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Netflix’s Raising Dion: An Interesting Examination of a Superhero Origin

In late 2017, Netflix announced that in a partnership with actor Michael B. Jordan that they had acquired the rights to the comic book Raising Dion. The comic, written by Dennis Liu and illustrated by Jason Piperberg, is the origin story of a young superpowered Dion, an African America second grade boy who is being raised by his widowed mom, Nicole, as they discover his powers together.

Netflix released the 9 episodes of season 1 of Raising Dion and, overall, it is very successful. While I haven’t read more than the first issue of the comic book series, it feels like they worked hard to tell the story with reverence and respect, while making sure that it works well for television.

At the time that they acquired the rights, Jordan spoke about how it was a new entry into a genre that made superheroes more accessible to communities other than the stereotypical comic book fans. So were they able to translate that concept well to the screen?

Raising Dion Review

The casting of a show like this is critical. Honestly, it feels pretty hard to fault the casting of a young actor for the lead character of Dion. Ja’Siah Young does a good job as Dion, especially when you consider that a role like his was done performing with effects and imaging that is added long after his work is put to film. He isn’t perfect but he is good and that is good enough.

The standout of the cast is Alisha Wainwright who plays Dion’s mother Nicole. So much of the story centers on her telling the story as she encounters these powers and things happening to her son. Additionally, you see her navigating the life of a single parent, recently widowed when her husband was lost in a storm and dealing with romance as well.

At times, the side plots feel very much just like side plots, but on the whole the story is well done. Other characters like Nicole’s friends, co-workers at a dance studio, and Jason Ritter as her deceased husband’s nerdy, comic book loving best friend, all are welcome additions to the story.

And the story is really well done. Given Dion’s young age, it never occurred to me how much we have tied our comic book heroes origin stories to their entering adulthood as teenagers. What we find in Raising Dion is much different as we see a young boy have to learn that he has powers, the consequences of what happens when those powers spin out of control, and how to live with this big secret.

It is a different experience to watch how the clear cut sense of right and wrong that children have comes to bear when a child becomes superpowered.

And as for the adults around him, they pretty quickly learn that “Just don’t tell anyone about this!” is a pretty powerful approach. This part of the story felt especially meaningful and reflective to me of a different approach than what we normally see in origin stories tied to entering adulthood.

The episodes also have great soundtracks. Being largely set in the African American community that Dion is growing up in, you get real hits from some different eras. The city of Atlanta is a part of the show as well, with the Dion’s parents having met while in school at Morehouse and Spelman.

But the “classical” parts of the soundtrack work well also, really helping the story feel alive at different points. When coupled with special effects that I felt were much closer to big movie than television, it all is an excellent package to elevate the whole show.

And not to spoil any of the rest of the story, the plot really does develop and go somewhere. The temptation to do a series of cute scenes with the kid and his powers had to be there. Instead we get some mysterious elements of suspense and intrigue that continue to work throughout the season and pay off well in the big finale of the last episode.

When so many television shows now feel like “Rinse and repeat” over and over again, Raising Dion one tells a great story and it ends extremely well, while also leaving open a season 2 if Netflix wants to pursue it. Overall, Raising Dion is a good show and something that you might want to watch before Disney+ comes out and all you do is watch the Marvel stories over and over!

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