had created the character, Morrison’s plan to kill Damien off permanently ought to have been honored. No one else, not even Peter Tomasi, whose now written Damien more than Morrison himself by my count, has ever had quite such a grasp on nuance and pathos behind the Son of the Bat.

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Likewise, Bruce is oddly indifferent to and even defensive of his son committing felony kidnapping. While he quickly chastises Damien’s rashness in restraining Jonathan against his will in the Bat-cave, Batman is a bit too quick to put the blame on adolescent alien when Superboy’s father flies in angry and looking for answers. And between Superman eyes red with rage and heat vision, and Batman busting out the kryptonite baterang almost immediately, both are uncharacteristically uncharitable in their assumptions as to the other’s intentions.

Better in terms of characterization is the subsequent scene with Damien’s menagerie of crime-fighting farm animals. The agrarian subject matter seemingly offers common ground for a friendship to finally flourish between the Super Sons, but instead highlights the real distinctions between Damien and Jonathan. Damien, despite his lack of extraterrestrial heritage or metahuman biology, is by far the less provincial of the two, casually introducing Titus as the hound who accompanied his father to Apokolips to retrieve and revive his dead corpse.

Jonathan, much like Clark circa his Smallville years, is oddly grounded. I get that Lois and Clark are trying to emulate the same upbringing that Martha and Johnathan had offered their boy, but an important difference is going unexplored. The Kent’s salt-of-the-earth humility was entirely unfeigned. A modern-day Moses set adrift among the stars suddenly coming into their life was the first fantastical event for them, and they dealt with such according to the full breadth of their experiences, limited as they were. Contra Clark, who despite such humble beginnings has been from one end of the multiverse to the other; who’s been to the Big Bang and the End of Time both; who’s bested gods in battle and become a god himself. Try as he might to stay humble, his perspective will necessarily remain more cosmopolitan and cosmic than a simple corn farmer from Kansas.

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While I wouldn’t say Tomasi is entirely accurate in the characterization of either the World’s Finest or their Super Sons, at the very least the broad stroke of not establishing Damien and Jonathan as immediate allies is in keeping with tradition. Ever since Byrne rebooted Superman thirty years ago, the first meeting of a Kryptonian and a Caped Crusader has always been fraught with friction. Likewise, Damien Wayne only begrudgingly became Grayson’s partner, but once the latter had earned Damien’s respect, their relationship was far more amiable and less antagonistic. I expect a similar trajectory for this latest dynamic duo, and seeing what feats will suffice for Superboy to prove himself in Robin’s eyes will hopefully prove an enjoyable read.

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