It’s not the 80 page annual of my youth, replete with reprint material, nor even the more recent sort of annual that marks a profound event in a series’ evolution. Nor is the Clark, Superman senior, who opens the story quite the Clark I usually think of. Still, the ‘Superman, Son of Kal-El’ annual is both entertaining and further revealing of Jon’s nature and his relationship to his parents—both of them—and to his legacy. I enjoyed it, though not perhaps as much as the regular issues of the series.
And there’s the trouble, not just with this annual, but with many modern ones. Now that they aren’t reprint zines, nor huge events, they must tie into the series that they are part of, but not be essential to it. Readers, even subscribers, can’t be counted on to read it. Similarly, there will, no doubt, be at least some readers who pick up the annual without being invested in the series. So annuals become optional supplements that tie in with the series arc, but not so tightly that either they or the regular issues cannot stand without the other.
Given that context, Tom and his artistic cohorts have done an enviable job. They spin an extended story weaving three narrative threads—Clark’s, Jon’s, and father and son together—into an enjoyable whole, filled with characters we know well. I’m tempted to say that his handling of Jon is stronger than that of his father—that Kal-El isn’t quite the Superman I’m used to him being, but that calls to question: which Kal-el? In more than 8 decades there have been _so_ many Kal-Els. Which one(s) isn’t he? And by how much?
On the other hand, the Batman is wonderfully evocative. His role isn’t that large in the story but he fills it wonderfully. He is so many of the best Batmen. Of all the guest stars who walk through the story, he almost made me smile and feel right at home in the story. In doing so he fulfills the key requirement of the annual, he (and the others, it is admitted) draws you in and makes you feel at home with Jon’s world, giving you room to ask all the questions. Who is Jon? Is he really Superman? And how is he, the new Superman, different from his father?
Of course, the real key ingredient is just plain good story-telling. Do Tom and the artists draw us in, and tell us an enjoyable tale? Does he leave us wanting more? For me, the answer is “yes”. For me, Jon is fresh, a man—a Superman—of his own, but still a true Superman, or a young man on the verge of being a real Superman. He faces Lex, and he will again, and again, and that should be fun, and it will be interesting to see how Lex and Henry Bendix interact and how Jon deals with them both.
I’m really enjoying this Superman series, and more so than many others that have come before it. And it’s done its job—not only have I subscribed to it, but I’ve started reading other series by its author. I’m only one issue into ‘Dark Knights of Steel’—the new ‘Elseworld’s Finest’ if you will—but I enjoyed that issue, and am about to read the next. TomTaylorMade is an excellent brand.