Review: ‘Super Sons Vol.1: When I Grow Up…’
Super Sons Vol. 1: When I Grow Up…
Writer: Peter Tomasi
Artists: Jorge Jimenez and Alisson Borges
DC Comics; $12.99
Rated T for Teen
Damian Wayne, the long-lost son of Batman and the Dark Knight’s sometimes opponent Talia al Ghul, was introduced in 2006. Jonathan Kent, son of Superman and Lois Lane, was introduced in 2015. Given how many years passed between their debuts, it’s really just a coincidence that the World’s Finest heroes both currently have biological sons in the roles of their sidekicks, but DC Comics knew just what to do with the situation: Give Robin and Superboy their own comic book series.
That series was Super Sons, which takes its title from a relatively obscure, 1973 “imaginary story,” “The Saga of The Super-Sons” (In that one, the sons were college-aged Clark Kent Jr. and Bruce Wayne Jr., and they were perturbed to be living in the shadows of their famous fathers). This still new-ish series has perhaps its ideal writer in Peter Tomasi, who has probably written Damian more than any other writer at this point, thanks to a long run on Batman and Robin, and has been writing Superman, the book where Superboy most regularly appears, concurrently with this book.
Both Damian and Jonathan are extremely engaging, particularly Damian, who we’ve had a decade to get to know by now. He was originally introduced as a ten-year-old super-genius who was grown in an artificial womb and trained since birth to be an assassin in service to his mother and super-villain grandfather, but then he finally met his father and decided to follow in his heroic footsteps instead. Damian is almost comically gifted and hyper-competent, and he is usually played as a grim, gritty version of Batman…only in the body of a little kid. Arrogant to the extreme, he’s almost always a funny character, even when being written dramatically (or, more often, melodramatically). He is essentially a parody of Batman’s worst qualities.
Jonathan, meanwhile, is pretty much just a regular kid in every way, except for the fact that he’s just starting a kind of super-powered puberty, in which he’s got some of his dad’s powers like strength and invulnerability, but not some of the other ones, like heat-vision and flight. He’s a few years younger than Damian, and brand new to the world of superheroics, but he’s already taller than him, one of many sources of friction between the two
Because the pair have so much in common with their dads in terms of personality, they grate against one another in ways that will be familiar to fans of their fathers, but just as Damian can read like a bemused commentary on a particular version of Batman, so too can his frenemy status with Jonathan seem like a riff on the idea of gloomy, cynical Batman and sunny, optimistic Superman as the ultimate superhero buddy cops.
While Tomasi’s character work is superb in When I Grow Up…, which collects the first five issues of Super Sons, the plotting actually leaves a little to be desired. The two pre-teen heroes know one another through their fathers, and Robin recruits Superboy via good old-fashioned peer pressure to participate in a case that hasn’t been approved by their parents. It involves Lex Luthor, who is currently going through a heroic phase in which he’s wearing Superman-branded armor, and a super-powered kid using the name of an old Justice League villain.
While that part is all pretty paint-by-numbers, it is mainly just a vehicle for the pair to hang out together. Still, it would be nice if Tomasi found a more interesting or relevant threat for the characters, as otherwise the fights against robots and supervillains really just feel like unwelcome distractions for scenes like the one where Damian uses stilts and state-of-the-art disguise technology to dress up as Jonathan’s substitute teacher and bus driver, just to mess with him.
Artist Jorge Jimenez draws the first four-issue storyline, and he does so in an incredibly dynamic style and has a great handle on the characters’ expressions and body language which, in Damian’s case especially, is so much of the point of the character’s appeal—the fact that he’s a grumpy, tiny little Batman. The fifth and final issue in the collection is drawn by Alisson Borges in a style so similar to Jimenez’s that one might not notice the change.
That last, Borges-drawn issue serves as a sort of epilogue, and presents the characters with a new shared status quo: Superboy has Superman’s permissions to go out and fight crime and save the day, provided he only does so with Robin. A kind of sidekick buddy system.
It’s somewhat unfortunate that, like all of DC’s DCU books—currently branded under the “Rebirth” trade dress—the book is written to teenagers and adults, rather than kids the ages of the heroes. There’s little that’s actually objectionable in the trade, but it begins with a pretty dark and violent scene, in which the villain seems to murder his own family. They turn out to be robot duplicates of his family, we learn later, but it’s still a pretty hardcore scene to open such an otherwise light and fun book with. Teenagers, particularly ones who have spent much time at all in the DC Universe in the past, will likely be way past inured to such content at this point though, for better or worse.
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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