I was delighted when DC Comics revealed their new Young Adult and Middle Grade imprints: DC Ink & DC Zoom. Without 1995’s Adventures of Superman #526 (pictured) I probably wouldn’t be a reader, because this comic turned me into an even more rabid Superman man, but more importantly, sealed my love of comic books, and began a school holiday tradition with my father of schlepping to the comic shop. From my love of comic books grew and overwhelming love of storytelling in all of its forms; I became addicted to stories. And that has remained true to this day; it’s why I work in a bookshop. So since DC’s announcement, I’ve been eager to see how their iconic superheroes are being introduced to an entirely new generation of young readers. I am not entirely convinced.
Super Sons, Vol. 1: The Polarshield Project by Ridley Pearson and illustrated by Ile Gonzalez reimagines the sons of Superman and Batman — Jon Kent and Damian Wayne — but probably doesn’t go far enough in terms of rejuvenating these characters for kids without an established interest in the DC Universe. Maybe Pearson didn’t have carte blanche to go nuts, but the minor tweaks made to Damian — sorry, ‘Ian’ —and Jon’s origin are very tame; I want to live in a world where the natural predilection for kids plucking Batman and Superman comics off the shelf isn’t that these heroes are white guys with capes. The introduction of Candace — a princess with a mysterious background sure to be fleshed out in future volumes — is very cool, though she feels underused here. The plot itself offers interesting commentary on global warming — in this world the polar ice caps have melted, and the cities along the coasts are flooding and uninhabitable, despite the Wayne Corporation’s manmade flood walls — but its all very fleeting. That’s my biggest gripe with this first volume; it jumps between perspectives and scenes with reckless abandon, never allowing the reader a chance to settle and understand its characters, or to fully develop its themes. Its protagonists are rarely more than stereotypes. I realise kids have short attention spans, but the way to engross them isn’t to flick rapidly between action set pieces; let them develop an affinity with the characters; make them want to spend more time with them. One thing is for sure: they’ll happily study Ile Gonzalez’s crisp, clean artwork.
Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige and Stephen Byrne reinvents Mera, the heir to the throne of Xebel, an ocean realm ruled by the Atlanteans, for a YA audience. When we meet Mera she is fiery and feisty; the kind of young woman who can kick ass and takes names, and isn’t afraid to do so, political consequences be damned. When she sets off on a mission to kill Arthur Curry on the surface world — Arthur being the Atlantean Royal Heir, unbeknownst to him — you can’t help but cheer; this princess isn’t going to simply oblige the whims of the powerful men that surround her. But everything crumbles — her plan, and the book — when she falls (almost immediately) in love with Arthur, which totally dilutes her sovereignty; not because she’s not allowed to be in love, but just the abruptness of it, totally undercuts the strength of her character. Of course, we know Arthur Curry — one day, ‘Aquaman’ — and Mera are destined to be together; but I’ve never a more potent example of ‘instalove,’ and it was a crushing blow to my enjoyment. Why not hint at their romance? Establish some romantic tension? Mera and Arthur go from zero to a billion faster than a speeding bullet. And the book could’ve reached the same conclusion without it; with mutual respect, rather than making out. Still, Byrne’s artwork, and his diluted colour palette, makes this book incredibly appealing to the eye.