David Walker knows superheroes: the Portland-based author/director has penned titles like Power Man and Iron Fist and Nighthawk for Marvel Comics and Cyborg (DC Comics), not to mention Shaft (Dynamite Entertainment) and his own YA book series starring black teen hero Darius Logan.
But he’s demolishing new barriers this summer with Superb (Lion Forge); the first comic book series to center on a superhero with Down Syndrome. Publisher Lion Forge Comics, which proudly touts the tagline “Comics for Everyone,” will release Superb in partnership with National Down Syndrome Society—the third book in its new Catalyst Prime universe in July.
According Lion Forge Senior Editor Joe Illidge, the book focuses on Jonah, a teenage boy with Down Syndrome who acquires the powers of his favorite comic book character, Cosmosis, after he’s exposed to fragments of a meteor (natch). “He dresses up in a homemade costume [and runs] around experimenting with his super heroic powers,” explains Illidge. “Super-strength, the ability to move objects and people telekinetically through optic rays from his eyes, and the ability to temporarily paralyze others and silence others.”
In advance of the comic book’s July 19 release, we quizzed Walker—who teamed with Eisner Award winner Sheena C. Howard for the project—on the challenges and pitfalls of expanding the world of superheroes.
You've long championed underdogs and underrepresented people in your work. What was the biggest challenge in bringing a hero with Down Syndrome to life?
The biggest challenge when you’re dealing with underrepresented people is that characters take on greater meaning and significance. As a writer, you want your characters to be as fully developed and realized as possible, and want them to have humanity that makes them relatable. Underrepresentation robs people of their humanity, painting them into the corner of being “the other,” where everything they say or do takes on extra meaning, or at least the implication of greater meaning. As we were developing this project, every conversation came back to the fact that this character had to be given the gift of being a human, and not merely a spokesperson for the marginalized or misunderstood.
Is there anything in your personal experience that you brought to this project?
There are so many experiences that have led me to this project, but one really stands out. I was working as an instructor in a storytelling workshop for kids in grief counseling, helping them find ways to deal with their loss through telling stories of the person they had lost. One of the kids, a young girl, was autistic, and I was terrified of working with her. It was an irrational fear, based in part on my own misconceptions about autism, and my inability to fully recognize that this young person’s diagnosis was part of who they were, but it wasn’t all that they were. Well, it turned this kid was one of the coolest human beings I’ve ever worked with, and when this project came along, I thought of her, and how she helped me educate me. There are so many labels and adjectives that are used to define who we are, and each one gets in the way of our humanity.
What hero aren't we celebrating yet? Whose story ought to be told?
Heroism comes from selflessness. There is potential in all of us to heroes, as long as we are willing to act selflessly, with no expectation of reward or fame. To that end, the heroes we have yet to celebrate are all around us, we just aren’t recognizing them. Look at popular entertainment—film, comics, television—and whoever you see represented the least, that’s who deserves their own book. Everyone deserves to see characters that they can relate to on multiple levels, that inspire them to find their own greatness, and to act selflessly.
Superb is written by David F. Walker (Luke Cage) and Sheena C. Howard, illustrated by Ray-Anthony Height (Amazing Spider-Man) and Le Beau L.Underwood (Spider-Man/Deadpool), with colors by Veronica Gandini (Red Hood and the Outlaws).