Superman is bisexual. Well, that doesn’t really tell the entire story. It’s more accurate to say that a Superman is bisexual, he’s the current protector of Earth, and he’s currently the headliner of one of DC’s very best comics.
Before you start wondering just when Clark Kent had found the time to explore his options considering that he spent most of his career dating one of the most accomplished reporters of all time utilizing two different identities, know this: Clark Kent/Kal-El, the Superman who has been fighting for truth, tolerance, and justice since 1938 isn’t the one being honored by DC Comics on National Coming Out Day. It’s Jon Kent, the son of Lois Lane and Clark Kent, the half-Kryptonian superhero who has recently taken up his father’s mantle as Superman in the pages of DC’s Superman: Son of Kal-El series by Tom Taylor and John Timms.
You’ll note that I said “truth, tolerance, and justice” and not “truth, justice, and the American way.” That’s because “truth, tolerance, and justice” was an official Man of Steel credo as far back as 1948, when it was spoken in Superman’s very first live action appearance in Columbia’s Superman movie serial (the more well-known “…and the American Way” was initially a temporary World War II-era addition, arriving in 1942 before vanishing post-war, and returning in 1952 during the red scare). It’s a mission statement that has been cannily revised by Taylor for Superman: Son of Kal-El as Jon’s “truth, justice, and a better world.” Jon Kent will discover romantic feelings for his friend Jay Nakamura in the fifth issue of that book which arrives on Nov. 9.
Like clockwork, the usual media suspects get up in arms every time there’s a change to whatever they think the Superman legend stands for, and the right wing shriekosphere took the news about Jon Kent’s sexuality in their usual calm and measured stride. Of course, it’s unlikely that any of these people have read a Superman comic in years (if ever), nor do they know or care that this isn’t the Superman they think it is. Even if they did, they clearly have never understood a character whose ideals were baked in literally from his earliest adventures, where Superman was often billed as a “champion of the oppressed” and an unmistakable flair for social justice put him in conflict with corrupt politicians, profiteering war-mongers, and greedy landlords.
And in this respect, the Jon Kent version of Superman is closer to the original vision of the character as created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster than nearly any we’ve seen since in the last 80 years (Grant Morrison’s recent stories featuring a more socially conscious, two-fisted Man of Steel aside). Jon/Superman has made it his mission to look at not just the problems themselves, but their causes, something he calls his father out for not doing enough of. And with Clark Kent leaving Earth to focus on intergalactic issues for a while, Jon is left in charge to Superman as he sees fit on Earth, and that means fighting for “truth, justice, and a better world.”
He’s certainly up to the task, having inherited not only his father’s well-known powers like super-strength but also what Grant Morrison calls Superman’s “super-compassion” and “super-understanding.” Superman: Son of Kal-El writer Tom Taylor has made it clear that Jon has also picked up Lois Lane’s rebellious streak and passion for social justice. Jon has traded the aforementioned Depression-era threats to look at issues like climate change, refugee crises, and dictatorial strongmen who manipulate the media.
It’s important to remember how effectively DC has centered Lois in recent years, and within the stories, she’s as admired as the Man of Steel himself. In fact, when Jon introduces Jay Nakamura to his family, Jay (who is a journalist) is far more excited to meet Lois Lane than he is impressed by the fact that his new friend’s dad is, well, Superman. We can see Lois’ passion and bravado reflected when Jon insists that the police arrest him alongside the refugees he’s defending, in an attempt to bring more public attention to their plight. While it’s established canon that the famed “S” is not an S at all, but a Kryptonian family crest that means “hope,” in the case of Jon, it also stands for selflessness.
“I’ve always said everyone needs heroes and everyone deserves to see themselves in their heroes and I’m very grateful DC and Warner Bros. share this idea,” Superman: Son of Kal-El writer Tom Taylor said in a statement released via DC. “Superman’s symbol has always stood for hope, for truth and for justice. Today, that symbol represents something more. Today, more people can see themselves in the most powerful superhero in comics.”
It’s worth zeroing in on the notion that “more people can see themselves” reflected in Superman, one of the most recognizable characters in all of pop culture. I’m a heterosexual white male, which means that I’ve seen myself reflected in just about every heroic fictional character of my lifetime. It’s fair to say that other folks deserve the same consideration, and it’s a conclusion that more purveyors of superhero stories are rapidly coming to. It’s why one of the most popular Robins, Tim Drake, also recently embraced his bisexuality, why Miles Morales shares the Spider-Man name with Peter Parker, and why superhero movies and TV shows have been slowly centering a more diverse cast of characters more representative of the breadth of their audience. It will be yet another big step when more LGBTQ+ creators are allowed to be the ones telling coming out stories with characters of Superman’s magnitude.
Whenever the matter of increasing diversity and representation comes up in superhero comics, a small but vocal subset of fans complains that race or gender bending (something that usually takes place in the translation from page to screen rather than within an in-medium retcon) or revelations about sexual orientation would be better suited to a new character rather than an existing one. It’s a pretty thin argument that rarely stands up to scrutiny, but it holds particularly little weight with Jon Kent, a character who most certainly is a new character.
Jon has only been around in the comics for a few years, most of those years as a child, and Superman: Son of Kal-El is his first foray into the A-list as a headliner in his own book. Not only that, he has spent most of his fictional life thus far as a child, so there’s no previous romantic history that has to be explained away as he comes out (as there was when DC fully embraced the notion that its original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, had lived most of his life as a closeted gay man).
That’s partially because young Jon Kent is a case study in the kind of comic book logic that often makes non-comic book fans run for the hills clutching their heads like the poor, unfortunate heavy in the lower left hand corner of the Action Comics #1 cover. Jon is the son of Lois Lane and Clark Kent (easy enough), who lived the first ten years of his life as normally as one might expect the son of those two could live, began manifesting powers, became best pals with the son of Batman, and then was taken by his grandfather Jor-El (please do not ask why he is alive) on an interstellar adventure where because…comics! (and relativity, I guess) he aged seven years while only the equivalent of a few weeks or months had passed on Earth.
Then Jon spent time in the 31st Century with the Legion of Super-Heroes, a team of futuristic super-teens inspired by the heroes of our era…who were once written by Jim Shooter with detailed descriptions of their very open sex lives in mind. Anyway, Jon’s time with Jor-El and the Legion left him at approximately 17-18 years old, sporting one of the best variations of the classic Superman costume ever designed and one of the coolest supersuits in modern comics.
Other arguments against the exploration of superhero sex lives conveniently ignore the fact that Bruce Wayne, like the similarly priapic James Bond, has been happily screwing his way to at least a few courses of antibiotics throughout his 80 year history with no complaints from fans, or the apparent humiliation kink that Clark Kent willingly subjected himself to in the bizarre love triangle that was the Superman/Lois/Clark relationship for nearly 60 years of stories. In other words, it’s ok to know about a character’s personal life/sexual preferences as long as they reinforce heteronormativity, but the minute they don’t, it is somehow a betrayal of the character, the superheroic ideal, the will of their creators (most of whom had bigger concerns…like whether or not they were actually getting paid fairly for their creations), natural law, and the Constitution of the United States of America.
And it isn’t like Jon has “replaced” Clark as the Man of Steel for all time, either. The older Kal-El is still very active as Superman, but he’s off having intergalactic adventures at the moment, leaving Jon to protect Earth. Superman Classic is still out there, still married to Lois, and still fighting for “truth, tolerance, and justice.” But Jon Kent is also here to stay, as is DC’s commitment to making sure more of its audience can find heroes like themselves.
“Truth, justice, and a better world,” indeed.