The Ageing of Superman: An Explanation of the Older Kal-El in Recent Comic Books
By James Lantz
With all the recent focus on Jon Kent in the news lately, it’s easy to forget that his father Clark/Kal-El is still in full force in his own adventures. Now, there are most likely new and established readers who have been befuddled by Clark’s getting older in DC’s comic pages. A more aged Kal in such titles as Future State: Superman: Worlds of War and Superman and The Authority, while recent Action Comics issues and Batman/Superman: The Authority Special #1 have shown a younger Superman. This is especially confusing when one reads the aforementioned special after Superman and The Authority #4. Well, Superfans, this article will hopefully help make sense of the events in Clark Kent’s life that led to his aging and subsequent power loss.
We first see a gray haired Superman in Future State: Superman: Worlds of War #1-2. He looked similar to his counterpart from the Mark Waid and Alex Ross classic Kingdom Come to the point of even having his S-shield. Readers, myself included are led to wonder just how much time had passed between the Brian Michael Bendis Superman and Action Comics run and Superman: Worlds of War. While this is a valid inquiry, discoveries in Action Comics #1036, which we’ll get to shortly, bring forth the possibility that there isn’t too large of a gap between that issue and Superman: Worlds of War at all. To better understand what I mean, let’s look at the chronology of events. We’ll be mainly looking at most of Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s Superman related books and Superman and The Authority in order to make this comprehensive without being too lengthy. However, if there is something I missed in this article, do not hesitate to comment or send a message via the Superman Homepage Feedback Form.
Warning: There are spoilers ahead. If you haven’t read the comic books mentioned, do not go past this point in the article.
For those that missed it, Action Comics #1036 revealed that Superman had been suffering from radiation poisoning since being injured by extraterrestrial invaders in Superman #29 and Action Comics 1029‘s “The Golden Age”. In fact, Clark is seen bleeding in that serial. Energy from a rift in space, which was opened by S.T.A.R. Labs and studied by Amanda Waller, effects his Kryptonian cells. Yet, Jon Kent is immune to it. “Warworld Rising” (Action Comics #1030-1035) and “The One Who Fell” (Superman #30-32) do not discuss Kal-El’s illness, but I do have a theory regarding this. We’ll discuss that later.
Moving on the Grant Morrison, Mikel Janin and friends’ Superman and The Authority mini-series, we see a gray haired Superman with the Kingdom Come S-shield whose power levels are not what they were. As with Worlds of War, we are misled to believe a lot of time has passed. Clark recruits various costumed adventurers – including Manchester Black, Enchantress, Apollo, Midnighter and Nat Irons – for a new team after the Justice League refuses to go with him to Warworld. This ragtag group is a new incarnation of Wildstorm’s The Authority. After banding together, they must work with Batman to stop a dark multiverse invasion while preparing for their trip to Warworld in Batman/Superman: The Authority Special, where we see a young and strong Superman.
Superman and The Authority leave for Warworld after they helped Batman. Action Comics #1036 shows them arrive on Mongul’s planet, and the ruse of a young and powerful Superman is lifted, revealing an aged Man of Steel. The magic of the Enchantress and Manchester Black’s mental trickery aid Clark in making those around him believe he is at full strength. That part was revealed in Action Comics #1036. Here comes the conjecture on my part. Only Lois and Jon knew the truth about the illusion before the first chapter of “The Warworld Saga” ended.
Superman has to be seen as a symbol of hope and strength for the universe, if not the multiverse. Therefore, it’s not out of the realms of possibility that he kept the poisoning a secret from most of the world. Think about it. If villains like Lex Luthor or Brainiac knew the truth, they’d exploit it as Ultra-Humanite attempted to in the latter half of Superman and The Authority. If other heroes and the general public see a weakened Superman, they lose hope. These are reasons why Lois and Jon are the only ones who knew of Clark’s situation. Still, in spite of everything, he felt the need to free Warworld’s warrior slaves.
Before concluding this, I’d like give a possible reading order of recent Superman comics relating to Clark’s changes. This is just my interpretation. I’m willing to give other chronologies a chance.
“The Golden Age” (Superman #29 and Action Comics #1029) – This gets events started as the rift energy released by S.T.A.R. Labs effects Kal-El’s cells. Jon is immune perhaps because he is half human.
Superman and The Authority #1-4 – Superman needs a team he can trust with the secret of his illness and whose willing to do what the Justice League isn’t willing to. Zatanna, Doctor Fate and other DC mages are too close to the rest of the League. This is why he needs Enchantress and Manchester Black for the illusion of health, not just on Warworld, but also in the presence of other heroes on Earth. I feel like Clark needed to do this right after “The Golden Age”.
“Warworld Rising” (Action Comics #1030-1035) – The healthy Superman guise begins as this story leads to his mission of liberating Warworld from Mongul’s iron hand.
Batman/Superman: The Authority Special – Superman in his healthy guise and The Authority are preparing to leave Earth when Batman asks for their help in fighting villains from the Dark Multiverse.
Action Comics #1036 – “The Warworld Saga” begins, and the magical and psychic trickery is removed by Mongul’s minions, revealing how weak Superman really is. This does not stop him from continuing his mission to free Warworld.
Future State: Superman: Worlds of War #1-2 – At this point, it’s uncertain, how much time has passed since Superman and The Authority arrived on Warworld. However, I’m willing to bet that it hasn’t been that long. We’ll most likely see how true my theory is as “The Warworld Saga” progresses. We see the aged Superman in the battle arena throughout this series.
As of this writing, we haven’t really seen the full story about how Superman got older and weaker as a result of the radiation poisoning. Could it be similar to Kryptonite? It could explain why it didn’t harm Jon. What’s Amanda Waller’s interest in the energy from the rifts in “The Golden Age”? Will Kal-El survive this mission to liberate Warworld? What is the source of the rift’s radiation? How long will their effects last? These are just a few of the questions I hope are answered in other chapters of “The Warworld Saga”. Whatever happens, regardless, I’ll read Kal-El’s comic books as I’m sure you all will, and we can all hope for the best for our favorite Caped Wonder.