One of the comic industry’s most-anticipated moments of 2019 is finally upon us: the launch of DC Comics’ DC Zoom imprint for middle-grade readers (ages eight to 12) and DC Ink imprint for YA audiences (ages 13 and up). Designed to reach a readership frequently ignored by mainstream superhero comics, DC Zoom and DC Ink have recruited major prose talent from the middle-grade and YA worlds to write these new adventures, including Danielle Paige, Lauren Myracle, Laurie Halse Anderson, Shannon and Dean Hale, Meg Cabot and Ridley Pearson.
Pearson, perhaps best known for the Kingdom Keepers series, is first up to bat for DC Zoom with Super Sons: The Polarshield Project. Illustrated by newcomer Ile Gonzalez, The Polarshield Project kicks off a trilogy that re-imagines the titular Super Sons—Jon Kent and Damian “Ian” Wayne—from the ground up, maintaining their familial bonds to Superman and Batman but otherwise largely revamping their heroic journeys.
With The Polarshield Project available for preorder now and hitting shelves everywhere April 2nd, 2019, Paste exchanged a few questions with Pearson to find out more about his take on Jon and Ian, the inspiration behind new character Candace, how he approached the book’s climate crisis and what it was like crossing over from prose to comics. We’ve also got the exclusive debut of DC Zoom’s trailer for the graphic novel, featuring Gonzalez’ vibrant, colorful artwork.
Paste: This Jon and Damian aren’t the same Jon and Damian mainstream DC readers are used to following—Damian doesn’t even like to be called by his full name. How much freedom did DC offer you in reimagining the characters for Super Sons, and what went into decisions like having “Ian” not be Robin in this universe?
Ridley Pearson: DC gave me free reign to create a new Super Sons world. I was to start from scratch and find a way to work multiple plot lines in a middle grade readership unbound by previous Super Sons history. For me, the name “Damian” had pejorative overtones from a slate of horror films. I abbreviated to “Ian” to give him a fresh start and to allow me to focus on bringing the two boys together over time as teammates.
Being the first in a series, before starting The Polarshield Project, I wrote character bios and location descriptions and worked with my DC editors to world-build. Hopefully young readers find themselves in an extraordinary world that has resonance and meaning.
Paste: Similarly, Gotham and Metropolis still exist in the world of Super Sons, but the action quickly moves to a brand-new city, and the backmatter actually clarifies that this universe has different countries and continents than the universe in which we live. Out of curiosity, what inspired this change of settings from the familiar DC locales?
Pearson: I want to pay homage to the incredible DC Universe without wandering into places I don’t belong. Since writing comics is new to me, I wanted to create new locations out of respect. DC encouraged me to world-build in order to give the Super Sons a new playground. Place can become character in fiction. I had ideas about how to shape that place—or places—to introduce environmental issues and give both the characters and readers a palpable danger.
Paste: The first volume’s subtitle, The Polarshield Project, refers to a sci-fi version of a real proposal for coping with climate change—“seeding” the air with particles that will reflect sunlight and allow temperatures to stabilize. Can you speak a bit about your decision to make climate change a key part of this series, and how you set about explaining this concept to younger readers?
Pearson: A group of 50 prominent scientists have theorized that it might be possible to seed the ionosphere with sulphur dust to help “cool” the ice caps. The dust would act as a kind of umbrella. I wanted to imagine what the world might look like given climate disruption projections.
Many superhero stories utilize an us-against-the-evil-empire or a supervillain. I wanted to ask the question: what if an evil, greedy man (G. Reed = greed) sought to blackmail the world by taking over this planet-saving technology?
Super Sons: The Polarshield Project Cover Art by Ile Gonzalez
Paste: Aside from Jon and Ian, two new characters play a big role in The Polarshield Project—Candace and Tilly. Tilly is resourceful, but Candace clearly has a huge role to play going forward. What can you tell readers about her origins and what she means to Jon and Ian’s adventures throughout the series?
Pearson: Because I’m a father of daughters, I wanted to add a young woman to accompany my two heroes. In researching powerful women warriors, I came across a line of Candaces—Nubians, one of whom led an army (of women) that briefly pushed the Roman army out of Egypt.
My character, Candace, is a legacy to a 3,000-year-old line of women warriors, who has been sequestered to Coleumbria. Now maturing, she’s ready to be installed as the Landis (African) Empress. There are those who intend to stop her from accomplishing her aim. The more I wrote Candace, the more I saw her as a powerful thread through the trilogy.
Tilly is one of those characters whom I believed would have a short cameo in the first book. She ended up refusing to go home. When that happens, a writer listens. I’ve come to really love her role in the series.
Paste: Ile Gonzalez will be a new name to many readers. What was it like collaborating with her for Super Sons, and how has your writing process changed to adapt to the comics format?
Pearson: It’s a steep learning curve to write for graphic novels. After reading a dozen graphic novels, I stumbled upon Amulet. Absorbed into a brilliant, beautiful, thrilling testament to how good these novels can be, I came to understand the word “graphic” in graphic novels.
Ile Gonzalez consistently turned in gorgeous pages off the descriptions in my script. I didn’t have to worry about my partner’s abilities to convey action and emotion in image. I simply had to digest, learn and correct the balance of image to word. The writer describes panel action and character look in every panel (about 700 per book). Over time, I learned to only add text/dialogue when absolutely necessary. I recall phoning Michele Wells at DC and telling her I’d had an epiphany. “These are graphic novels,” I shouted into the phone. I heard Michele laughing on the other end.