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Review: ‘New Super-Man Vol. 1: Made In China’

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New Super-Man Vol. 1: Made In China
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Artists: Viktor Bogdanovic and Richard Friend
DC Comics; $16.99

New Super-ManCartoonist Gene Luen Yang, a long-time library and bookstore favorite for works like American Born Chinese, Boxers & Saints, and The Shadow Hero, started writing for DC Comics’ Superman back in 2015, but it wasn’t until the 2016 launch of of a brand-new book featuring a brand-new Superman that it seemed like Yang had really found his footing in the superhero publisher’s line.

Yang’s New Super-Man, featuring designs and pencil art by Viktor Bogdanovic and inking by Richard Friend, is now available in trade paperback format, so it’s finally time to see if Yang’s corporate-backed superhero writing will be as readily embraced by his fans as his previous work was.

Honestly, chances don’t look good, despite the fact that it’s well written and stars a particularly interesting new character who isn’t much like your typical teenage superhero.

The new Super-Man of the title is Kenan Kong, an arrogant, self-centered, ideal-free high school student from Shanghai who is actually in the act of bullying another kid when we first meet him. When an uncharacteristic act of bravery is caught on film and goes viral, Kenan is chosen by the mysterious Dr. Omen of the Chinese government’s Ministry of Self-Reliance to be subjected to an experiment that grants him powers similar to that of the American Superman. Along with The Bat-Man and The Wonder-Woman, he becomes part of The Justice League of China.

Having powers doesn’t do too terribly much to improve Kenan’s character, but having peers begins to, and he and his two fellow heroes are quickly thrust into a complicated conflict involving The Freedom Fighters of China, supervillains who fight against China’s communist rule in order to bring true democracy to the country, and, ultimately, The Great Ten, DC’s rarely seen pre-existent Chinese super-team.

The politics of it are all a little murky, particularly to a character like Kenan who doesn’t much care for politics, as the Freedom Fighters continually do bad things for what seem like good reasons—they fight for “Truth, Justice and Democracy,” a Chinese version of our Superman’s old catchphrase—and it’s pretty clear that the Justice League of China’s sponsors aren’t the whitest of white hats.

The title is compelling in its setting as well as in its focus on modern Chinese culture, as when a direct market-sold super-comic set is anywhere other than America, it tends to be in a fictional country like Aquaman‘s Atlantis or The Black Panther‘s Wakanda. More compelling still is Kenan, who is in the act of becoming a hero in spite of himself.

When a character close to him who has devoted his entire life to fighting for “Truth, Justice and Democracy” is taking his last breaths and asking Kenan to carry on his work, Kenan says he barely even knows what those words mean, he just doesn’t want people he cares about to die.

“That’s a good place to start, Super-Man,” the dying man replies. “All you’ve gotta do next is figure out how to care about more people.”

It’s easy to imagine New Super-Man standing out on the crowded shelves if Yang were drawing it himself, or working with one of his past collaborators like, say Sonny Liu or Mike Holmes. Instead, the art team of Bogdavonic and Friend works in a style that is very much standard issue for DC Comics, to the point that it’s really only the costumes and the logo on the front cover that differentiates the look and feel of New Super-Man from the bulk of what DC Comics is currently publishing—and this is but one five books about caped Super-people with the letter “S” on their chests that DC is publishing these days.

I suppose the thinking is that with a brand-new character and a book set in China rather than the U.S., there was already enough that was different about this particular series, and they were therefore better off playing it safe with some standard-issue, even generic art. I’m not so sure, though, since you have to pick the book up and start reading it before you even notice that it’s anything other than just another mediocre super-comic.

Perhaps having the name “Gene Luen Yang” attached will convince enough readers to give it a chance; otherwise I fear New Super-Man may not be long for this world, a world in which it must compete against Action Comics, Superman, Supergirl and Superwoman

New Super-Man 1

New Super-Man 2

New Super-Man 3

New Super-Man 4

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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