First, let me just say that I wasn’t aware of the sexual harrassment accusations against de la Peña, or I would have steered clear of the book and definitely not have spent any money on it. I only just learned about it when I googled him for this review. So, please think carefully before you throw any money at him.
Content Note: (critical treatment of) racism
Clark Kent would be a normal teenager in Smallville – if it wasn’t for the fact that he has superhuman powers. He has always had them, not knowing why or how, but now they’re getting stronger. As does his urge to help, even though heroics run counter to his parents’ plea that he keeps his powers under wraps. When he hears about people disappearing from Smallville from his classmate Gloria Alvarez, he asks his best friend and school reporter Lana Lang for help figuring out what is going on.
Superman: Dawnbreaker is a slightly disappointing take on Superman, I thought. The character’s potential remained untapped for me, although I did appreciate it that the book talks a lot about racism and the precarious situation of (Mexican) immigrants.
I have always loved Superman and I honestly don’t understand the people who say that he is a boring character (or that he neeeds to turn dark to not be boring). When I heard that a PoC was writing this novel, I was honestly excited because the thing about Superman is that he is an immigrant on Earth. You could do so much with that fact – Superman is basically the embodiment of the “model minority” and wouldn’t it be interesting to examine that particular myth through his character?
The fact that this book actually deals with immigration and racism a lot makes it even more promising. But for some reason, de la Peña decided the way to go here would be to make Clark unaware that he is actually an alien, destroying the entire “immigrant identity” parallel in one fell swoop. That he then makes it seem like it’s no big deal for Clark (or at least not for very long) that his parents lied to him his entire life, adds insult to injury. Adopted kids tend to take it very seriously when they find out that they were adopted at some point later in life, and child-parent-relationships were destroyed with that alone, nevermind that alien part.
That means that even though the plot is a lot about how rich people and/or corporations prey on vulnerable groups like immigrants, the entire thing turns into a bit of white savior story that was entirely unnecessary.
Add to that that the romance with Gloria was pretty lackluster (and the slightly hinted at possible future romance with Lana, too), and both Lana and Gloria were flat characters, with female characters generally barely present. And add to that the plot itself was very by-the-numbers, and you may understand why I was disappointed by Superman. I’m looking forward to yet another take on him that does something more than the usual. Despite being rather readable, this isn’t it.