Dark Crisis: Worlds Without A Justice League – Superman #1 brings us one of the best Elseworlds or multiversal Superman stories ever written in the last two decades.
The cover alone hooks everyone with Jon as a Robin-esque Superboy. While it is labeled a Dark Crisis tie-in, the reader can’t help but forget about the ongoing battle with Pariah and become lost and enamored in Tom King and Chris Burnham’s seemingly standalone story of Clark and Jon defending Earth as their own dynamic duo with themes like family, coming of age, and altruism in times of war.
Burnham last left his mark in DC nearly ten years ago with Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated run for the New 52. His visuals can best be described as a scrappier Frank Quitely. In the default cover, we see him apply the iconography of Batman and Robin right to Clark and Jon as Superman and Superboy. He has the domino mask, vest, and cape that all just scream Robin. Superman’s costume and appearance here feel like late Golden Age with its color, insignia, and old-style belt, but the setting is very much modern. We have Adriano Lucas on colouring duties as he seems to make Superboy’s suit pop with bold tones and Superman’s suit linger back with darker ones.
Steve Beach takes a break from his usually gothic fantasy art from The Last God to bring us a sunshine variant cover. Superman and Superboy go up, up, and away set to a sunset-lit Metropolis skyline with the Daily Planet in the background. Comic realism artists create some of the most eye-popping works and Beach shows us just that. There are also some Alex Ross elements like the streak lines behind the duo as they tear upwards in the air and reflections off the glass buildings of the city. Clark and Jon’s faces are warm like photographs with a realism style, something that traditional comic art can’t often achieve. Of course, blue is orange’s compliment, so sunsets are always the right setting for Superman art.
In a world without the Justice League, it’s just Superman and his sidekick Superboy. When they’re not out saving the world, they’re living a quiet farm life in Smallville as Clark and Jon Kent. Lois is there too, living her best human life as her boys embark on adventures. King is one of the best writers of superhero families out there, especially with his Vision series. He also has some great experience with Superman with his Up In The Sky miniseries which is highly recommended for even those who don’t like Superman.
Both of those come together here. Honestly, he could write some episodes of Superman & Lois. We get great scenes of Superman and Superboy thwarting a giant robot attack and taking Krypto for a walk on Jupiter. Grant Morrison once said, “Superman is like you and me in the regard that he walks his dog. The only difference is he walks his dog on the Asteroid Belt.” Clearly, King took note. Burnham’s art truly gives it an All-Star Superman feel as well.
King is also known for tackling dark subjects in sometimes brutal ways set to all the pleasantness. Again, The Vision series has to referenced again. In fact, it was the inspiration for WandaVision. He also tells his stories through chapters on some occasions. In this issue, he frames each chapter as Jon’s age at the time, going from thirteen to eighteen. Out there, which is the name of the story actually, Darkseid and Apokolips are waging war against the Universe – destroying entire planets in his path. The worst part is that Jon can see all the atrocities with his supervision. As he comes of age, he continues to press his father about these nightmarish visions and why, if something like that is really happening, they aren’t doing anything. Clark’s son matures before his very eyes as secrets are revealed, a destiny is forged, and some people get hit really, really hard. One might wish it was longer and some parts were included.
The last quarter of the book also contains an Aquaman story by Brandon Thomas and Fico Ossio. This story is a tribute to the Aquaman family and the supporting cast of Arthur Curry’s loved ones. It’s a beautiful and tragic tale that may connect with the ongoing Aquaman series and his current struggles. We see the Batfamily, Superfamily, and Flashfamily get homages all the time, so it’s nice to see the Aquafamily altogether for once.
Dark Crisis Worlds Without A Justice League: Superman #1 is the perfect comic book in the sense when the cover is seen, it demands closer inspection. Even those not familiar with Superman would know that something is up when they see him with a Robin-like sidekick. King’s treatment of what if Superman and his son were the only guardians of the Earth fits right into his bibliography of what makes him so great. How this ties into Dark Crisis remains to be seen, however.