Father’s Day was this past weekend, and my son decided the best gift he could give me was a completely free afternoon, so I spent it getting caught up on Action Comics. And you know what? My son was right—that afternoon off did wind up being a pretty great gift.
For the reason, we’ll need to look at Action Comics 2022 Annual #1, a collaborative effort from current Action scribe Phillip Kennedy Johnson, co-writer Si Spurrier and artists Dale Eaglesham and Ian Churchill. Unlike some annuals, this one ties in with Action Comics’ current storyline, “The Warworld Saga,” but rather than pushing that story forward, it looks back to the childhoods of the saga’s two adversaries, Superman and Mongul, and to two very different lessons taught to them by their mothers.
As Superman fans, you don’t need me to tell you that Barbara Kent was everything a mother should be—warm, loving, supportive, sharp and giving. Ma Kent clearly loves her adopted son, but she also possesses a truly inspiring insight into what his abilities mean for him and the greater world. He could be a source of kindness, compassion and integrity that could truly change the world for the better, or he could succumb to anger, fear and frustration—all very understandable and human feelings—and use his abilities fully for self-interests.
It seems like an easy choice on the surface, but often these self-interests can disguise themselves as common interests. In Johnson and Spurrier’s story, this takes the shape of Caleb, a vicious, often violent bully who plays on Clark’s childhood soccer team. Caleb is mean to everyone, not just Clark. And he’s tough. Clark is the one person in his circle who can stand up to him, so why shouldn’t he? After all, don’t heroes stand up for the helpless and weak?
Well, yes, but sometimes the helpless and weak aren’t who they appear to be. And on occasion, the helpless and weak aren’t helpless and weak at all. Which brings me to Mongul’s side of the story.
First, let’s be clear, I’m not going to defend Mongul. He’s not a decent-at-heart person caught in a cycle of abuse the same way Caleb is, at least not in the current day. But he is a victim of his circumstances. Born as a Warzoon, Mongul’s way of life has been shaped by the two things Warzoons value above all else—strength and survival. And much like Kal-El, our present day Mongul possesses qualities that set him apart from everyone else. In his case, it’s that he’s the son of the Mongul of his time. That means expectations for him are sky-high, but it also means there’s a target on his back. Plus, he seems to lack the aggression and ruthlessness of most of his fellow Warzoons, something that proves to be a problem when he’s exiled to his planet’s deadly wastelands along with his mother.
That’s who I really want to talk about—his mother. In fact, I want to talk about both of the mothers in the Action Comics 2022 Annual. Clark’s mother continually pushes him to turn the other cheek and to not rely on his strength or abilities to solve his problems, understanding that it sends the wrong message. After all, Clark is a nearly indestructible, bulletproof, super-powered alien who could fry just about anyone on earth with a blink of his eye. Someone like that could make all of his “problems” go away just by showing everyone what he’s capable of, but that’s control through fear and as we’ve been seeing in “The Warworld Saga,” that’s not sustainable.
Yet, when fear and strength are the only things your world knows, when it’s the closest thing they have to currency and rule of law, then that’s all you really have available to you. Especially for someone like Mongul, whom for all his strength, doesn’t possess any abilities beyond his fellow Warzoons. In his circumstances, showing restraint and mercy is a weakness that an enemy can and will exploit, and that’s the message his mother gives him throughout the story. As she says in one particularly shocking scene, “The Warzoon doesn’t protect!”
And yet, mothers do. What’s fascinating is that for all their differences, fundamentally, Clark’s mother and Mongul’s mother are quite similar. Both of them are worried for their children and want to give them the skills they need for success, and like all good parents, they’re willing to sacrifice a lot to make sure they have them.
They also both demonstrate remarkable courage. I’ll admit that I’m not sure if Ma Kent’s cancer is something that has existed in the past or if it’s something new that Johnson and Spurrier have introduced, but I was truly shocked when it was revealed. I wasn’t prepared for it, and if that’s the case, I can only imagine how it affected Clark (who didn’t know about his mom’s cancer) and Barbara Kent. The courage it took to pick herself up and stop Clark from giving Caleb the punch in the mouth that—let’s be real—he truly deserved was astounding, as was the good-humored face she put on while enduring her all-night chemotherapy sessions. And yet, as powerful as these moments were, one could argue that the sacrifice Mongul’s mother made to allow her son to prove his strength was an even bigger act of courage. She not only willingly gave up her life, she did it to do the thing that Warzoons never do—to protect.
Look, the question of which mother I’d rather take my parenting lessons from is a no-brainer. Ma Kent is every bit the superhero that her son is, as far as I’m concerned. But despite that, I find myself with a lot of respect for Mongul’s mother. She’s not to blame for who Mongul becomes. That’s the world and society they both had the misfortune to be born into. But when it came down to upholding those ideals or ensuring her son would have a successful life, she chose her son. She chose to be a mother. Mongul may ultimately become a monster, but in the eyes of the Warzoon, he’s respected and honored. He has everything his mother wanted for him. As crazy as it may sound, that’s successful parenting.
I’d never condone the cruelty, abuse and humiliation she inflicts on her son, but in a world where violence is language, a mother’s sacrifice of her own life may be the ultimate show of love. Is Mongul’s mother a good parent? Probably not. But she’s still one we could all take a lesson from.
Action Comics 2022 Annual #1 by Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Si Spurrier, Dale Eaglesham, Ian Churchill and Lee Loughridge 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 those of Tim Beedle and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.