Let’s go on ahead and get my bias out of the way right at the beginning—I love the Super Sons. Jonathan Kent and Damian Wayne working together and having adventures separate from the long shadows cast by their parents has been my jam from the very beginning.
So, it’s with that in mind that I say the heroes at the heart of Ridley Pearson and Ile Gonzalez’s Super Sons: The Polarshield Project are not my Super Sons. And, you know what? That’s okay!
Superboy, Jonathan Kent, looks familiar enough. He still wears the iconic S glyph, even if he wears it on a different place than he does in the DC Universe. Jon here is a lot like his father. He’s a good boy with good parents who wants to make the world a better place. He’s the kind of Super Son we would all want to have if we thought we could handle the incredible responsibility of rearing a little boy with metahuman abilities. It’s not a job I envy, to tell the truth. Super Sons: The Polarshield Project turns heavily on the issue of global warming and how powerful people and powerful organizations respond to its effects. Jon has such a black-and-white view of right and wrong that he feels each stab of injustice deeply whether or not they are aimed directly at him. It all but ensures he’s going to try taking things into his own hands at some point, which is great for us as readers, but maybe not so great if you’re his parents.
Of course, the second eponymous Super Son is Damian Wayne. He goes by “Ian” here, a cute turn on “Damian Wayne” that is actually backed up with an in-story reason. Ian has less in common with his comic book counterpart than Jon, though he still manages to come off as Superboy’s polar opposite. Ian Wayne is pretty entitled to the point where I would even describe him as cocky. As Bruce Wayne’s son, he has basked in a world of privilege and has a hard time being told no. When Bruce expressly forbids his son to engage in any vigilante activities, Ian goes ahead and makes himself a “Batkid” suit and starts saving people at night simply because it is the right thing to do.
That’s a pretty big difference from the Damian we might be familiar with. The DC Universe’s Damian needed time to adopt that sort of altruism. It took years. However, in The Polarshield Project, it comes part and parcel with Ian’s identity. It’s still a lot harder for him than Jon to adapt to working cooperatively, but Ian’s a smart kid and it doesn’t take him long to learn that the two boys are stronger when they work together. Plus, he has a cute dog (a pug!), so he can’t be all bad, right?
Where things really start to get original is actually outside the Super Sons themselves. In The Polarshield Project, Jon and Ian meet a young woman from Africa named Candace. For all intents and purposes, Candace is Super Sons’ version of Wonder Girl, even if she doesn’t yet realize it by the end of this first graphic novel. What is clear is that she has formidable powers and a secret history that permeates throughout the book. In fact, The Polarshield Project opens not with either of the boys, but by introducing the mystery of who Candace is, where she comes from and what exactly is going to be unlocked now that she’s passed her fourteenth birthday.
Of course, mysterious girls are pretty common in Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction. (Here’s looking at you, Katniss Everdeen, Lily Potter and Susan Pevensie!) Candace offers a unique spin on this, however, as she’s not just a mystery to Jon and Ian, but to herself as well. She doesn’t know why she’s suddenly having visions or being trailed by four strange women who call her “your highness” and refer to her as the “fifth finger.” Candace is as invested in uncovering the truth about herself and the truth about Sage Foods, who represent the “big bads” of The Polarshield Project, as Jon and Ian are…even if she’s not entirely sure why.
Making Candace an African Princess opens the series up to exploring mythologies and traditions that many of us here in the United States aren’t as familiar with, though what exactly those mythologies are remain out of reach for now. By the end of this first volume, Candace pretty much remains a mystery, although I found her to be the most intriguing character and the one I’m most looking forward to seeing explored across the future of this series.
But wait, there’s more. While the cover to Super Sons: The Polarshield Project (and its upcoming sequel, Super Sons: The Foxglove Mission) may suggest that our intrepid team is a trio, there’s actually a fourth young hero who plays an important role in this first chapter—a determined female computer whiz named Tilly. While there’s seemingly no connection, I can’t help but think of her as the Middle Grade version of Arrow’s Felicity Smoak, which endeared her to me from the very beginning. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say she’s my favorite of the crew. I love that she’s an unabashed optimist who is willing to stand up to the forces behind The Polarshield Project’s conspiracy without any powers and without the resources and influence that Ian has at his disposal. Tilly is the smartest kid in the room, the best researcher and she has the biggest heart. The only reason she even gets caught up in any of the Super Sons action is because she notices a sad, lonely kid at school (hey, Jonathan Kent!), and recognizes his brusque response to her greeting for what it is: an emotional overreaction. A cry for help.
Tilly stands up to Jon in that moment—and later stands up FOR Jon—and earns the trust of three of her peers. It says something that based on this debut volume, I could see the Super Sons still being successful without Candace, but I can’t see them having that sort of success without Tilly. She provides qualities that all three of the other heroes lack, and as someone lacking powers or great wealth, is arguably the most relatable character in the book.
Not that I hope Tilly breaks off from the team and goes solo any time soon. Super Sons: The Polarshield Project is such a great reimagining of some of DC’s most iconic young characters because of how it brings together a diverse group of heroes who are all powerful in unique ways. They each bring different qualities to the table, but collectively, they represent some of the best aspects of young people: a sense of justice, confidence, forethought, intelligence and kindness. That’s the foundation of any great super-team.
The heroes in Super Sons: The Polarshield Project may not be my Super Sons, but they’re bound to become the Super Sons of any young readers who pick up this book. Pretty lucky kids, if you ask me.
Ashley V. Robinson writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com and is a regular contributor to the Couch Club, our weekly television column. You can find her on Twitter at @AshleyVRobinson and on the Jawiin YouTube channel.