In the cliché filled genre of capes and tights, Aaron Williams’s “PS238” stands out as something unique in a sea full of well written tropes.
While Williams’s artwork shows the well-polished nature of an experienced writer, this is not what most noticeably sets his work apart. The thing about “PS238” that most noticeably sets it apart is the fact that its story revolves around a group of children attending Public School 238, the school for metaprodigy children.
Metaprodigy, of course, is this universe’s slang for superpowered kid. While this might seem to fall into the same trope of superhero school that movies like “Sky High” have so famously defined, the universe of “PS238” is very different.
“Sky High” was a super hero movie about high schoolers, and thus covered a lot of the tropes that you would expect to see in that particular genre. PS238 is a school for elementary school children and the differences that this produces is profound.
“PS238” makes use of the superhero tropes, and even has characters that are clearly a wink and a nod toward some of the well-defined hero archetypes such as Batman, Superman and Green Lantern.
By utilizing these familiar archetypes, Williams gives his readers something that they can recognize and builds off it. The characters grow in their own right, and since many of them have children or protégés that attend PS238, their actions also influence the mindsets of the children there in unexpected ways.
On the surface, “PS238” seems to possess a level of innocence that would make it difficult for it to tackle more difficult topics, but in reality, handles very heavy subject matter. The vast majority of the arcs focus on the children who attend the school, though some do occasionally touch upon the teachers.
One of the more hard-hitting narratives covered is when one of the kids, Ron, who is essentially the son of this world’s Lois Lane and Superman, has to deal with his parents getting a divorce. The divorce arc itself covers a few issues, but the ramifications of the event don’t stop after Ron moves out of the focus. It continues to affect him after the arc is finished and to influence all of his interactions with his friends.
Unsurprisingly, Ron blames himself for his parents’ decision and Williams does an excellent job capturing the way that feeling changes the once shy boy and leaves him feeling frustrated and angry at the world.
He shuts himself off from his friends and tries to fix himself by trying to maintain constant control on himself. This being a superhero story, a drastic event does occur which helps force Ron to open back up to his friends and begin the healing process, but it is presented in a believable manner that doesn’t cause the reader to feel that it is unrealistic.
Ron is not the only child in the story to struggle with complex problems. Other children in the story have to being marginalized, misunderstood, parental neglect and all while dealing with the abnormal issues that crop up for children who possess powers far beyond those of mere mortals.
It would be a mistake to assume that “PS238” does not include its fair share of fights between heroes and villains. The villains in the story are most likely environmental or impersonal, like an alien invasion. There are some instances of fights between the more villainous of the students and their more virtuous classmates, but these never get to the point where it becomes a fight between good and evil.
Indeed, the two children who aspire to be villains are never portrayed as insidious. Instead, Williams depicts them as simply flawed in a different manner from their other classmates. What they may do in the future is up in the air, but ultimately, they are still just children – who occasionally create portals to alternate dimensions or make giant robots to terrorize cities.
The series often puts forward the concept that children might lack the experience of adults, but often are far smarter and intuitive than adults give them credit for. Sometimes this leads to amusing shenanigans, like one of the non-meta characters becoming absolutely convinced that all of the meta kids – who still have to maintain their secret identities near their non-meta counterparts – are all secretly alien invaders.
Other times it leads to more complex arcs, like one of the girls who has a really common power set and has non-meta powered parents, struggling to deal with the way she is perceived by her classmates and super-powered adults.
The rather unusual incidents that frequent the school do put the teachers at the school to task, but they do their best to cope and continue to help the students. Ultimately, the thing that makes this such a unique comic is the level at which it allows its readers to relate to the superpowered protagonist.