Made in China
New Super-Man is DC comics newest addition to the Superman family of comic books, and though initially I saw it as another weak attempt at diversity, I was pleased with what I read. This new series does introduce a new Chinese Superman, but it also introduces an intriguing story and universe, that benefits from its cultural awareness.
You will not be able to ignore the cultural context of this book. It is set in the People's Republic of China, there is a note that reminds you the dialogue is spoken in Mandarin, and all of the characters who are introduced are Chinese. The connection to Superman is also very thin. If it were not for the title of "New Super-Man" and the brief mention to the dead "New 52" Superman, you wouldn't know this was a Superman book. Okay, the main character of Kong Kenan does put on a suit with a giant 'S' on the chest, so I guess that indicates something, but ultimately, this book has little to do with the established Superman universe and more with setting up a world for Kenan and the world he lives in.
The story revolves around Kenan, and his being chosen for a scientific experiment that will duplicate the powers of Superman. The Chinese government, more specifically the "Ministry of Self-Reliance," wants to develop their own Justice League, so they can defend themselves from major threats and no longer need the assistance of the JLA. They enlist Kenan after a video of him confronting a Chinese Super-Villain Blue Condor goes viral. The video serves to make him look like a courageous hero, when in reality Kenan is an arrogant bully. Despite this, he is chosen to undergo the experiment, and is given the powers of Superman.
I felt easily immersed in the world Gene Luen Yang set ups here. The different characters that are introduced here serve to develop an interesting new world. The fact that the story takes place in China, a place so very foreign to the typical Western reader, makes the story feel like it takes place in a different world. In a sense it is a different world, and the Ministry of Self-Reliance wants to keep it that way, isolating China from the rest of the world. This isolation gives New Super-Man an element of separation from the rest of the DC Universe and the other Superman stories. I'm curious if the classic Superman will show up and teach Kenan a thing or two, but right now the impression I get is that these stories will be rather self-contained.
Yang also introduces other members of the "ensemble cast. " We meet Laney Lan, an obvious counterpart to Lois Lane, just as Kong Kenan is a counterpart to Clark Kent. She is an aspiring TV reporter who witnesses Kenan stand up to the Blue Condor and wants the story to help her make it big. We also meet Lixin, an overweight nerd from a wealthy family that Kenan loves to bully, and Kenan's father, who doesn't seem to approve much of his son. The character dynamics presented here leave a lot to work with and develop in future issues. I was less intrigued by the Ministry of Self-Reliance's Dr. Omen, but I'm sure she will prove to be significant through the rest of the arc, if not the series.
The main downside I have with this issue is the art. The story is very solid throughout, but the art was a bit disappointing. The way Viktor Bogdanovic illustrates the characters facial features was especially unattractive. Though I did find his use of blank space appealing, the way the characters are drawn makes them look ugly. I wish the book had better visual style.
Overall, I found this book to be a solid entry into the DC Rebirth books. It introduces another Asian character in a culturally respectful way, but there is more to Kenan than his ethnicity. His arrogance and his latent grief will most certainly have an impact on who he is as a character. I am really entertained by the world Yang has set up here, and the story has hooked and hoping for more. I think this series is worth the pick up, but I am hoping that the art improves. I love the cover art, and wish that was the style used in the interior. Pick New Super-Man up and see for yourself if you aren't sure about it. It's worth the read.