When DC Comics began brainstorming a middle-grade line to lure in younger readers, Super Sons was a logical first title. It featured Jonathan "Jon" Kent and Damian "Ian" Wayne, dealing with being sons of the "world's finest" superheroes, Superman and Batman (respectively), while balancing out their abnormal lives with the awkward stages of middle school. To reimagine a new Super Sons world, DC paired New York Times-bestselling author Ridley Pearson with artist Ileana Gonzalez. Now they're on their third and final book in the Super Sons trilogy, Super Sons: Escape to Landis (available tomorrow), which celebrates a new DC Trinity and gives young DC Comics readers a new heroine of color to champion.
Pearson and Gonzalez's first graphic novel, Super Sons: The Polarshield Project, found Metropolis and Gotham flooded due to the fallout of global warming. As the refugees displaced millions from both cities inland, Bruce Wayne dealt with his levies breaking and angry mobs burning down Wayne Manor, while Superman was off-planet. Meanwhile, Jon's mother, Lois Lane, became the target of a biochemical assassination attempt — just another day in the life of a Super Son, right? Jon and Ian learned to work together, and with the help of their classmates, Candace and Tilly, saved the world and their families.
In the second book, Super Sons: The Foxglove Mission, the Super Sons dealt with their inner uncertainties, and Candace too began to question her memories and dig into her mysterious legacy. She found out that she has more to offer, completing the Trinity in this new Super Sons world. And as a young woman of color, she became a new hero for young children to look up to. If a book can do that and motivate a kid to read, what more could you ask for?
Now, in Escape to Landis, Candace travels to her birthplace and discovers that her friends aren’t the only ones with special ancestry. Meanwhile, Jon and Ian try to stop the spread of the virus that's harming Lois. SYFY WIRE spoke to Pearson about Candace, the growing friendship she has with the Super Sons, and how this story builds to a climactic peak we can all relate to. We also have an exclusive 10-page preview of Super Sons: Escape to Landis in the gallery below.
Since her introduction in The Polarshield Project, Candace has her own agency. Landis is a new setting for longtime DC readers, but also for Candace. What led to creating a new corner of the DC Universe?
I have daughters and in creating the series, I wanted to bring a strong female protagonist along with Jon and Ian. I thought it would also be really fun not just to bring along a young woman, but a person of color, because often in this world, they’re not offered enough room. I thought that would help refresh Jon and Ian.
I also have a son from Kenya who is not legally adopted but has lived with us for 16 years. I spent a month in Kenya writing one of my adult thrillers, White Bone, and just fell in love with Africa. I looked into the background of some really powerful women in Africa. I also spent a month in Egypt and in this research, I found this tribe of Nubian women and the leader, the queen of this group was always named Candace, for generations and maybe even centuries.
They put together an army of women warriors, as was typical of that time, the women did all the work and the men lazied around. This army was comprised mostly of women and some men mixed in. When the Romans attacked Egypt, this army went up the Nile and defeated the Romans and ran Egypt for a number of generations. I thought, "That’s my girl!" She’s going to be the descendant of the original Candaces, that was sent off to Coleumbria to hide her when there was time for great competition for that vast continent named Landis. Her day would come when she would have to take up that mantle.
Comics like Justice League allow characters to show leadership qualities. How did you manage to condense that development for Candace so she not only finds her identity but aims to claim it?
That’s a nice way to put it. I think the strongest mythology, when you go back to Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, is the reluctant hero. Candace enters this not knowing who she is but remembering parts of her childhood, questioning if it’s real. In the first two books, she stumbles on evidence confirming that it is real. With that, comes the reluctance to take the mantle and an excitement of possibility like we all have.
Her world is ever-expanding as she goes through these books. It’s a burden as well as excitement. She consults the elders in Book 3 and they want to instate her immediately, and she goes, "No, no, no, there’s something I have to do before I am worthy of that," and off she goes. I don’t think you should just be anointed, you should have to earn it.
That’s a pretty great lesson to learn at any age, but to see the light bulb go off in a kid is great, right?
To me, a series like Super Sons is like a Mille Feuille [layered desert] in French cooking. If you do it well, the hope is that there’s a surface story when you bite into it, then you start breaking through to other layers of flavor where there’s butter, salt, and more flavors. The idea for me was to have metaphors that run throughout. If the kids pick them up, great, and if they don’t, great, then it’s straight-out entertainment. But if they pick up on what the real story is, then hopefully we keep them reading, which is my first mission. The second is that they get a depth to the story that they didn’t know or understand.
I’ve had some great emails from moms and dads, from the first book where their son read the book and then came down and talked for two hours about climate change. "What’s all this about, Dad?" That’s great. It’s a superficial fun story on top, but if you put on your secret decoder glasses, there’s more story underneath.
You reshaped Jon and Ian’s friendship in this chapter. Why?
When boys tend to get cornered, they tend to think, "I’m the guy!" They don’t want anybody’s help. It’s just no way to live. What happens in the first book, they both stand up and say, "Get out of my world. The second part of this is the connection to their fathers, which is complex and they don’t fully understand. As we move through the first book and into the second book, both boys learn more about their own place within their family and their father’s love or confusion about their father’s love.
As they discover more of that, they become a little more self-assured, and more willing to participate with others. By the middle of Book 2, it’s, "Either we do this together, or we are in deep trouble." By Book 3, all three of them are working in concert — actually four with Tilly.
The idea is to give the reader a chance to see that isolation [is] fine, but it’s probably not a [means] to an end. Ian also meets, unbeknownst to him, his mother [Talia Al Ghul], which reaches back into the DC lore. It’s beginnings and endings, and I hope this isn’t an ending because I want to keep mining this.
They also begin to realize their limitations, which is not easy for a kid to accept.
As the challenges in Book 2 become greater, their own limitations become more understood. Jon can jump not fly, he’s strong but he’s not Superman. Ian has a great grasp of technology, but how far does that take you if you don’t share that and help others with it? Candace is blossoming from an unknown identity to a real person with essence.
You planted the seed of a deadly virus in The Polarshield Project, which sprouts in Escape to Landis, but who could’ve imagined two years later what we’d be dealing with in the real world?
This is a fluke that seems to happen in my career, now eight times, where I’ve written something two or three years ahead of it getting to the front page. It’s uncanny and unintentional, but I do a lot of study in advances in science and health. I get excited to put those in my writings. Lo and behold, who thought we would be in the middle of a pandemic? I thought I was writing a piece of fiction! There’s a quasi-spiritual, or metaphysical component to the series that by the end of all of this, and this is not a spoiler, but what kills the virus is light. To me, examples of light are truth and being honest with each other. I think we could do an awful lot of improvement in our lives by frankly being more honest.
What’s been the cumulative effect in writing these three books?
I’ve just had the best time doing this. The opportunity to tell stories visually and textually is nothing short of also writing film, except it’s instant. Films can take six years to develop and never happen. You send off this slab of words and Ile[ana Gonzalez] sends it back three weeks later on this beautiful page with emotion, action, and fashion.
I got so excited by it that I pitched DC the idea for an original content series and they okayed it. We have finished a series called “Indestructibles,” which will start next year [previewed in Escape to Landis], so I’ve written three more graphic novels and I could not be happier with the process and how much fun it’s been. I’m really excited.
Check out our 10-page preview of Super Sons: Escape to Landis below and look for it in comic shops and book stores tomorrow, Oct. 7.