Comfort Food Comics: Superman 2020 by Brandon Masters

With the decade-of-a-year that is 2020 drawing to a close, we at Comfort Food Comics wanted to share a neat look into what the year could have been like. While diving through my old back-issues and archives, I stumbled across a few gems in the past of DC Comics. My favorite wound up being a frequent back-up feature of Superman in the 80s, and particularly key for those of us now:

Also known as Superman the Third, or Superman III, Kalel Kent is the grandson of Clark Kent. This splinter timeline assumes that the Superman of the 80s will age normally, and his son Jorel Kent will take over to become the second Superman. Clark isn’t great at keeping his identity secret, nor is his son. Taking place over six different back-up stories across seven issues, writers with DC would explore the future of the past with some hilariously weird guesses.

And some that, frankly, are scarily accurate. It won’t take long to see those.

“The Debut of Superman III” was written by Cary Bates, drawn by legend Curt Swan, inked by Joe Staton, colored by Adrienne Roy and lettered by Ben Oda.

We open with Superman issues 354 and 355, released in early 1980. While the main stories were about the modern Superman, a quick splash on 354 would advertise the Superman of the future!

In the year 2020, a domed city floats in space. This is New Metropolis, and the elder Supermen I and II are present for a public ceremony to publicly allow the third in line to wear the crest of the house of El. However, Superman III isn’t present. Instead, Kalel Kent is practicing proper social distancing by being in a zoom meeting.

However, he’s also being monitored by the villains of the sto-

-fuck. Cary Bates apparently knew that Nazis and the Alt-Right would be a thing again in 40 years. Frankly, he’s being too subtle with that not-Swastika there.

Kalel Kent has decided to take his life into his own hands instead of attending his christening ceremony, however. And ends it!

Kalel Kent has taken the weird move of killing off his civilian identity of Kalel Kent, and will instead wear secret identities like Batman goes through costumes. It’s an interesting angle, seeing how few heroes at the time would have any kind of multiple identities outside of Moon Knight by this time. It really wouldn’t be used much at all, outside of being used as another way to prevent Kalel from directly saving the day immediately, but it’s the thought that counts here. The Superman costume lacking the S-shield is actually a striking difference as well, but only because it looks so incredibly different from what we all know and love.

As the kid is killing himself off, however, the city of New Metropolis is also being targeted by these Notzis, and Bates makes his comparisons even less subtle than before.

It doesn’t take long before their trap is sprung, though it does bleed into issue 355. Using holograms of Supermen I and II, the Notzis wind up trapping Superman III in a cube of pure meta-energized lead so he cannot break out, and no one can see him. They ramble at Superman III more, like any good villain should, and announce that the floating city of New Metropolis will soon be blown up by a Beta-Bomb. Like any good hero worth their salt, though, Kalel isn’t going to give up.

And then a really weird chill went down my spine as I came across this on page 6 of the story.

…someone fucking predicted that white supremacists would take up the “ok” symbol as a white power symbol. What kind of drugs were they passing out at the DC offices back then? Is there any left?

Finally, Superman III breaks free – and Supermen I and II are right alongside him, fighting the Notzis! How was their plan foiled? Just a bit of Silver Age trickery, of course.

Honestly, despite being in space, this is a pretty solid explanation as to what happened. Now that the Notzis have been taken out, it’s time for Superman III to be given his birthright!

And that would wrap up his first story. Honestly, it’s a really good one for a 1980s backup tale that literally was 16 pages long. There is no explanation as to whom Clark married to have Jorel, much less who Jorel would marry, but there really isn’t a reason to have that right now. After all, Superman III had to go punch Nazis in the face, and it’s hard to complain about that! The art was fantastic, as to be expected from Curt Swan, and there isn’t much to complain about in this comic at all.

While rushed, this was also an era of storytelling where you could get three or four stories per comic.Other backup tales from this era would feature the future sons of Batman and Superman (Bruce Junior and Clark Junior), or tales from the history of Krypton itself. As for the other adventures of Kalel Kent, he only had six others before fading into obscurity.

With future installments, however, Bob Rozakis would take over as the writer for Superman 2020… who seems to have been equally as good at predicting the future as Cary Bates was.

Superman 357 would feature Kalel Kent as Jon Hudson, a civilian identity who worked in traffic control for the flying vehicles of Megalopolis. Because flying cars are seemingly always in the future. Weather control systems would go haywire in the domed city, thanks to Kalel himself on accident, but some super-breath would fix the issue.

Superman 361 would introduce another one of Kalel’s identities, that of star tennis player Lewis Parker. Using his Kryptonian powers, he can alter his appearance, and also suppress his powers in order to not cheat at tennis. However, rebels would take over the local TV station, demanding citizens rise up and take out the corrupt government.

Um. What.

Superman 364 would feature all three Supermen in a tale dedicated to explaining how the long-lives Kryptonian Superman I could age so rapidly and look like he truly is 70 in human years. As it turns out, the sun is turning red, and it would take all three Supermen to put things right. An old plan of Lex Luthor’s has returned, and the red sun rays would force a Kryptonian into aging rapidly into death – something the original Kal El suffered from years ago.

Luckily, all three Supermen are able to thwart this leftover plan of Luthor’s, and grandpa offers to take them all out for Soyburgers.

Wait. What.

With issue 368, the year would become 2021, with the new Superman forced to stop a deadly plague that was used by the same Nazis from before to try and make people abandon the city of New Metropolis.

Ok. This has got to be a bad joke now..

However, there is a neat sequence where Kalel shows that he isn’t quite the same boy scout his grandpa was.

Sure, the guy lives. But that’s a little more Batman than people were used to from Superman. And it works here quite well as a bit of character development.

Finally, the Superman of 2021 made his last appearance in Superman 372. A crook has taken Daily Planet editor Jimmy Olsen’s children hostage, and is threatening to kill them unless he runs fake news onto the telecast.

Ok, I’m starting to think that Bob and Carey are secretly time travelers.

Still, Superman the Third is able to save the day by taking the crook by surprise as he shows Jimmy his kids via iPhone FaceTime.

Yeah, time travel is looking more and more likely at this point.

And with that, Kalel Clark faded into obscurity. No fans of Superman wrote letters about him, or at least none that were published, and the company just stopped writing stories about the Man of Steel from the future. He never showed up for the Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986, though the official stance of DC is that he was vaporized along with all the other alternate timelines when the multiverse was destroyed. It’s kind of a shame, because I wouldn’t mind seeing Kalel Kent show up in the modern 2020 for a few adventures before being shunted back off to obscurity.

Godspeed, Superman of the eerily-accurate future. May your convoluted method of having a civilian life pay off someday without being scummy. And may the rest of us experience a less strife filled 2021 next year!

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