Super Sons: The PolarShield Project
Written by Ridley Pearson
Art by Ile Gonzales
Lettering by Saida Temofonte
Published by DC Zoom
‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
One of the first wave of graphic novels in the initial launch of DC’s middle-grade oriented DC Zoom imprint, Super Sons: The PolarShield Project was also the first to get off to a rough start. The initial cover art featured an uncomfortably pale Damian Wayne and an unsettling gray-blue skintone for new-to-the-DC-universe Candace - two issues thankfully corrected by DC before the graphic novel hit stands this week. However, I lead with this fixing the cover art is one of the few missteps that were corrected at all in bestselling middle-grade novelist Ridley Pearson’s comic book debut.
From its plotting to its worldbuilding down to even its lettering choices, Super Sons: The PolarShield Project is a mess on a worrying number of levels. Younger markets, particularly middle grade, are woefully underserved by DC and Marvel, but The PolarShield Project will do DC no favors in making in-roads here - it’s hard to believe this is coming from the same publisher that delivered the smash hit DC Super Hero Girls franchise or even Mera: Tidebreaker, a genuinely good OGN that also hits bookstands this week from DC Ink.
Super Sons: The PolarShield Project is set on an alternate Earth plagued by climate change, with new cities and a completely new geography that are given minimal explanation throughout the book and have no notable analogues aside from a quickly-abandoned Metropolis to help ground it in our world (or even the greater DC Universe as a whole). The plot itself is tough to summarize - the story jumps from a young woman discovering she may be part of a group of African-inspired princesses to Lois Lane and Jonathan Kent being forced to relocate farther inland to escape a failing Wayne Industries flood wall while Superman is dispatched to space to help solve global warming, somehow. The Waynes, of course, relocate as well, and from there, the Super Sons - Jon and Damian, who now inexplicably wants to be called “Ian,” eventually team up with Candace and their new friend Tilly to stop a deadly virus.
If you think that reads like a lot, you’re not wrong. The PolarShield Project doesn’t feel like a novel that fits in the DC Universe - this feels like a prose pitch with the names changed, and so much exposition lopped out of it along the way that narrative cohesion is lost. There’s no need to inexplicably change Damian’s name, nor his appearance, who even with the correction of his skin tone still bears no resemblance to the Damian Wayne you’ll find in any of his comics appearances. He’s a brown-haired, brown-eyed generic snooty rich boy who teams up with Jon Kent’s generic rapscallion to stop an unexplained threat. The closest The PolarShield Project really gets to high emotional stakes is the looming threat of Lois Lane succumbing to the mysterious virus if these four kids can’t stop a bioterrorist attack.
And how did we get from a world ravaged by global warming to a bioterrorist attack anyway? The title is The PolarShield Project, but this plot focuses on “Ian” finding out who’s vandalizing his father’s sea walls, Jon is concerned with saving his mother, and newcomer Candace wants to figure out who exactly the other Four Fingers are. Artist Ile Gonzales has a great style for middle grade books, doing a solid job delivering some fun action scenes. Gonzales’ art prompted all three of the points in this review score, because beyond that, this is not a young reader friendly novel. Young readers are young, not stupid; whether actively or instinctively, they appreciate the ease of reading that a cohesive narrative provides as much as an adult reader in anything else, and it’s almost impossible to figure out what The PolarShield Project is about.
It’s hard not to read this book and imagine what it might have looked like with a heavier editorial hand. The world and the plot are almost nonsense, and the efforts to tie the world into the real-world existential threat of global warming is an even harder sell. Pearson’s script focuses exclusively on rising sea levels and sends Jon Kent into his new home of Wyndemere to serve as a stand-in for marginalized folks in the grand tradition of comic books. He faces down bullies who throw the absolutely nonsense insult “flood runner” to coastal residents forced inland by rising sea levels, offering an opportunity to teach a ham-fisted lesson about standing up for others. The PolarShield Project’s understanding of climate change feels like something I would have read as a middle grader 20 years ago, particularly in light of real young activists protesting climate inaction right now.
While DC thankfully corrected the skin color issues on the cover, they didn’t give the same consideration to the rest of the book - Damian is still not portrayed that consistently, and they let pass a vaguely non-white, extremely stereotypical “fortune teller” character. She goes unnamed and winds up being a trickster, trapping our newest protagonist Candace in a room with the other four of the “Five Fingers,” who aren’t identified beyond a vague blurb about representing various districts in “Landis.” (Landis is the name given to the new continent whipped up for the world of the novel.) It’s this weird thoughtlessness juxtaposed against the aspirational tackling of a real-world subject like climate change that encapsulates what makes The PolarShield Project so disappointing as a graphic novel, and what makes it downright bizarre as a proud first of three books Pearson is writing for DC Zoom. It’s a real shame The PolarShield Project is the launchpad for the entire DC Zoom imprint — it’s not much of a DC book at all, and it's hard to imagine this will be a great launchpad for young readers to dive into more DC comics titles.