Tom King corrects one of the great errors of DC's recent past, but somehow comes up with something terribly worse. Dark Crisis: World Without a Justice League – Superman #1 contains tales from the respective dream worlds of Superman and Aquaman after they were trapped there by the Great Darkness and/or Pariah in the opening pages of Dark Crisis. It's still unclear what exactly these dream worlds are, but they seem to show ideal futures for the Justice League, places where past errors are corrected and bright and happy futures can be fulfilled. For Superman, at least in the tale written by Tom King and illustrated by Chris Burnham, that means Superman gets to live in a world where he watches his son Jon grow up.
The aging of Jon Kent from precocious super-kid to Legion of Super-Heroes-aged adult remains a controversial decision within the DC fanbase, and the Dark Crisis one-shot seems like it would be the perfect way to rectify that story decision, at least temporarily. Unfortunately, it's written by Tom King, the man who famously turned Adam Strange into a war criminal, Kyle Rayner into a prisoner of war, Mister Miracle into a soldier ordering massacres, Dick Grayson into a spy fighting a shadow war, and put Batman through a "War of Jokes and Riddles." So, you can guess the direction that King went when given the opportunity to leave his mark on Jon Kent.
At the onset of King's Superman story, Jon Kent hears the voices of a million people crying out then going silent as Darkseid destroys their planet. At first, Superman stresses to his son that he should try ignoring the voices and focus on helping how he can on Earth, but Jon is noble like his dad and can't help but get involved in the war effort – bringing his father into the war too. As Jon grows up and repeatedly heads off into space to fight, often with brutal consequences, Superman realizes that he can't stop his son from growing into the man he's meant to be... a soldier fighting in a never-ending war. This is all spun as being positive – Superman watched his son grow up and has lots of complicated feelings about that, while Jon is clearly a more ideal-driven and less world-weary version of his father, a boy who hasn't compromised his ideals in the way Superman did to protect his family.
Fundamentally, I'm tired of King taking DC characters and always examining them through the lens of war. Yes, King has a background in the military and yes, King has actually experienced the horrors of wars but that personal history doesn't need to be reflected in nearly every character he writes. Not only does King almost always frame war in an oddly positive light (the wars he writes are awful, but the people who fight in them are noble and resolute and morally righteous), but he also bends characters to shape his perspective. In this story, it's Superman who is sacrificed at King's altar, with the paragon of Truth and Justice compromising his morals and values (and sacrificing untold worlds in the process) to uphold a truce keeping his family safe. I'm not a Superman purist, but I dislike how the story frames Superman as flawed so that his son can become a better Superman, because Jon Kent is a Superman who goes to war. Honestly, if Foreign Legionnaire Jon Kent is what would happen if Superman had those extra years raising him, then give me the timeline where Jon Kent is kidnapped from his summer vacation with his grandfather and tortured for years on Earth-3.
At least Chris Burnham is still at the top of his game. He draws anguished versions of Superman and Jon very well. There's a sequence where Superman reveals to Jon he knows about Darkseid's massacres which works solely because we see in Superman's body language his regret and we see's Jon's visible rage and immediate realization his rash words hurt his invincible role model. If Tom King is dead set on making every DC character feel the pain of war, I petition that Chris Burnham draw all of it so readers can really feel the same anguish and heartbreak the characters experience.
For those who don't want to see a superhero's idyllic future present their children going off to fight in endless wars, Brandon Thomas and Fico Ossio deliver a great backup story involving Aquaman's daughter getting married. Ossio's artwork is a bit muddled at times, but I really liked that Aquaman's deepest dreams involve his family being whole and happy instead of being anguished and deciding they have a moral obligation to wage war.
Ultimately, your enjoyment of Dark Crisis: World Without a Justice League – Superman #1 will be dependent on your feelings of past Tom King comics. If you like King's commentary on wartime framed through superheroes, then this comic will definitely be your speed. But if you're tired of the glorification of "just wars," instead of acknowledging that war is nothing but a repressive tool that churns through innocent lives and sullies the morals of anyone it touches, you're probably not going to like watching Jon Kent grow up to join the war effort.
Published by DC Comics
On June 12, 2022
Written by Tom King
Art by Chris Burnham
Colors by Adriano Lucas
Letters by Troy Peteri
Cover by Chris Burnham and Adriano Lucas