The idea of Superman loving another man began to take shape two years ago. Jon Kent, who had the title of Superboy as a child, was next in line to become Superman — taking over from his father, Clark Kent, who was leaving Earth under his son’s protection.
Jon Kent was the spitting image of Clark — and DC Comics’ writers and editors decided that having him mirror everything his father had been for more than eight decades would be a lost opportunity. DC saw this as a chance to reimagine the superhero of all superheroes.
So last month, on National Coming Out Day, DC announced that the new Superman was bisexual. It released an image where Jon shares a kiss with Jay Nakamura, who was his friend and is now clearly something more. That kiss officially becomes canon on Tuesday, with the release of the fifth issue of Jon Kent’s solo comic book series “Superman: Son of Kal-El.”
“This was an opportunity to do something different, something not seen before. And to have this Superman represent people who haven’t been represented before and haven’t been able to see themselves in Superman,” said Tom Taylor, who writes the Jon Kent series, which is mostly illustrated by John Timms. “To pitch something like this [to DC] is a little bit daunting. You go, are they going to go with this? Because historically, I have had queer characters erased or rejected [at other publishers]. But there’s been a real shift, a really welcome shift in comics.”
The announcement was met with vitriol from a few conservative politicians. But Taylor says he has been overwhelmed by the predominantly positive coverage, recalling messages of hope he has received from fans who told him they’ve now found the strength to come out to their families or are hopeful they’ll be able to in the future.
“It’s these people all around the world from so many countries where they don’t feel safe coming out, but they still wanted to let me know that this moment had made their lives a bit better or made who they are a little bit easier,” Taylor said.
LGBTQ superheroes are nothing new at the big two comics publishers, DC Comics and Marvel Comics. At DC, Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, came out in 2012. In August, Tim Drake, the Robin of the 1990s and the third of four Boy Wonders to fight alongside Batman, was revealed to be bisexual. Aquaman ally Jackson Hyde, a.k.a. Aqualad, is gay. Harley Quinn, perhaps DC’s most popular character right now, has had love for the Joker and her fellow femme fatale Poison Ivy. Marvel LGBTQ characters include America Chavez; Wiccan, who’s the son of the Scarlet Witch; and X-Men members Ice-Man and Northstar.
But none of them are Superman, part of DC’s elite “trinity” of superheroes along with Batman and Wonder Woman.
Just as DC’s straight heroes aren’t defined by their sexuality, Taylor wants to make sure the same courtesy is given to DC’s new Superman. Which is why Jon and Jay kiss in the fifth issue, and not when the series debuted in July.
“First and foremost, I wanted to establish [Jon Kent] as Superman,” Taylor said. “I didn’t want the narrative to be DC Comics creates new [bisexual] Superman. I wanted it to [later] be Superman comes out, because … that is much more powerful. The next issue isn’t going to be some big speech about it. The kiss is just something that happens in the comic.”
Plus, this Superman is not just a champion for LGBTQ causes — earlier issues have included his activism on climate change and immigration.
DC Comics editor in chief Marie Javins has worked on Jon Kent’s story since she edited his debut — Dan Jurgens’s 2015 comic “Convergence: Superman No. 2.” She says it was a memorable day when DC Comics publisher Jim Lee took the news of their new Superman’s reveal to higher-ups at Warner Bros. and was greeted with nothing but support. It was the confirmation that this new direction made sense for a character that represents a generation that’s willing to be vocal in their beliefs.
“Gender and sexuality is so much more fluid to young people today. Our fans know that. Our retailers know that. Our staff knows that. It’s not like we’re all off in this little bubble and don’t know 20-year-olds,” Javins said. Jon Kent’s sexuality “makes perfect sense in the context of the world that he lives in.”
Superman’s shift is part of a larger attempt to diversify DC’s trinity, along with the new Brazilian Wonder Woman, Yara Flor, and the Black Batman, Jace Fox. Javin notes that it’s the biggest change in the threesome since the 1990s, when Superman famously died and was replaced with four others, and there were new takers for Batman and Wonder Woman as well. But whereas those newbies were temporary replacements, DC’s new trinity will build their legacies alongside the original real deals.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to reinvent the wheel without the destruction of the old wheel. We’re just building on stuff that already exists,” Javins said. “We still have our classic characters that everyone can read. And to me that’s really important. You don’t want to take someone who has been a certain person their whole lives and then imprint your own values on that character. You want to have new characters where it’s a more organic evolution of their personality.”
Taylor says this new Superman’s present will be about fighting for “truth, justice and a better world” and will eventually reveal updates about his love life to those closest to him, including one of his best friends, Damian Wayne, who’s the son of Batman and the current Robin.
“His thing is going to be that he stands for everyone,” Taylor said. “Everyone who is oppressed. Everyone who is underrepresented. Everyone who needs him. He’ll be there.”