Superman: Son of Kal-El #17 “Unguarded”, part four of the Kal-El Returns event is on the shelves and explores Jon and Clark’s relationship in the aftermath of his recent absence.
It also features the debut of a new adversary who fits well into the storyline building in the Action Comics side of Kal-El Returns. Both Supermen have been through a lot during their previous story arcs and this issue sees them processing that together. First off, let’s process the great covers this issue has to offer.
Travis Moore and Tamra Bonvillain do an impressive job capturing the rebuilding theme of this issue. As you may recall, the Kent home was destroyed in issue #4 of the series and they’ve been living in a safe house since. Now with the threat of President Bendix at bay, Jon and Clark are hard at work building Jonathan and Martha a new house. The optimism on the faces of each family member perfectly embraces the concept of hope overcoming tragedy.
John Giang’s variant sees Jon and Clark alongside each other as they race towards whatever their heat vision is focused on. The interesting use of inks give a rather unique liquid metal or glass like appearance to the super suits that really grabs the eye. The red and blue blurs of the background not only add to the feel of motion but also to the other worldly esthetic of the cover.
The variant by Jeff Dekal is an imposing image of Jon in the upper atmosphere. The use of negative space resembles the Last Son of Krypton suit The Eradicator wore during The Reign of The Supermen. Although I’m not certain a homage was the intent, the seriousness on Jon’s face as his eyes glow red help sell that imagery. Regardless, this cover is a fascinating exercise in the use of Superman’s primary color pallet showcasing his powerful potential.
The company wide 90’s rewind variant is by Steven and Lily Butler, most of these fun throwback covers take us back to the look the character had during that era but Jon’s debut wasn’t until 2015. To compensate, we get Jon being a mallrat in a hoodie riding a skateboard while flying. Very little else could be as 90’s as this image, it’s definitely a fun nod to a nostalgic time.
Interior art duties fall on Cian Tormey, Ruairi Coleman, and colorist Romulo Fajardo Jr, their style has a real animation quality about it. It feels whimsy and carefree in the lighter moments of the story but doesn’t lack the sinister edge when things get more intense. It’s a style befitting the hopeful nature of Superman stories being told in these pages. To top it off, the ability to draw both Jon and Clark on the same page and not be confused on which Superman is which without having one or the other seem disproportionate, is an amazing show of skill in and of itself.
Tom Taylor, lettered by Dave Sharpe, writes a touching story with a central theme of rebuilding. Rebuilding houses, trust, and the bonds of family. Although Jon’s relationship with Jay isn’t secretive, he can’t seem to talk about it with his father. Clark begins to doubt himself as a dad and seeks his for advice. I’ve always loved the counsel sessions Jonathan and Clark have shared over the years and this one is no exception.
It’s also appreciated that Jonathan and Clark’s relationship isn’t 100% mirrored in Clark and Jon. Not that it’s better or worse but different in a way that makes Clark relatable as a parent. Not to make it sound like this was an all-dialogue issue, a new adversary debuts with the ability to bypass a Kryptonian’s powerset. The potential threat of this new villain resembles that of a certain other villain being addressed in the pages of current Action Comics and seems to all fall into the plans of Lex Luthor’s new scheme.
A heart felt issue about fathers and sons, Superman: Son of Kal-El #17 may be the penultimate issue of the series but Tom Taylor continues to set up stories that ensure Jon Kent’s career as Superman is far from over.