Sure, he might be the last son of Krypton, but the Superman we all know and love came to Earth as a mostly harmless little baby alien. What if Smallville’s first alien contact had been a little... deadlier? That’s the excellent premise behind a spooky, intense story in DC Comics’ new horror anthology.
Part of DC House of Horror, “Bump in the Night,” from Keith Giffen and Edward Lee, with art by Howard Porter and Hi-Fi and lettering by Rob Leigh, is a pretty short read. Because, let’s be honest, if a truly alien, hostile Kal-El showed up in a cornfield in Kansas, his first encounter with humanity would indeed be swift and brutal. Things kick off badly—literally one of the first things you see is the ravaged corpse of Jonathan Kent, and when we cut to his wife trying to call him from their farmhouse a distance away from the smoldering ruins of Kal’s escape pod, you know she’s doomed to a similar fate.
But while the story trades in some classic horror tropes (Martha even at one point acknowledges that checking out a creepy noise she heard instead of immediately running in the opposite direction is a bad play right out of every horror movie), what’s really scary about it is the ferocity of the young alien version of Kal we see here—a figure distant enough to be more monster than alien, and one who never learned the moral compass the Man of Tomorrow would learn from the Kents while growing up with the Kents.
The sense of doom that comes form knowing there’s no way out for Martha against a kid with super-strength, super-speed, and heat vision offers a weirdly palpable kick to the gut. These are abilities we’ve all been keenly aware of when it comes to Superman for decades—we’ve seen him use them to save countless lives as a hero. Having that inverted as Martha gets thrown about the place and even half-roasted by the heat vision speaks both to the fearsome power of what Superman can do and the restraint he employs as a hero.
The Kal-El of “Bump in the Night” doesn’t have that restraint, and by the time the story is over, both the Kents have lost their lives in pretty grisly fashion. The best “dark” alternate takes on the Superman mythos work when they show just what the absence of Superman’s morality—whether it’s by removing his upbringing with the Kents or through some other means—really means for the power he wields, and how scary a figure Superman cwould really be without it.
“Bump in the Night” might just be a brief, spooky tale for a horror anthology, but its still effective at showing us just how important the Kents were in guiding Kal-El to being a hopeful figure instead of a fearful one.