Today, Michael and Patrick are discussing Super Sons 3, originally released April 19th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Michael: Super Sons 3 picks up where we last left our boy wonders: Robin vs. Superman and Superboy vs. Batman. The pair quickly discover that they are not fighting their superdads, but instead robot duplicates. Despite their best efforts and hero poses, they prove unsuccessful in taking down their robodads without the help of Sara Duffy — you know, of the short-lived Super Duffys. After the events of Justice League’s “The Amazo Virus,” the Duffys were one of the three percent of the population that kept their superpowers. Following a brief stint of an Incredibles-esque family super team, Sara’s brother Reggie aka “Kid Amazo” went nuts and made his family the hostages we saw in previous issues of Super Sons.
The best part of Super Sons — or any Bat-book by Pete Tomasi — is Damian Wayne. Tomasi has a very specific version of his favorite Robin present in this series, one who is desperate for a partner but simultaneously acting the opposite. Damian’s a very unique type of bully who feeds on his constant berating of Jon. He loves belittling Jon and his father, which is part of the reason he keeps him around. I’m not saying Damian is the villain here, but he certainly goes on a power trip when he’s teamed up with Jon. After all, this is one of the first times where he’s the senior hero of the team.
In many cases I don’t think Damian is even aware of what he’s doing. One of my favorite Jon/Damian arguments in Super Sons 3 is about The Teen Titans.
Damian accuses Jon of bringing up the Titans twice, implying that he’s desperate to join the team with Damian. The best part of this is Damian himself is the one who brought the Titans into the conversation in the first place: “Touch my cycle and you will never be considered for the Titans!” This tells me a couple of things. First, Damian’s lack of self-awareness makes him project certain feelings of desperation onto Jon. Second, that Damian is considering his new super-pal for Titans membership. In fact, this whole Amazo adventure could be Damian testing Jon for Titanship.
While the dynamic between Robin and Superboy will always be entertaining, the pacing of Super Sons 3 feels a little off. The book opens with Robin and Superboy fighting Amazo Batman and Superman and ends with them fighting multiple versions of themselves. In terms of stakes, that comes across as a little less threatening. Also, the issue seems to end very abruptly. Damian slices off a robot head and rewires it, and before Jon figures out what he did, the issue ends with them overcome by robots. We’ll undoubtedly see the payoff in the next issue, but it read like this sentence. Stopping before I get to my point.
My favorite image of Super Sons 3 is when Damian slices off that robot head. Damian looks like he’s taking a lot of pleasure in decapitating a robo-Jon Kent — he did used to be a remorseless killer after all, I bet he misses it sometimes. Jorge Jimenez makes Damian the epicenter of the action, causing all of the panels around him to shift out of place like crashing waves. Jimenez distinguishes the action beats from the story beats by giving this distorted, fast-moving aesthetic to the layouts when the Super Sons are fighting. And while I think that a bunch of Amazo Super Sons is less intimidating than an Amazo Superman and Batman, I did like the way that Jimenez had the robots duplicate in liquid form like the T-1000.
My biggest question from Super Sons 3 comes from what’s presented as a throwaway line of dialogue. Sara explains that her brother created doubles of her and her family so he could… kill them over and over again. Thus Damian and Jon’s mission is to find Sara’s real body before Reggie kills her for good. In the shuffle Damian says “Somewhere inside’s the real Sara — the real all of us.” Huh? Are Jon and Damian also Amazo doubles? That seems to be pretty big revelation to just brush past. It’s hard to tell but if they are doubles, I’d like to see Tomasi lean into the idea of the notion that “fake Robin and Superboy” are saving “real Robin and Superboy.” That’s some Clone Saga-levels of Pinocchio existential mind-fuckery.
Patrick! My first question is this: what sounds better, “boy wonders” or “boys wonder”? I’ve been thinking about it since I started this piece. Do you think that the rather dark nature of Reggie’s psychology is glossed over in this fun superfriend adventure? Is dipping back into elements of “The Amazo Virus” — a story that’s 2+ years old — a clever move or a stale one?
Patrick: Ah, sir, you beat me to the punch! I have also been thinking about your use of the phrase “boy wonders” since the first paragraph of this piece. For my money, it’s gotta be “boys wonder” — like “attorneys general.” The noun is “boy,” so I don’t think we have much of a choice.
And I’m totally okay with revisiting Amazo Virus stuff. While Amazo might be something from DC’s ancient history, it wasn’t really that long ago that Geoff Johns was building a whole arc in Justice League around it. For all of Johns’ history canonization (and/or fetishization), he actually make a pretty strong case for connecting the Amazo virus’ power-replicating ability to Lex Luthor’s persistent jealousy of Superman. Tomasi is tapping into that same connection in this story: remember, we saw Lex in the ol’ super-suit just last issue. That means this whole story plays out on a tapestry of inadequacy, with both boys constantly struggling to assert their value to each other.
Of course, they’re children, so it doesn’t always come out in the most sophisticated (or subtle) ways.
This is partially a feint — the boys are using their little scuffle as a diversion so they can launch counter attacks on their robo-fathers — but it’s also totally real. I love how much these two kids seem to despise each other. It’s like Tomasi is allowed to take all of the implied tension between Batman and Superman, and make it extremely fucking literal with Damian and Jon.
Michael, I’ve been rolling that “the real all of us” line around in my head since you brought it up. What the hell does that mean? I do see the implication that everyone — the Duffy family, Jon and Damian — is actually back at the warehouse, while there are naught but robots running around the woods, but that is just an enormous point to gloss over. I realize I’m reiterating your point, but it’s worth reiterating: we are not on stable, understandable narrative ground in the later half of this issue. Perhaps that’s why we’re starting to see themes, ideas and phrases duplicated at this point in the story. Michael brought up the second mention of the Teen Titans, but the kiddos also find themselves re-litigating the order their names are shouted in. And Damian responds with the same old “I’m older” to Jon’s predictable “I’m taller.” Maybe this is just the robot versions of Superboy and Robin regurgitating the things they know about the children they’re pretending to be.
So if it seems like Damian (er… Amazo-Reggie-Duffy-Damian) is one step ahead of the logic of the story, that’s at least consistent with what we know about the kid.
I also really like seeing a third character tossed in the mix with Damian and Jon to give their bickering some context. Sara has extraordinary powers which are hyper-relevant to the threat they’re facing in this issue. But she’s also way more vulnerable that either of our heroes. That, combined with the idea that she’s being killed over and over again and her read hair, makes my mind jump to Jean Grey. Jimenez leans in to this similarity (perhaps even suggesting it in the first place) by making this kinda non-specific fire part of her powers’ activation.
I’d be happy to watch Damian and Jon fight anyone, including each other, but it’s nice to have a little context for it, even if it means borrowing on my affinity for the X-Men. And honestly, I don’t know how anyone can resist a comic wherein Jon calls Damian “dork knight.” If comics weren’t made for that, I don’t know what they’re made for.
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