Jonathan Kent is falling out of the world, away from a sound, a flat tone that begins at a high pitch but dopplers down a half octave as he drops from it. Red shift, he thinks. A phrase his son taught him. Jonathan had asked why it was his son’s suit looked purple when he flew back to Metropolis. It’s the red shift, Pa, his son said. He explained to Jonathan the way light waves stretched out as an object moved away from the observer. As if it were all simple. As if it were the way a fuel injector worked, or how alfalfa fixed the nitrogen in the back acres fallow years. Anything within Jonathan’s understanding. His son’s world was so much bigger than his own.
But red shift had only to do with light, and there is no light here but a horizontal line burned across the black, and even that is fading. Light, sound, Jonathan Kent, all going away, forever. And then a feeling, a sensation shocking here at the end of all sensation. A hand grips Jonathan’s wrist and pulls him from the numb sea of black, back into the light.
It is, of course, his son. Who else would save him?
He called me Jonathan, thinks Jonathan Kent. And as the boy is led away, he’s not sure what to call him.
As the boy recedes into the light, Jonathan grips a tattered scrap of shirt, a broken pair of glasses. They feel insubstantial in his hands. Signs of weakness and humanity. An inheritance. The things he gave the boy, along with a name. Clark. The sound of it, bounded within two sharp clicks, begins to fade as well.
He wakes in motion. This is, he thinks, correct. He is a thing of motion. A moving thing. Even here, in a place with no wind, he feels a breeze, a current. He’s aware of it because it is different. It is not the way it ought to be.
From waking, he wakes again. This time in a bed. A large bed, nearly too soft to sleep in, made to seem larger by the fact he is so small. A boy, not even ten. Something is wrong.
“Bruce,” calls a woman’s voice from out in the hall. “Alfred’s made breakfast. Hurry down before it gets cold.”
That’s not my name, thinks the boy. He is already forgetting having been a man, but he knows he had another name. Another name and even that was not his.
The smell of bacon, distant, faint, but familiar, hits his nose, and everything returns to Bruce Wayne. He rushes down the stairs, skipping over the two that creak. It is a special day, a day that only comes around once a month. His father is staying home from the hospital, and his mother from the Foundation. They will spend all of it together. And tonight, they’re taking him into the city. They’re going to see a movie.
On the screen, a man in black rights all wrongs. A man in a mask.
The boy feels himself haunted by something still to come. A future ghost. This is wrong, he knows, but the feeling is here, in him, seated between his parents in this theater.
The boy is opened up to something, a potential.
Freed from their chain, pearls strike the pavement like dropped marbles. Why did you make me do this? says the gunman as he fires into the boy’s mother’s heart, then two into the boy’s father.
The gunman turns to the boy, who can only think my fault my fault my fault. Why did I make him?
The gunman fires three times.
The bullets plink to the asphault, blunted. They roll on the ground with the pearls, into pools of blood. Tears well in the boys eyes. Tears and something else. A pressure building. A heat. Like a sun inside his head, one he’s felt only the slightest warmth from before tonight. He screams at the gunman and his scream is a furnace, a blast of heat that scorches the man’s face and clothes.
The boy presses his hands to his eyes, calling for his mother and father to make it stop. The heat subsides and the boy mouths the words, thank you, mother.
When the police find him, he is staring into the dark, blankly and coldly.
The boy becomes a thing of darkness. He joins with the dark, flies up into it where he belongs.
this is not where he belongs
He will protect others. He will ensure what has happened to him never happens to anyone else. He has the power to do it. He will become a bat.
But something is wrong. As strong as he is, he does not make things better. He pushes his city further into darkness. But there is a woman. Her name is Lois. She believes he could be better. She holds out a light, like the moon in the middle of Gotham’s night. He can pass through the light. He can become something better.
Jonathan Kent is once again at war. He does not know which war it is, only that he is losing. Everyone around him is dead. The only way out is to go deeper in.
Again he is falling, falling through a hole in space and time. Again he lands, but this time among gods. This feels just, if not right. It feels as if a mistake has been corrected.
He is raised in isolation, in constant pain, wired into the violent geothermal disruptions of the planet below him. A globe that barely contains the terrible fires within. Apokolips.
He is the child of the dread lord Darkseid. His terrible right hand. His sole purpose is to wipe the hated New Gods from the face of existence. But even as he nears victory, he is cast down, into a fallen world. One where no gods rule. Weighted down by his mighty armor, he sinks, blacks out. He’s saved by a woman of this world.
Always the same woman. Everywhere he goes.
No matter. This world has no rulers. He will claim it for Darkseid.
There is kindness here. Bonds between these beings. He has been raised to worship the Anti-Life equation, to spread complete control and submission across the stars. But there is a possibility here. A chance to be something else. Maybe rather than a tool of darkness, he could be a ray of light.
Jonathan Kent stands at the foot of a demon’s throne, begging for the life of his son. Jonathan Kent floats, dwarfed, by a being who encompasses the entirety of the universe. What influence can a Smallville farmer have on gods? thinks this man who has been like a father to a god.
A tire pops, punctured. The old truck pulls to the side of the road. Martha Kent swore she saw something come down in the back nine. Maybe a bit past. Her husband assures her they’ll go look tomorrow. And whatever it was, it most likely fell on the other side of the property line, on the farmland tended by the Amish folks who fixed up the fence last year. Martha quietly curses herself for star-chasing, and now it’s cost them a perfectly good tire. The trail of light that burned across the night sky has already faded as she hoists the spare out of the truck’s flatbed and rolls it to her husband, busy with the jack.
The boy can hear them, as he lays in bed in his parent’s farmhouse. He can hear the heroes as they come into the light, as they declare themselves to the world. They are distant, but they may as well be at the very foot of his bed.
A man with a powerful weapon from the stars.
A man from the deepest seas, muscles sculpted under the pressure of oceans.
A woman whose lives snake backward through history.
A man who can circle planet in minutes.
A woman from an island of magic and strength.
An alien (like me, he thinks) who hides his true face.
A man, just a man. So scared he deals in terror, cloaks himself in dark.
The boy yearns to be with them. He wants to fly away from the farm and join the ones that are like him. He wants to stop hiding.
“Their ways are not our ways,” his father tells him. “They would hate you. They would fear you.”
And he does not believe them, until the day they ride into the city, to sell their wares at market. There is a crowd shouting, brandishing signs like weapons that say “ALIENS GO HOME” and he knows the signs refer to him. Their ways are not his ways. He returns home to the farm, and the world moves on without him. It roils like a kettle, like a cauldron on the fire. He can hear it, talk of invasion, talk of defenses and last strikes.
He does not want to be involved. He believes his father, that their world is not his, and its concerns are its own.
The cauldron, boiling, tips. The world does not listen. It does not care if he hides. It seeks him out. It will always seek him out. There is something the world needs from him, a name he still has to bear.
At great cost, the boy, now a man, is revealed. He arrives somewhere, closer to a truth about himself. But there are voices that call him away. Haven’t you seen? they say. Don’t you understand what we’ve shown you? The world will go on without you. Rest. Rest, Kal-El.
Behind those voices, another. Another calling him something else. A different name.
“Clark!” he yells, across pale fields of Elysium as the hooded men carry his son in a bier, off to crystal Kryptonian spires that shimmer with the false promise of a mirage.
He has raised this boy, the child who came to them by chance, a one in a billion boy. Jonathan Kent has raised his son to be the finest man he has ever known, and the world may be able to spare an old man like Jonathan Kent, but it cannot spare his boy.
Jonathan Kent throws himself against the funeral procession. What is his body worth now? The best thing, the greatest thing he has done in his life, is done.
Something wakes in the boy, the two names spoken at once. He is not Clark or Kal. Not either but both. He sees the funeral procession that bears him away, a human thing, an idea of mortality dressed in Kryptonian trappings. But this way his not his way. His path is different.
His path leads back. To life. To a world that still needs its Superman.