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Superman: Space Age and the Power of Hope

Superman: Space Age and the Power of Hope

By Tim Beedle Wednesday, August 17th, 2022

It’s a great time for Superman fans, with the Man of Steel soaring into movies, TV, animation and comics. To help us stay on top of it, writer Tim Beedle shares what's grabbed his attention and why in this monthly Superman column.

If nothing else, Superman: Space Age, the new prestige-format miniseries by writer Mark Russell, artist Michael Allred and colorist Laura Allred, has one of the most memorable and flat-out shocking openings of any Superman project in recent years. The Man of Steel circles a doomed planet, first looking down at it from orbit before landing on its alien-but-familiar shores as fire rains down on it from above. But this isn’t Krypton or another distant planet far removed from our galaxy. This is Earth. As Kal-El enters the Fortress of Solitude, he tells its computer to deactivate all alarms and divert the remaining energy to the living quarters. He lets Lois know how much he loves her, and bravely tells young Jonathan that, unfortunately, things aren’t going to be all right this time.

Superman has always been a global inspiration. A symbol of the best of humankind. Something we all can aspire to. Here at the apparent end of humanity, he’s still that. But one has to wonder…what’s the point? If all is lost and the world’s truly coming to an end, what good is Superman?

One thing that Superman: Space Age never does is to take Superman’s role as Earth’s greatest superhero as a given. From early on in his life, Clark Kent knows he’s capable of saving the world. I suspect his human father, Jonathan Kent, knows it too, but he wants to make sure Clark goes about it the right way. A World War II veteran, the elder Kent knows how the best intentions can still be destructive and that when the stakes are so high, mistakes are the sort of thing that could haunt you forever.

We see early on that he’s not wrong. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, Space Age’s story begins with the assassination of President Kennedy. Thrown into a chaotic transfer of power, the entirety of America’s armed forces as well as its massive nuclear arsenal wait on edge to see if the Soviet Union might use the moment to preemptively strike the US. Ironically, they almost do, but not because they see it as a moment of weakness, but because an untrained Clark Kent flies towards the Arctic hoping to help, and nearly enters Soviet airspace. Believing him to be some sort of top secret US weapon or aircraft, the Russians are minutes away from launching their nukes in response when a gifted young Air Force pilot, one Lieutenant Hal Jordan, spots Clark and shoots him down in the nick of time.

Of course, Clark is okay. He’s bulletproof, after all. Still, it seems pretty safe to say that inadvertently bringing the Earth even closer to annihilation than it would have been if he’d stayed home wasn’t his intention when he decided to leave the farm. In trying to save the world, he’d nearly destroyed it.

Mistakes that could haunt you forever, right?

But while Superman: Space Age is one of the more ambitious and cautionary tales featuring the Man of Steel that we’ve gotten in quite some time, it’s not one of those Superman books. You know what I mean—the ones that present Superman as a threat to the world rather than a gift. In time, Superman learns to use his skills thoughtfully, and to observe the world and learn from those he shares it with. In doing so, he starts acquiring something that might have been in short supply as he was watching the world through a black-and-white television on a Kansas farm—hope.

This is where we get to what Superman: Space Age seems to be particularly interested in. Russell and Allred’s book has much to say about hope. In writing about Kennedy’s death, in her first serious piece for the Daily Planet, Lois asks, “So why does the life of one man mean so much? In short…it doesn’t. But when you take the enormity of what the man meant to a nation, the overwhelming grief we felt at his passing, the belief in the future he inspired in us, and then subtract from that one ordinary life, whatever remains, that is what we mean when we say hope.”

Two pages later, Clark finds his crashed spaceship and hears hit Kryptonian father Jor-El for the first time, who talks about how it’s his hope Kal-El will become a beacon so that the people of Earth will have what those of Krypton will not. That’s right, hope.

Space Age revisits key moments from our past. Some of these are real, like the freedom rides and lunch counter sit-ins of the civil rights movement, while others are fictional, like the formation of the Justice League. What they all have in common is that they’re driven by little more than hope for a better world. Hope is a primal and powerful force in Superman: Space Age. It’s far stronger than any so-called superpower. In fact, the only time Superman’s abilities are actually needed in Space Age’s first chapter is as a result of a failure of hope. In assuming nuclear war with the Soviet Union is inevitable, Lex Luthor kickstarts the process (exactly how, I won’t spoil here) requiring Superman to finally don his iconic costume and rush to intercept the nuclear missiles that had been launched in response.

There’s a lot more to dig into in Superman: Space Age and of course, there are two more chapters to go. It’s possible what awaits in those not-yet-released issues may turn everything I’m saying on its head. And of course, there’s also the not-insignificant question of whether Superman’s inspiring actions are all for naught. After all, if that prologue is to be believed, the world is doomed anyhow. And it may very well be. Not only does a surprise appearance by Pariah suggest that Space Age’s Earth may be one of the infinite that are lost to Crisis, but this book exists out of regular continuity. There’s no reason Russell and Allred couldn’t end the miniseries by destroying the world.

They could. But like Superman: Space Age’s best characters, I’m choosing to have hope.

Superman: Space Age #1 by Mark Russell, Michael Allred and Laura Allred is now available in print and as a digital comic book.

Tim Beedle covers movies, TV and comics for, 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.