DC Comics’ pre-eminent superhero, Superman, has come out as bisexual in the upcoming comic book, Superman: Son of Kal-El #5. Note that this is not the original Man of Steel (i.e. Clark Kent/Kal-El). As the title of the book indicates, this is his son, Jonathan Kent.
The character of Superman has been around for close to a century since his creation in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The Last Son of Krypton is genuinely, a modern mythological figure. During his time, he has faced both fictional and real-world issues. That his son and heir-apparent would be tackling the matter of gender and sexual identity is consistent with the themes and legacy of the character, but it has raised ire from some conservative fans.
Who is Jon Kent?
In the comic books, Jonathan Samuel Kent (or just Jon Kent) is the firstborn son of Clark Kent (aka Superman) and Lois Lane. Named after Clark’s adoptive father Jonathan Kent and Lois’s own father General Samuel Lane, Jon Kent was conceived during the Convergence event. After the multiverse was saved, his birth was altered to occur during an alien invasion in the Fortress of Solitude, with Batman and Wonder Woman present.
Jon would later slowly develop powers similar to his father’s, thanks to his Kryptonian heritage. However, the progression was different, being much slower and would sporadically fail, due to Jon using up his stored solar energy, a side effect of being half human. Still, Jon would prove himself as a hero time and time again, eventually being named the new Superboy. He would become the best friend to Batman’s own son, Damian Wayne/Robin and the two would go on adventures to form the Super-Sons.
However, Jon would join his time-displaced grandfather, Jor-El, in a trek through outer space. Lois and Clark initially refused, but Jon convinced them that this would be an opportunity for him to learn more about his Kryptonian heritage while discovering his own place in the universe. Lois initially joined Jor-El and Jon, but she would return sooner than expected due to an incident with a black hole. Jon would be lost for years, being captured by an evil alternate version of his father, before Jor-El could rescue him.
Later on, Jon would return to Earth. However, he and his parents would discover that while years had passed for Jon in his travels and adventures, only 3 weeks had passed on Earth. Jon would later be recruited in the futuristic Legion of Superheroes. In that future time, he would begin a romantic relationship with Saturn Girl.
Later on, Jon would return to the present to assist his father in defeating alien invaders from a space breach. Still after, Clark found himself needing to go to the outer reaches of space for a prolonged period of time. It is at this point that he decides to elevate Jon from Superboy to take over the mantle of Superman. It is during his tenure as the new Superman that Jon would meet Jay Nakamura, a college student with a website called The Truth, which exposes news that mainstream outlets would not dare reveal to the masses.
The Truth comes out
In the upcoming fifth issue of Superman: Son of Kal-El, DC Comics will be publishing the story of Jon’s revelation as a bisexual. The solicitations and marketing for the issue show Jon being intimate with Jay Nakamura.
I’ve always said everyone needs heroes and everyone deserves to see themselves in their heroes. Today, #Superman, the strongest superhero on the planet, comes out as bisexual. I chatted to @georgegustines at the @nytimes about what's coming for Jon Kent.https://t.co/rcIYLXl7FB
— Tom Taylor (@TomTaylorMade) October 11, 2021
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'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.
Joining Taylor is artist John Timms, who shared his own thoughts about the comic book and Jon Kent coming out as bi:
I'm incredibly honored to be working beside Tom on the SUPERMAN: SON OF KAL-EL series showing Jon Kent tackling his complex modern life, while also saving the world from its greatest threats, villains and menaces.
Reactions and significance
As noted, the LGBTQ community have a generally positive outlook to the new Superman being bisexual. To some, this is a step in the right direction, having a Superman that represents the gender fluid and the larger queer community, as a whole. Superman’s story is, after all, about an alien demigod living up to the highest virtues of mankind while also striving to live as one of them.
🌈 #Superman is out and proud!
🦸♂️ Jon Kent – the newest Superman – has been revealed as bisexual.
— Openly 🏳️🌈 (@Openly) October 12, 2021
However, not all reactions have been in approval of DC Comics’ move. Many longtime fans and conservative cells have voiced their displeasure. Some have stated that this feels like a cheap marketing move in order to pander to a specific audience, such as fans of the yaoi subgenre in Japanese manga and anime. Still others have been very vocal that this tarnishes the image of Superman, and that it seems being a straight superhero is unacceptable in the current trend in comic books.
It should be noted that this update to Jon Kent comes right off the heels of another LGBTQ revelation. Tim Drake, one of the Robins of the Bat-Family, also came out as bisexual in Batman: Urban Legends #6 last August. And it, too, had mixed reactions from both the hardcore and casual fandom.
However, many of the negative reactions are from those who do not actually buy the comic books nor are familiar with the character evolution of Superman. In many cases, these are from people unaware that it is Superman’s son, not the original himself, who is being updated as bisexual. This situation is similar in many respects to how the public perception of a Black Superman project being developed by Michael B. Jordan was going to radically change the character, not realizing it is an alternate version with an established history in comics.
How does this affect other versions of Jon Kent?
One interesting point of this development is how Jon Kent would be represented in other media. One recent version of Jon Kent was introduced in the CW Network’s Superman & Lois TV show. Here, Jon Kent is a teenager with a twin brother, Jordan Kent.
Superman & Lois borrows elements from the comics as well as other versions of the Superman mythos, such as the Fleischer cartoons and the Smallville TV show. However, instead of a young Clark Kent experiencing his journey of discovery, from naïve teenager to the greatest superhero of all time, Superman & Lois paints the picture of the couple’s life as parents to two teenage boys who may or may not have powers.
Jonathan Kent (played by Jordan Elsass) is the jock and more well-rounded of the twins. Meanwhile, Jordan Kent (Alex Garfin) is aloof, geeky, and suffers from neurotic behavior. After moving back to Smallville, learning their father is Superman and that Jordan has powers, the twins must now experience an additional layer of adjustment, aside from the foibles of being teenagers.
Thus far, Jonathan Kent has been portrayed as straight in the show. But will the new development in the DC Comics comic book version be reflected in the show? There are no official statements so far, but it would certainly be a potential angle that the Superman & Lois show could explore as the series progresses.
DC Comics' SUPERMAN: SON OF KAL-EL #5 ships on November 9, 2021. Superman & Lois is currently available on The CW Network and streaming on HBO Max.