by Mark Mitchell and Michael DeLaney
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Mark: When I was about twelve years old, some friends and I got it in our heads that we deserved to go to a Six Flags theme park located two hours away from our city. We had just wrapped up a school assignment and were feeling pretty good about it; going to Six Flags was, to our minds, a reasonable reward for a job well done. My parents, for what I now recognize to be completely legitimate reasons, were quick to kibosh the idea — they weren’t interested in driving a Suburban full of sweaty pre-teens two hours to a theme park, driving two hours home, and then doing it all again later that night in order to pick us up. Plus, since I was twelve and had no money of my own to pay for park admission or food once I got in, they would basically be paying me $100 for the pleasure. All because me and my friends felt like we should be rewarded for completing our homework. I was furious.
Dealing with pre-teens and teenagers can be infuriating. They are, after all, categorically terrible; self-absorption coupled with crippling insecurity is a toxic combination. But it’s not their fault nature made them that way. Kids are constantly confronted with situations and decisions they are ill-prepared to face, lacking both the context and emotional experience to properly process and asses the situation. But that doesn’t make it any less irritating to be around them.
Thus is the experience of Peter J. Tomasi and Alisson Borges’ Super Sons 5, an issue that probably reads different to young adults than it does adults, even if the message of the issue is applicable to everyone. Damian’s been grounded by his father and he. is. bored. Moping around the Batcave, Damian complains to Alfred about how unfair this all is. All he did was save a family. Why is he being punished for doing a good thing? Meanwhile on the Kent farm, not only is Jon grounded, but he has to do chores without using his powers (that the Kents do chores while the Waynes have Alfred to do all of their dirty work is a neat summation of the Kent/Wayne dynamic). Plus, the Kents are moving to Metropolis which is just. not. fair. to Jon.
And so Jon does what a lot of us do when we’re upset: find someone to take it out on. And, in my favorite panel of the issue, who better than Damian?
Of course, they’re not really angry at each other. They’re angry about not being in control of their lives. In their minds, they know exactly how they want things to be, and if only everyone would listen to them then things would work out perfectly.
As much as everyone would like to pretend otherwise, that’s a mindset we never grow out of, even in adulthood. If only we were in absolute control of our lives, everything would be perfect. But like Superman explains to his son, the move to Metropolis is happening whether Jon likes it or not (insert your own annoying/unfair thing that happening in life here). It’s completely valid for Jon to feel angry and upset about the move, but anger doesn’t change the fact that it’s happening. Of course, because this is a superhero comic and not real life, Jon has his wish partially fulfilled since he’ll be able to use his powers more freely.
Super Sons 5 accurately portrays the pre-teen/teenager experience. There’s a lot of misplaced anger, yelling, and bursts of aggression from both Damian and Jon—and as a (slightly) more rational adult, all the angst and anger can get a little tiresome (it’s the same reason I dread Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix whenever I’m reading the Harry Potter series)—but there’s also a worthwhile lesson for everyone about recognizing that unpleasant things that are out of our control will happen in life, and when they do, what we can control the way in which we respond to them.
What’d you think, Michael?
Michael: Having worked with pre-teens myself, I can attest that they are categorically terrible; also they smell. I like Mark’s take on the situation, it’s something that I hadn’t considered on my first read-through of Super Sons 5. While I agree that Damian and Jon indulge in the outbursts associated with their age, I don’t necessarily hold it against them – at least not Jon (I always want to call him Chris – shout-out to Geoff Johns and Richard Donner’s “Last Son”).
Maybe it’s because Damian has already gone through the growing pains of going into the family business whereas Jon is new to the father/son hero-ing. Pete Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and Dan Jurgens have been patching up Superman’s fractured New 52/Rebirth timeline, which culminates in the Kents moving from their Hamilton home to Metropolis.
This greatly simplifies things and more easily allows Lois and Clark to return to their traditional Daily Planet roles, but where does Jon fit in to all of that? While everything is “going back to normal” for them, Hamilton is the only home he’s ever known.
I never moved as a kid – same city, same house, same family – and I know for a fact that I would’ve thrown a fit if my family moved. Lois and Clark are lucky that Jon isn’t going full Inside Out here and emotionally shutting down on them. Artist Allison Borges does a great job of translating Jon’s frustration with what he cannot change onto the page.
We’re all familiar with the classic image of Clark Kent opening his shirt and revealing his Superman costume beneath. Here Borges draws Jon violently ripping his shirt to shreds in defiance. Better still, as Jon single-bound-leaps away, Borges makes it look as if Jon’s anger has broken the fourth wall and shattered the sky into the gutters of the page.
Super Sons 5 is titled “Battle in The Batcave” because everyone’s gotta have a Batcave fight every once in a while, right? We get the cave staples of the giant penny and the robo T-rex – including a semi-groan worthy scene where Jon hides in the “dinosaur’s” buttocks. The fight between Superboy and Robin starts and stops again throughout the issue. One of these pauses comes on a double-page spread from Borges.
This technique where an artist shows multiple “ghostly” images of the same characters on one page is typically used to indicate the progression of action – fighting choreography. Here Borges uses it to instead advance Jon’s explanation to Damian for why he came to the Batcave. This kind of makes sense because really, some of the best fights between Jon and Damian are verbal – they’re still new allies but they know how to push each other’s buttons.
All that being said I’m hoping that Super Sons 5 is the mark of a new type of relationship between the two boys. I’m getting kind of tired of Damian saying that Jon is “not his friend” even though he’s clearly desperate for him to be. I think that’s the point that Pete Tomasi trying to make here by having Alfred recount the troubles that Batman and Superman had before they finally became friends.
To highlight some of the rocky moments in Batman and Superman’s friendship Borges recreates a famous image drawn by Jim Lee in Batman: Hush. I love these types of homages and reference that wink to something else without losing the narrative at hand. Nevertheless, references like this make my mind race and theorize: did Hush still take place in Superman’s weird new melded timeline? Does it matter? Probably not!
The Batman/Superman friendship is one of the most powerful, strangest relationships in the DCU. As Tomasi shows near the end of Super Sons 5, it’s one that’s full of playful rivalry but built on mutual respect. I’m ready for Damian and Jon to have that level of trust without losing their trademark sibling rivalry dynamic. Is that too much to ask for from a couple of kids who can’t even legally drive? Maybe. But is it what Tomasi been building to since he first teamed these two up? High likely, and I can’t wait.
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