HEAT VISION

DC Zoom's 'Super Sons' Pushes Superman and Batman's Kids in a New Direction

Writer Ridley Pearson talks about reinventing Jonathan Kent and Ian Wayne for a middle grade graphic novel series for everyone.
Ile Gonzalez/DC
Writer Ridley Pearson talks about reinventing Jonathan Kent and Ian Wayne for a middle grade graphic novel series for everyone.

Debuting in stores today is Super Sons: The Polarshield Project, a reimagining of the fan-favorite DC property focusing on the super heroic offspring of Superman and Batman.

Published through the middle grade imprint DC Zoom, The Polarshield Project — the first of a three-part series written by mystery novelist and middle grade writer Ridley Pearson, with artwork from Ile Gonzalez — features Jonathan Kent and Ian Wayne (Not Damian, as in DC’s regular comic book continuity) as oncoming ecological disaster forces them to relocate from their traditional home bases and work together to uncover a grand conspiracy that might prevent the world to recover. They’re not doing it alone, however; there’s another new hero about to emerge from unexpected origins.

Ahead of a book tour to support the title’s release — Pearson appears in The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City tonight, and has appearances in Denver, Chicago and Los Angeles among other locations in the next couple of weeks; see the graphic below for details — Heat Vision talked to the writer about re-creating the offspring of the World’s Finest superheroes, and coming up with friends and challenges worthy of them.

How did you get to be involved with this project?

We received an inquiry from DC about if I would be interested in writing this series; I think it came out of the fact that Michele Wells, who is now a vice president there at DC, had worked over at Disney and I’d done two book series at Disney that involved a balance of multiple characters. [Wells’ official title is vp/executive editor, DC Young Readers.]

It’s hard enough writing a story with one central character, it’s a real juggling act with characters when you have two or more. I’ve done this both in my adult [fiction] and my middle grade [fiction]. One of the projects DC had in mind was rebooting Super Sons as a graphic novel series for younger readers, and I think one of the readers she asked me was that she knew I had juggled multiple characters before.

And there are multiple characters in this book; it’s not just about Ian and Jon, it’s also about Candace and Tilly — you bring in these new characters who are original to this book.

Yeah, that was really intentional. We have two daughters, and daughters kick butt. In talking to DC — and this is in part due to my middle grade work — I said, “I just can’t fathom writing a story only about two middle grade boys.” I know much more about girls than I know about boys, other than I was one — or maybe still am one [laughs]. In response to that, that said, well, who would you bring into this?

I said, “If it doesn’t go against DC’s thing, I’d like to bring in a young woman of color. Marcelle [Pearson’s wife] and I have a son adopted from Kenya, to round out our family — our family is two girls and a son from Kenya — and so, I started doing research and I found this legacy of Candaces that goes back 3,000 years. They’re nubians, so they’re just south of Egypt, they were fierce warriors, these women named Candace who ran this kingdom for generations and generations. And one of the Candaces stood up to a Roman invasion of Egypt and pushed them back; I said, “Yeah! That’s my kind of girl.” [Laughs]

A lot of the problems with Ian and Jon are father and son [related]; I didn’t want Candace being a Watson to this — I wanted her to be a Sherlock herself, standing side-by-side with these boys, not feeling like a backpack on their backs. With her, she has this unbelievable legacy to live up to, and to carry on. She’s sort of been hidden away for her own safety and now she’s coming of age. And as she comes of age, she has her own mission, her anointing, and with that comes huge responsibility. I hope that, someday, if this is a success, we could spin off a whole series for Candace, because she’s just fascinating to me.

It feels as much Candace’s story as it does Ian’s or Jon’s. One of the things I was thinking when the series was announced is that Super Sons is, traditionally, a very male-centric property. But Candace and Tilly change that.

Tilly was a fun character. This happens in fiction; you give someone a walk-on part and then they keep standing on the side of the stage saying, “I want to come on, I want to come on!” Tilly just wouldn’t shut up. As the writing went on, I — and Michelle too — just fell in love with Tilly. As the editorial discussions went on, we’d keep wondering, “What’s Tilly doing right now?” and we’d bring her back onstage. I’ve written the second and the third book, and Tilly’s a huge part of them.

Without meaning to, we’ve built a core cast of characters. My emphasis here is teamwork. Being a collaborator, I’m a big believer that people, especially kids, are woefully mistaken that they can do it all themselves. We need help from our teachers, from our parents, from our siblings and friends. We get more done — and it’s better work — when we accept that we don’t have all the answers and we don’t know it all. Maybe this person over here has skills I don’t have and will never have, and I can accept that and still love myself.

That’s something that Ian and Jon go through in the book; they learn that everything isn’t all on their shoulders.

I do think these kids start out a little headstrong, but they also start out having lived their lives in secret; one of them has a father who may not be a superhero but has spent his life doing good, and the other is more or less a mudblood of Superman, because his mother is not a superhuman and he’s never had all of the powers his father has. He might have glimpses of them, or pieces of them, but there’s a part of him that thinks he can never live up to his father without having those powers. And, you know, Superman could care less about this, but as a kid, that’s powerful.

To me, they both come into this — Ian, more so than Jon — as a little headstrong, only to realize, "I can’t do all this by myself. I need these guys." That’s a huge discovery for kids this age.

Something else that was a surprise was the climate change storyline. I understand it on a narrative level, because it gets Superman and Bruce Wayne out of the way and gives Jon and Ian their own space, but it also feels that the book is actually about something.

In my adult fiction, I always have some social theme bubbling in the background. My last big thriller was about killing elephants in Africa. And that wasn’t what the plot did, but that was the engine behind it. In considering this series, I’m a little burned out on the whole superheroes-saving-the-world kind of thing, so I labored around [that idea].

I’d been researching on my own — I’m a big nerd — and some solutions, and one of the solutions put forward by 50 of the biggest scientists in the world was to seed the ionosphere with sulphur dust over the poles. They believed that would cause radiation to bounce back into space to some degree, and might allow the ice caps to regain as much as 1.5 degrees centigrade a year. Then, this DC thing came along as I was researching this, and it was like, “Oh, man! What if someone was trying to take advantage of that technology for their own greed and self-interest?” Then I’ve got kind of the superheroes saving the world, but it isn’t against Lex Luthor, it’s against a real problem.

I’m just kind of constantly trawling around for interesting things, and this popped up at the right time. But also, we’re dealing so much with immigration these days, and there’s just such a bad tone out there right now. I saw an opportunity as I was moving both boys inland to escape the destruction, for bullying and name-calling, looking at them as an unworthy immigrant. I thought, “If I can do this subtly, if I don’t hit them over the head with it, maybe kids will re-think calling people names.” Maybe they’ll think about what these people’s lives are about.

Without spoiling what happens in the next couple of books, where does Super Sons go as a series? Does it continue to work on a level beyond simply, “Superboy and Robin need a comic together?"

Yes, exactly. The next two books move the story forward; we learn more about Candace, Jon and Ian as they learn to work together and, as they do, they face higher and higher stakes, and worse odds. They find themselves in extraordinary worlds that we have never seen, and those worlds themselves present further problems.

Super Sons: The Polarshield Project is available now.

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