In the comic book Raising Dion, Nicole, a widowed, black single mother, dedicates her energy to raising and chronicling the life of her son, Dion, a seven-year-old boy with a bevy of inexplicable superpowers. With Dion, getting dressed in the morning turns into a frantic chase as he teleports around the apartment, playtime involves bouts of uncontrolled telekinesis, and timeouts are thwarted by the boy’s ability to render himself invisible.
Though she loves her son to death, Nicole realizes that unless she guides him properly, his abilities could easily overwhelm her and expose their secret to the world. Rather than freak out, Nicole does what she can to teach Dion about what she means when she says that he could be a superhero one day.
“How do you protect him from the world?” Nicole asks in the cinematic trailer for the comic book. “First, never take your eyes off of him; his powers can be unpredictable.”
In the opening panels of the book, Nicole explains that she homeschools Dion in relative seclusion in a small cabin in the woods. As Dion ages, he loses certain abilities while gaining unexpected ones. As odd as it all might seem to a regular parent, Nicole’s adjusted well enough. Ironically enough, she finds that most of the mommy blogosphere’s mainstream advice still applies to Dion. It’s that perspective, Dion artist Jason Piperberg told Fusion, that makes Nicole such a compelling character.
“Traditionally in comics and really most stories, the protagonist is the one with the powers,” said Piperberg. “You see the world through the eyes of the character with all the abilities usually because they are immediately the most exciting and/or interesting person in the story.”
Dennis Liu, who writes Raising Dion, says that he drew upon his experience as an uncle to five nieces and spoke with actual single mothers about raising children alone to develop Nicole’s voice. Nicole, he explained, is equal parts Martha Kent and Alfred Pennyworth, the adults responsible for raising Superman and Batman.
“If these key parental figures did not raise these superheroes correctly, then who knows what Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne would have become?” Liu said in an interview with Fusion. “Parents instill a value system.”
In addition to directing music videos, Liu serves as union director for the Eastern Diversity Steering Committee’s diversity council. He said that the editorial choice to make Nicole and Dion black was in direct response to the growing need (and demand) for superhero stories told from different perspectives.
Raising Dion engages with the ideas surrounding superhumans, parenting, and race in a novel way by drawing heavily from the idea of The Talk that many parents of color feel necessary to have with their kids about race. Nicole’s insistence that Dion not use his powers in public speaks both explicitly to his being an actual superhuman, and implicitly to the way that the world sees him because of his race.
“I think a lot of people still don’t get that The Talk is a real thing that black families have to have,” said Piperberg. He admitted that initially the parallels weren’t all that clear to him either. “I think it’s really important to step out of my bubble of privilege to see what’s really going on. To discover and look at injustices that have been swept under the rug, or worse, accepted as the norm by society.”
The first issue of Raising Dion is available to read for free now on Liu's site, but he and Jason have plans for Nicole and Dion that go beyond those first 22 pages. Dion's future is going to be an interesting one—he's being tracked by mysterious agents and his powers are growing almost as fast as he is. What's even more clear, though, is that Nicole's going to be more of a hero than Martha Kent ever was.
"The most important thing about raising a superhero," she says. "Is learning how to become one first."