I think just about every Superman fan has, at one time, truly wished that Superman were real. That there was someone out there, to paraphrase a catchy theme song, to save them.
I think we could have a real debate over whether this would truly be a good thing or not, but let’s put that aside for now. Rather, I find myself questioning whether superheroes would truly be able to help all that much when it comes to the problems our generation is facing.
This week’s new issue of Superman: Son of Kal-El does a pretty good job illustrating some of what I’m talking about. Last month, a mind-controlled Gamorran metahuman was taken captive by Jon and Nightwing, which caused Henry Bendix, the authoritarian president of Gamorra (and the person controlling the metahuman), to trigger an internal explosion within the captive meta. While the death and his inability to prevent it upset Jon, the bigger problem was that the entire thing was caught on camera. And to the naked, uninformed eye, it looked an awful lot like Jon killed him.
In Superman: Son of Kal-El #10, that video is weaponized by none other than Bendix ally Lex Luthor, who calls a press conference to highlight the threat he claims Metropolis’s new Superman represents. Whether it’s through Jon’s sheer lack of experience, the influence of older heroes with their own agendas, or an unwillingness to hold himself to a heroic ideal or ethical standard, Luthor argues, Jon is no Kal-El. Leaving him unchecked to act as he pleases under the guise of superheroism is dangerous.
To anyone who knows anything about Jon Kent, it sounds utterly ridiculous, but the problem is that most Metropolis citizens don’t know him, let alone the people of the world. And hearing the always persuasive Luthor make his argument while images of a fellow metahuman exploding in Jon’s arms flash in the background is undeniably convincing.
Which makes the fact that it’s all untrue absolutely maddening. After all, seeing is believing, right?
That’s the problem. These days that’s not always the case. Not when photos and videos can be taken out of context or manipulated to appear more damning than they actually are. Over the past several years, we’ve seen this happen with alarming regularity. It’s become a global problem, and most troubling of all, there’s no good way of stopping or addressing it. How can you fight against disinformation when “facts” and images can fly far faster than a speeding bullet? With dozens of 24-hour news networks, thousands of news sites and blogs, and around 500 million tweets shared each and every day, even with an army of fact checkers at your disposal and the best moderation tools in place, you’re not going to be able to make a dent, superpowers or no.
So, it’s a good thing that Jon has Lois Lane for his mom.
Superman has always been a champion of truth, but he’s never truly understood its power to the extent that Lois does. When he needs to, Clark can rely on brute strength to end corruption. Lois, on the other hand, has to bring it into the light using her journalistic skill—and she’s remarkably good at it.
There’s no indication that Jon’s as good a journalist as his mother is, but he doesn’t need to be. Not when he has her—and his underground journalist of a boyfriend, Jay—in his corner. Lois confronts Luthor on camera and challenges him to do something he can’t do, make his claims while holding what he thinks is Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth. He refuses and dramatically storms off the stage, sowing doubt into all of his claims.
We learn later that the “Lasso of Truth” was only a coil of rope that Lois had painted gold, but pivotally, she’d never once said it was Wonder Woman’s lasso. Lex just inferred that it was.
These are the sort of battles Jon Kent can expect to wage in his new role as the Man of Steel, and he’d do well to learn from his mother’s outside-the-box thinking. Recent issues of Superman: Son of Kal-El have found Jon struggling with his inability to save everyone, and that’s something that will no doubt continue. But eventually, he’ll also need to reconcile with the fact that disinformation isn’t something he’ll be able to stop on his own. He won’t be able to prevent every single person out there from falling prey to it and developing beliefs in things that are completely void of facts. Some of those people may become extreme and radicalized in their beliefs and act out in violence. Jon won’t be able to stop that entirely either and it will be fascinating to see how he responds. After all, victims of disinformation are just that—victims.
In our last column, I wrote about why the time is right for a new Man of Steel, and this is exactly the sort of thing I was alluding to. Currently, Kal-El is on Warworld trying to put an end to Mongul’s reign of terror once and for all. That’s the right mission for him—the challenge may be formidable, but it’s straightforward. It’s easy to see who the enemy is. But on Earth, the struggles aren’t always so clear. Sheer strength and power won’t always be the answer.
Instead, Jon will likely find himself relying on the power of truth far more than his heat vision or super strength, and that’s his mother’s area of expertise. Let’s hope our new Superman is prepared to listen to her.
Superman: Son of Kal-El #10 by Tom Taylor, Cian Tormey and Federico Blee is now available in print and as a digital comic book.
Tim Beedle covers movies, TV and comics for DCComics.com, writes our monthly Superman column, "Super Here For...", and is a regular contributor to the Couch Club, our recurring television column. Follow him on Twitter at @Tim_Beedle.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Tim Beedle and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.