By Eric Card
Northwest Asian Weekly
Right off the bat, you realize that “Raising Dion” does some things differently within the realm of the superhero genre.
Dennis Liu, the Taiwanese American creator of the original comic book series of the same name, has gained a reputation for creating unique superhero stories outside of white mainstream. In addition to focusing on diversity and representation, Liu likes subverting the genre by presenting stories through different perspectives.
For starters, “Raising Dion,” at least in its early stages, is told from the point of view of the title character’s mother, Nicole (played by Alisha Wainwright). She’s a widowed, single Black parent struggling to balance raising her son, holding down a steady job, and allowing herself to grieve and process the mysterious passing of her husband, Mark (played by Michael B. Jordan).
Oh, and she’s also dealing with having her son, Dion (played by Ja’Siah Young), developing supernatural abilities that he has trouble controlling. So there’s that.
Things aren’t always great for Dion either. He knows he’s different and struggles to make friends and fit in at his new school. He’s confused about what happened to his father and has trouble remembering what he was like. And again, he’s in the midst of learning about his increasingly astonishing powers that he struggles to understand and rein in.
A lot of the set-up and first episode surrounds the main characters’ interactions with each other, what their daily struggles and coping mechanisms look like, and processing the discovery of Dion’s abilities. The plot starts to pick up when Nicole finds a piece of paper in Mark’s jacket pocket with a name and phone number written on it. We learn prior to this that Mark was a scientist and storm chaser.
Nicole recognizes the name on that piece of paper. It’s the woman that Mark supposedly sacrificed his life for, saving her from drowning during a storm. Everyone was under the impression that they were strangers before the incident took place. There’s obviously more to his death than what the story initially presents.
Nicole reluctantly accepts the help of Mark’s best friend and Dion’s godparent Pat (played by Jason Ritter) to track down more information surrounding Mark’s mysterious death.
You get the sense that uncovering this enigmatic circumstance may lead to a better comprehension of Dion’s transformation and what he’s going through.
Suffice it to say, there’s not a whole lot of action in the first three episodes, although I assume that will come later. So it makes for a slower start, as there’s a whole lot of family drama and exposition surrounding their situation and interactions, albeit interesting, with some noob superhero abilities mixed in. It’s presented in a family-friendly fashion, trying to balance light-hearted moments with some heavy and dark situations. Although a bit rough and disjointed at first, fortunately, the show hits a better stride and balance in the next couple episodes.
A big positive going for the show is in its diversity and great casting. It’s one of the few superhero stories out there that’s centered around a Black family, and the implications that comes along with that. There’s a particularly powerful scene that involves racial profiling and the painful conversation that follows between Nicole and Dion.
There’s a major character that is disabled, and another that is a lesbian. These aspects don’t define their characters or inform the story, but merely a part of who they are. The show incorporates this naturally into the story, without feeling like it’s trying to preach or send a grand message. The world feels lived in, and it’s all about representation.
Liu told Deadline, “I started this project many years ago because I wanted to see more diverse representation on film and television … More than ever, we need more stories told from different points of view.”
And the show does just that. After the success of Liu’s comic series, the show was picked up by Netflix in 2017 and recently released on its platform on Oct. 4. The show was produced by Michael B. Jordan’s production company, “Outlier Society Productions,” which aims to inject a new generation of talent, on camera and off, creating real change in the industry when it comes to representation and diversity.
While only a third into the nine-episode season, “Raising Dion” shows promise, not only as an entertaining, family-friendly superhero narrative, but with enough distinction in its perspective and the topics and themes covered to keep things engaging. The question remains whether the action picks up much and whether the spectacle can proportionally rival that of Marvel and DC films with much bigger budgets. That being said, I believe there’s certainly enough there, for kids and adults alike interested in the genre, to check out.
The first season of “Raising Dion” is now available to stream on Netflix.
Eric can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.