Superman’s Aging: An Explanation of the Elder Kal-El in Recent Comic Books
By James Lantz
With all the recent focus on Jon Kent in the news, it’s easy to forget that his father Clark/Kal-El is still very much alive in his own adventures. Now there are most likely new and established readers who are confused by Clark’s aging on DC comics. An older Kal in titles like Future State: Superman: Worlds of War and Superman and the Authority, while recently Action Strips problems and Batman/Superman: The Authority Special #1 have shown a younger Superman. This is especially confusing when you read the aforementioned special Superman and the Authority #4. Well, super fans, this article will hopefully help you understand the events in Clark Kent’s life that led to his aging and subsequent power outages.
We see a gray-haired Superman for the first time in Future State: Superman: Worlds of War #1-2. He looked like his counterpart from the classics of Mark Waid and Alex Ross kingdom come to the point that he even has his S shield. Readers, myself included, wonder how much time had passed between the Brian Michael Bendis Superman and Action Strips run and Superman: Worlds of War. While this is a valid study, discoveries in Action Strips #1036, which we’ll come back to shortly, raise the possibility that there isn’t too much of a gap between that problem and Superman: Worlds of War not at all. To better understand what I mean, let’s look at the chronology of events. We will mainly be looking at most of Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s Superman-related books and Superman and the Authority to make this complete without getting too long. However, if there’s anything I missed in this article, don’t hesitate to comment or send a message through the Superman Homepage Feedback Form.
Warning: There are spoilers ahead. If you haven’t read the comic books mentioned, then don’t go beyond this point in the article.
For those who missed it, Action Strips #1036 revealed that Superman suffered from radiation poisoning since he was injured by alien invaders in Superman #29 and Action Strips 1029‘The Golden age’. In fact, Clark is seen bleeding in that series. Energy from a chasm in space opened by STAR Labs and studied by Amanda Waller affects his Krypton cells. Yet Jon Kent is immune to it. “World of War Comes Up” (Action Strips #1030-1035) and “The One Who Fell” (Superman #30-32) don’t discuss Kal-El’s disease, but I do have a theory about 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 used to be. Like with worlds of war, we are misled into believing that much time has passed. Clark recruits several costumed adventurers – including Manchester Black, Enchantress, Apollo, Midnighter and Nat Irons – to a new team after the Justice League refuses to go to Warworld with him. This ragtag group is a new incarnation of The Authority from Wildstorm. After teaming up, they must team up with Batman to stop a dark multiverse invasion as they prepare for their journey to Warworld in Batman/Superman: The Authority Special, where we see a young and strong Superman.
Superman and The Authority leave for Warworld after helping Batman. Action Strips #1036 reveals that they arrive on Mongul’s planet, and the ruse of a young and powerful Superman is lifted, revealing an old Man of Steel. The magic of the Enchantress and Manchester Black’s mental trickery help Clark trick those around him into believing he’s at full strength. That part was revealed in Action Strips #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 should be seen as a symbol of hope and strength for the universe, if not the multiverse. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out 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 like Ultra-Humanite tried in the second half of the year. Superman and the Authority. When 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 about Clark’s situation. Yet, in spite of everything, he felt the need to free the warrior slaves of Warworld.
Before I conclude this, I’d like to provide a possible reading order of recent Superman comics regarding Clark’s changes. This is just my interpretation. I am willing to give other chronologies a chance.
“The Golden age” (Superman #29 and Action Strips #1029) – This triggers events as the fissure energy released by STAR Labs affects Kal-El’s cells. Jon may be immune because he is half human.
Superman and the Authority #1-4 Superman needs a team he can trust with the secret to his illness and willing to do what the Justice League doesn’t want. 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 only on Warworld, but also in the presence of other heroes on Earth. I feel like Clark had to do this right after “The Golden Age”.
“World of War Comes Up” (Action Strips #1030-1035) – Superman’s healthy form begins as this story leads to his mission to free Warworld from Mongul’s iron hand.
Batman/Superman: The Authority Special – Superman in his sane guise and The Authority prepare to leave Earth when Batman asks for their help in fighting villains from the Dark Multiverse.
Action Strips #1036 – “The Warworld Saga” begins, and the magical and psychic tricks are removed by Mongul’s henchmen, revealing just how weak Superman really is. This doesn’t stop him from continuing his mission to liberate Warworld.
Future State: Superman: Worlds of War #1-2 – At the moment it is uncertain how much time has passed since Superman and The Authority arrived on Warworld. I bet it wasn’t that long ago though. We’ll most likely see how true my theory is as “The Warworld Saga” progresses. We see the elderly Superman in the battle arena in this series.
At the time of writing, we haven’t seen the full story of how Superman grew older and weaker as a result of the radiation poisoning. Could it be similar to Kryptonite? It might explain why it didn’t hurt Jon. What is Amanda Waller’s interest in the energy of the fissures in “The Golden Age”? Will Kal-El survive this mission to liberate Warworld? What is the source of the radiation from the canyon? How long will their effects last? These are just some of the questions that I hope will be answered in other chapters of “The Warworld Saga”. Whatever happens, either way, I’ll be reading Kal-El’s comic books and I’m sure all of you will, and we can all hope for the best for our favorite Caped Wonder.