Superman and the Next Evolution of Superboy

Superman writer Brian Michael Bendis talks to us about his upcoming changes to Superboy.

This Superman article contains spoilers for the latest issue. The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

Before I ask my first question, Brian Michael Bendis says it for me: “Why?” Why age-up Jon Kent, aka Superboy, in this week’s Superman #7? And then there’s the follow-up question: Is this the real Jonathan Samuel Kent?

Although the second question is slightly more complicated given Superboy’s backstory, Bendis’ answer is simple. This is still Jon Kent.

“Yes … it’s him. It is real. It’s really happening.”

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The super son — absent from Superman comics since Bendis sent him packing on a cosmic road trip with a resurrected Jor-El in The Man of Steel weekly miniseries last year — returned in a surprising fashion at the end of Superman #6. In Superman #7, readers learn years have passed for Jon even though he has only been gone from Earth for three weeks. In the time away, Jon has become a super young man, and Lois and Clark have missed out on pivotal moments in their son’s life. But the reunited Kents don’t have long to catch up because Superboy warns his parents that Grandpa Jor-El is insane and needs to be stopped.

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In the following interview, Bendis talks to us about Jon’s return in “The Unity Saga” arc, how it is going to impact the DCU, the ways in which his absence has changed him, what adventures he has been on in the stars, and, simply, “why” the writer decided to do this to the young Kent.

Den of Geek: My first question is …

Brian Michael Bendis: Why?

Well, yeah.

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This is a Superman family adventure. This is a Superman family crisis. This is the kind of stuff that would only happen to Superman, but I think does reflect what a lot of parents and a lot of families go through which is, “Stuff happens that we don’t expect and you deal with it.” There’s a Superman version of that, and this is it. It really is about how the family’s going to deal with something they didn’t see coming. It is about vivid emotions of parenting and being a kid.

I think a lot of people are wondering, is this the real Jon Kent? We all expect Superboy-Prime.

My instinct as a storyteller is to not tell you if it’s real or not real because I want you all to discover it in the story. But on the same notion, I know that a lot of these characters come with a little bit of that baggage of, “Could it be a reboot or evil from another dimension?” It’s not, it’s him. It’s real. It’s really happening. I’m breaking my rule of telling people that because I want them to actually enjoy it for what it is and not worry about the other stuff.

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What is Jon’s story arc here?

He’s about 17. He has not been artificially aged. He lived all the years he’s been away. We spend a lot of that time developing and telling that story, so I’m going let that play out in book by the beautiful Brandon Peterson. That’s the story Jonathan’s come to tell his father, where he’s been, what’s happening, and what they need to do next. It is big, and it’s different and, for Jon, it’s very exciting. I mean … He was raised by two of the best people ever and then he had the old trial by fire as far as puberty went. He really had to do it on his own. He really became his own person, so we’re going to meet that person.

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And how well did those Ma and Pa Kent and Superman values hold up?

So many people are worrying he’s turning into like an evil, homicidal maniac who’s going to go Injustice on everybody. That is not the case. This is the story about two parents who work hard to instill values in their son and then when push came to shove, those values not only held, but inspired him to do better and get home.

How do you view this as a Superman story?

When we hear his story about what Jon has been through, and how impossible it is, and how many opportunities he had to betray his core values, and never did, I think people are going to see that it is the most honoring of the Superman legacy of any story I’ll tell. It is a brand-new story. It allows the family to deal with each other in a completely different level, but it also gets to show Lois and Clark what kind of parents they were and are, and may I say, beyond Jon’s quest, which is quite enormous, this is something for Superman that — This hurts.

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About Jon’s time away, will you be revealing what he went through in flashbacks, or are we moving straight into, “Jor-El is insane and we have to go after him”?

Well, we’re doing both. I couldn’t even imagine how unfair it would be not to show the audience. I couldn’t imagine any fan not wanting to have a dramatic recounting of where they’ve been and what they’ve done. So, in every issue, for the next four issues, Brandon Peterson will be illustrating the flashbacks and dealing with the highlights of where they’ve been.

Going back to how this hurts Superman, he experienced only three weeks but missed these formative years in his son’s life…

It is going stay with them for a while. Both Superman and Lois lost a few years of their kid’s life and it really hurts. Any parent can tell you. Any person in the family gets that. Can you imagine just losing years, and then having to regain that connection, and regain everything, and re-understand each other? It allows the family dynamic to really deal with each other in a new way, but hopefully in a spectacularly healthy way. But boy, for Lois and Clark, this is just a devastating loss that they will be dealing with together for a long time.

As it is, it seems like Superman carries around a lot of guilt.

That guilt part is something that people don’t always associate with Clark, but he has a great deal of it. Just that feeling of responsibility; it’s enormous, and he’s now looking right in the face of either his biggest failure or his biggest triumph. He has to decide which of those … When I started writing it as a parent, is that it was easy to tap into the emotions of what it would feel like. I have four kids, and if you miss any little thing, you feel so frustrated. Missing years of something can be devastating to Lois and Clark, and it’s going to change their perspective on things as well.

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This young man has been gone so long and is a different person than the child who left. Will you explore how these relationship dynamics have changed?

Doesn’t that sound like every family? When we talk about Superman’s relatability, this is the kind of story that can be told with his family, and his dynamic that reflects what a lot of families go through. People change and people must reevaluate the relationships going on.

It sounds like you’re drawing a lot from parental experience with this story.

All my kids are different ages, and I look at my teenage daughter, and we have an amazing relationship. I’m immensely proud of it. When she was little, it was a completely silly relationship. She was the goofiest little girl, and she made me laugh all day long. Now our relationship is like creative, and intelligent, and philosophical. We have a lot of very deep conversations, so I think about the difference in our relationship. It’s enormous, and if I had to skip a few years, I would dream that evolution, I would be thrown. I would have to reevaluate everything about how I speak to her. Telling a story like that seems oh so exciting.

Even though the Kent family principles have held with Jon, how is he a different Superboy, super man, than his father?

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He’s immensely proud of himself for getting home. He kind of shows you what kind of Superman he is, and then he’s going to describe that in the flashbacks. Jon and Clark/Kal are going to head back out into the cosmos to deal with Grandpa. And just because he’s been through a lot, he’s still a teenager and he’s still going through things, so he’s not fully baked as a human being yet. He’s still in process. If anything, Clark gets to come in just as he’s getting really interesting and try to do be the father that he needs to be for him. You’re going to find out what kind of man Jon is becoming.

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Speaking of Grandpa Jor-El, he must be dealt with, but doesn’t Kal-El already have a lot on his plate with Zod, Rogol Zaar, etc.?

Kal-El has a lot to deal with on his end, right? This is a family crisis. “What did Dad do? Why did he do it, and what do we do now?” These are very big questions that we’ll have a big answer in the next few issues of Superman and lead to, may I say, an enormous story. I’ve been telling people this saga builds and builds, and I think now you can see this extra piece of Jon, and where Jon and Superman are going must go deal with what happened with Jor-El. You can kind of see how big the story could get.

Are we approaching a culmination of all your Superman stories so far?

Yeah, we got Jor-El, we got Rogol Zaar, we have the conspiracy around Krypton. This is all wrapped around that as well, so all of these plots that have been started since the very first pages of Man of Steel #1 are all going to be trickling together towards the big finale of “Unity Saga,” which is not the end of my Superman run, but it’s the end of my first very, very large story. That will then set a table for Superman and Lois and Jon that’s another status quo change that’s going to really define what they do going forward. We’re right at the beginning of the next big Superman status quo change.

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And Jon plays heavily into that?

Absolutely. Jon is in every single issue.

Changing Jon this way will affect the entire continuity. Will we get to see a little bit of those ripple effects, including how things will look between him and his formerly older buddy Damian Wayne?

First of all, not a little bit. Out of all the ripple effects, the only reason to do something like this is to feel the ripple effects so we can have those dramatic moments between the characters that we never thought we’d see. They get to really experience each other in a new, exciting way. So, yes to all of that, and it won’t be little. It’ll be enormous.

Aaron Sagers is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.