Superb by David F. Walker and Sheena C. Howard made a splash a few months ago when it was first announced, because it is the first superhero title with a hero with Down syndrome. As a disabled person whose disability is neurological in nature, seeing this was happening had my interest piqued from the get go, and I was not disappointed by what I received.
In this comic, we get a glimpse into life after The Event, which occurred in Catalyst Prime: The Event. Certain people within the blast radius have begun to develop superpowers, and Youngstown, Ohio, is a hotbed of this activity. Kayla Tate has just returned to Youngstown, her childhood hometown. She hated it then, and hates it now, but that doesn’t stop her from standing up for her old friend Jonah Watkins, who is bullied for having Down Syndrome. Meanwhile, a teenage hero going by Cosmosis has been making waves in the area, and when one of Kayla and Jonah’s classmates, Corinna, is taken away by force after testing positive for superpowers, Cosmosis brake into the facility holding her. Kayla settles in to research Cosmosis, and the scientists tasked with studying people like Corinna include Kayla’s parents.
Superb also strongly implies that Jonah is Cosmosis, which was confirmed ahead of time outside the text. I really love that Jonah gets to be the hero, and his interest in comic books and escapism mirrors a lot of people I know, including me, who have neurological or mental disorders or disabilities. He also serves, as Cosmosis, as a form of that escapism for us, which is wonderful. We don’t often get to literally be the hero of the story — and especially not folks with Down syndrome, who are often infantilized to an even more extreme degree than the rest of us. Seeing Jonah as a hero — and moreover, as someone who engages with his peers on their level — lets us see ourselves differently, and also makes others look at us differently as well.
I really love both of the comic book’s heroes, actually, because Jonah and Kayla really have the same billing in this book. Kayla standing up for Jonah on the bus at the beginning mirrors Cosmosis breaking into the facility to rescue Corinna at the end. Both of them also have neglectful parents in different ways — Kayla’s parents, like I said, work for the lab experimenting on the ‘enhanced,’ and are often not home, whereas Jonah’s father refuses to do anything and sits in front of the TV all day. This mirroring of Jonah and Kayla’s situations really shows them as equal partners in the story.
One of the other big strengths of the entire Catalyst Prime line so far also has been worldbuilding, and this issue of Superb does it, well, superbly. The issue shows that many people see enhanced people as dangerous due to some tragic events involving people losing control of their powers, and as a result, people excuse the forced kidnapping and detention of enhanced people who have done literally nothing wrong.
This reminds me of some of the darkest days for Marvel’s X-Men, though mutants always had the X-Men and the Institute as safe spaces and role models — the enhanced in Catalyst Prime don’t have this option. We see enhanced people isolated within communities of non-enhanced people, and a true lack of community among the enhanced. I’m definitely curious to see where this leads.
Finally, with regard to the art, illustrators Ray-Anthony Height and Le Beau L. Underwood and colorist Veronica Gandini provide the visuals. I really love the character designs for Kayla and Cosmosis, though I feel some of the minor and background characters get a little muddled at points. Overall, though, the comic visually has a very distinct look from both Noble and Accell, and that is a good thing, even if I may prefer the other two books visually.
Overall, I am so excited about where Superb, and Catalyst Prime, is headed, because I have never seen a superhero universe so intentionally grounded in diversity. It feels good, it feels real, and for once, I feel, as a reader, like I belong.