When people hear the words "comic book adaptation" and "superpowers," the natural inclination is to think of superheroes, and for good reason. Superhero comic book adaptations are very popular and very prolific as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has shown, but to paint all stories about superpowers with that brush—and dismiss them due to so-called "superhero fatigue"—would be a mistake, and that is especially true in the case of Netflix's Raising Dion. Yes, there are superpowers and yes, there are heroes, but the heroes of this story are of the ordinary type creating a unique kind of adaptation that is equal parts charming, inspiring, and emotionally moving as well.
Based on Denis Liu's comic book of the same name, Raising Dion follows the story of Nicole Warren (Alisha Wainwright), a widowed young mother raising her son, Dion (Ja'Siah Young), alone following the death of her husband Mark (Michael B. Jordan). If dealing with the challenges of motherhood and grief weren't already enough, Nicole is thrown another curveball when young Dion suddenly begins manifesting superpowers. She quickly has to figure out how to handle that on top of the other challenges of life with limited support. Her sister Kat (Jazmyn Simon) doesn't believe her and while Mark's best friend Pat (Jason Ritter) does, it's a bit of a complicated situation. It gets even more complicated as it comes into focus that Mark's death may not be what it seems and that Dion is in danger because of his powers. There's also Dion's natural excitement about his abilities. What kid wouldn't want superpowers, after all?
It's a solid set up and what works particularly well with it is that while Dion is in many ways the focus of the story, this is Nicole's story. Raising Dion is at its absolute best when it lets Nicole's role take center stage as a loving, frazzled, determined mother who just wants the best for her child and is willing to do whatever it takes, and the show brings this to life in a way very rarely seen on television. Nicole is a fully-realized, complete character. She's not a perfect mom. We see her struggle and fail, but she's also not a stereotypical mess of a mom, either. She's real and she's raw. I said that Raising Dion has its heroes and Nicole is the big one. Raising Dion is a heroic origin story and it's hers.
However, despite this fresh approach and interesting story, Raising Dion is not without flaws. To call the series a slow burn would be inaccurate. The story itself doesn't take its time in getting to its main hook, which is Dion's discovery of his powers. It does, however, take a few episodes for it all to come together and the larger story to come into focus. The first episode is arguably the weakest. The characters all come off a bit as caricatures in that first episode as we're dropped into their lives and Young's performance as Dion comes off as a bit over the top and cartoonish. Ritter's performance isn't much better and Wainwright is herself a bit flat. If you can get past that, though, by the end of the episode things improve dramatically. Young's Dion is loud and bright because that's how kids just are. Wainwright's Nicole is tired because she's carrying a seriously heavy load, and Ritter's Pat? He's a little weird because he's in a pretty awkward position trying to support his best friend's family. Once that's established, everything opens up from there and while the general plot is a little predictable and there’s no shortage of cliché dialogue, the characters make it worthwhile.
Raising Dion is bolstered by some of its other characters and performances as well. Viewers come to know Mark's story through flashback and Jordan's performance is as top-notch as anything we've seen from the actor. He brings a beautiful emotional gravity to every scene he's in. Sammi Haney as Esperanza, Dion's best friend, is arguably one of the best parts of Raising Dion. She doesn't steal every scene she's in; she owns them.
Ultimately, Raising Dion is a strong, family-oriented story that takes the best parts of the sci-fi, superhero, and comic book genres and blends them together into an appealing show that celebrates differences and the unsung heroism of mothers. There’s something for everyone in this series. It’s flawed, but fun and has a big heart and will charm you if you let it—and you should.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Raising Dion debuts on Netflix on Friday, October 4th.