WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Super Sons #1.
DC Comics has only released a few issues of Super Sons, but the series has already begun to shape a unique narrative. While maintaining the overarching theme of "new beginnings" of the publisher's Rebirth initiative, the fledgling title still manages to deliver a punch of nostalgia. Writer Peter J. Tomasi hasn't merely instilled the comic with a light, refreshing tone, he's made it feel like a Batarang whipping back from the 1990s.
With a premise seemingly rooted in R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps," and a lively dynamic between Robin (Damian Wayne) and Superboy (Jonathan Kent), Super Sons possesses a spirit that will be familiar to any fan of '90s teen television shows.
A Classic '90s Plot
When it comes to '90s TV series, few caused kids to sleep with the lights on like Goosebumps or Nickelodeon's Are You Afraid of the Dark?, both of which became popular due to the successful combination of comedy and horror. Super Sons follows a similar formula.
Much like wacky Goosebumps antagonists like Slappy the Dummy, Damian and Jonathan's first villain has an origin tinged with both humor and horror. Reggie Duffy and his family were infected with the Amazo Virus, and subsequently developed metahuman abilities. They proclaimed themselves the Super Duffys, Providence, Rhode Island's super-powered protectors, only to see their lives take a dark, surprising turn.
Tomasi and artist Jorge Jimenez don't shy away from showing the disturbing visuals, but like the best '90s teen-horror franchises, they don't rely on graphic imagery to elicit a reaction. Rather, much of the terror aspect is implemented by the quick transition from comedy to horror. There's something extraordinarily uncomfortable in a world where you can laugh one minute and cringe the next, an approach Super Sons is already perfecting.
When Reggie and his family debut, in the opening pages of the first issue, they feel like a super-powered household, as if Full House's Tanners gained powers, clearly embodying the classic "hug-it-out" approach. The Duffys' G-rated personas set the tone for a cliche-style of humor; however, like crossing from Metropolis into Gotham, their story quickly goes from Disney Channel-friendly to Tales of the Crypt horrifying.
Super Sons manages to cleverly introduces threat for our heroes while using humor to make sure their circumstances never feel too dire. No matter what peril our pint-sized heroes face, there's almost always room to squeeze in a bit of comedic dialogue. Even while on the run from a group of self re-engineering robots, Damain can't resist poking fun at Superboy's inability to fly, suggesting he leap himself to safety. Jonathan's responses, like dubbing Damian the "Dork Knight," strike like a speeding bullet, proving he can give as well as he gets.
Perhaps the best marriage of comedy and darkness within is Damian's mention of Jonathan's anger over not being invited to join the Teen Titans. In the midst of planning their escape, Damian threatens to sink 10-year-old Jonathan's chances for membership and taunts, "It's called the Teen Titans, not the Toddler Titans."
That seesawing banter, in even the most dire situations, is what makes Super Sons an enjoyable throwback to '90s humor and darkness. Behind every serious situation there's a laugh to lighten the mood, and before the comedy becomes excessive, there's a a new danger waiting around the next corner.
Super Boys Meet World
The banter in each panel holds a delightful resemblance of the lovable bickering between Boy Meets World's Cory Matthews, the optimistic do-gooder, and Shawn Hunter, Cory's mysterious bad-boy companion who always manages to get them into a pickle. And like Cory and Shawn, Robin and Superboy have a way of uniting at key moments.
Without a doubt, Damian is Shawn under a mask, a cool yet impulsive risk-seeking renegade, while Jonathan is Cory Matthews in a cape, a bright, hesitant Boy Scout. As we watch their contradictory personalities slowly click, we see how the Super Sons have more in common with Boy Meets World's stars than mere chemistry.
Shawn Hunter is among the most beloved characters to come out of the '90s because of his complex childhood. Growing up in a trailer-park community with a questionable deadbeat father and a mother who walked out on them, he was introduced early to the dark side of life. Similarly, what makes Damian the distinct figure that he is, and what separates him from his fellow heroes, is his unorthodox upbringing. Raised by the League of Assassins into a world of violence, Damian soon discovers he shares his mother's ability to shun those close to him. Now under his father's guidance, Damian continues to struggle with Bruce's strict code of conduct.
Both Damian and Shawn are characters born into a life of conflict, discovering the art of survival at an early age. Surrounded by untrustworthy family, both have developed an unhealthy habit of choosing to pursue their ventures alone. However, even the most tragic characters deserve a path of light to follow. Cue Jonathan and Cory.
While Damian and Shawn represent the grittier side that life can offer, Jonathan and Cory share an upbringing filled with hope and optimism. Raised in a traditional family home with compassionate, exemplary parents, the Matthews and Kent households are nurturing shelters for their children. Surrounded by such role models, it's no wonder both Jonathan and Cory developed positive outlooks on the world; placing trust in people and holding themselves to a firm moral code. However, for every deed there is a sacrifice, and given their nurturing, both lack a sense of adventure and a full understanding of how unmerciful the world can be. Cue Damian and Shawn.
Throughout the 10 seasons of their journey together (including Girl Meets World), Cory and Shawn broadened each other's perceptions of the world. Cory brought a sense of faith to Shawn's confidence in people, and awakened him to a sense of family. And Shawn, forever pushing Cory's taste for venture, supplied the necessary nudge for him to discover aspects of life beyond the safety of his home.
Although Damian and Jonathan continue to find their footing, they're certainly leaping toward the same direction. Already, we can see the influences each is having on the other: His time with the Kents exposes Damian to "normal" family life, while his (over-) confidence and eagerness for adventure provide the perfect prescriptions for a developing Boy of Tomorrow.
Together, they are truly boys meeting the world.
Super Sons #4, by Peter J. Tomasi and Jorge Jimenez, goes on sale Wednesday from DC Comics.