New Super-Man is a comic book about a Chinese Superman. The original Superman, Clark Kent aka Kal-El, is still around so this one’s not a replacement but understandably the idea of making an “insert race here” version of an iconic superhero is a controversial one. The only reason I even considered buying this was because of the writer that was hired for this series. His name is Gene Luen Yang who is an award-winning writer & cartoonist who wrote American Born Chinese, a graphic novel that achieved much success. It is also one of my favorite graphic novels ever. Even Mr. Yang himself initially rejected the job of writing a Chinese Superman but after some further thought he came to realize some of the storytelling potential. Issues 1-6 comprise the first story arc titled, “Made in China.” How did the team, which includes artist Viktor Bogdanovic, behind New Super-Man do? First, I’ll write a brief plot summary of the issues, which will contain some spoilers (but no major ones) and then proceed with my impressions.
We’re initially introduced to a fat boy with glasses named Luo LiXin and a self-involved taller boy bullying him. The taller boy is Kong Kenan and ironically ends up saving LiXin from being kidnapped by a villain named Blue Condor. Kenan’s unintended heroics are captured on video by reporter Laney Lan and uploaded to social media where it goes viral. Kenan’s dad, however, is not too impressed by Kenan, knowing how Kenan usually treats LiXin. Later on Kenan is approached by a mysterious woman named Dr. Omen who works for the Ministry of Self-Reliance. She offers him the chance to partake in a process that will give him Superman’s powers. You can probably guess what happens next.
In issue 2, we find out there’s also a Chinese Batman (BaiXi) and Wonder-Woman (DeiLan) and thus a Chinese Justice League of China. Due to Kenan’s inability to control his new superpowers, Batman & Wonder-Woman come in to subdue him. Kenan later wakes up to find out his powers have fallen dormant. Kenan is assigned to tag along with Batman and Wonder-Woman to save a CEO named Wei Li, who’s been captured by a villain named Sunbeam. Although Kenan is instructed to stay in the B.U.V (Batman Utility Vehicle) he disobeys later on and helps in the rescue and manages to regain a couple of his powers.
Sunbeam is taken into a prison for Chinese super-villains called the Crab Shell in issue 3, where we see someone with a familiar S sign on his chest in one of the cells and another villain who recognizes Kenan. BaiXi does some digging due to a question that Kenan asked earlier and finds a link between the attempted kidnappings of LiXin (in issue 1) and Wei Li. He determines that a professor named Dr. Zheng is the next target and the three decide, without telling Dr. Omen, to visit Dr. Zheng to prevent his kidnapping. After fighting a bunch of giant serpents, the issue ends off with the introduction of a group of supposed super-villains named the Freedom Fighters of China who have captured Dr. Zheng.
More fighting occurs in issue 4 but it ends with the leader of the Freedom Fighters, Flying Dragon General lecturing Kenan. He believes the Ministry of Self-Reliance is a shadow organization who is holding some of his allies without a trial and is developing an ultimate weapon to use against political agitators. Flying Dragon General escapes and although the team has successfully prevented the kidnapping of Dr. Zheng, Dr. Omen is not pleased with their breaking of protocol.
I can’t really say much about issues 5 and 6 without major spoilers. Let’s just say that we get some background on Kenan’s parents and Kenan ends up siding with the Freedom Fighters and a version of Starro is involved. Starro is an alien being that can be replicated and used to mind control people. The Great Ten, a group of Chinese superheroes (who have appeared in the DC Comics universe before this series) also make an appearance. Issue 6 ends with a hint at a deeper link between Dr. Omen and Kenan’s family.
To my surprise, I’ve actually been enjoying this comic book quite a bit. Kenan is really his own person and the way he develops throughout these issues from a self-centered, immature teenager into someone who starts to care at least a tiny bit more about others is nicely done. If anything the tone of early issues reminds me more of Spider-Man. The banter between Kenan, BaiXi and DeiLan can also be pretty funny. It actually makes sense that China would want to make their own version of American superheroes. The end of issue 4 and the ensuing issues after have set up some intriguing plot lines for the future and have made me even more eager to follow this series.
The art by Viktor Bogdanovic is solid throughout. His action scenes are really dynamic. He’s good at drawing facial expressions without too many lines although sometimes Kenan’s face looks a bit odd at certain angles. His style does not deviate from the typical American superhero stuff. The coloring is also well done.
So far, I think a challenge that this comic will face will be in introducing villains that aren’t just Chinese versions of existing villains or villains with essentially the same powers of existing ones. The ones so far have been fine although nothing special. I’m not sure what to think of the “paper cut” villain. It’ll also be interesting see how the China setting will further influence the story. That could be a challenge in incorporating Chinese issues and elements while being relatable to a North American audience. The writer, Yang, is Chinese American and not native Chinese so he’s not as informed of Chinese culture in China as a native Chinese person would be.
With that being said, Super-Man does feel like a fresh take or at least good twist on the well-worn superhero genre. It seems the writer will be free to take the story wherever he likes without being hampered by too much continuity from other comics books in the DC universe. Everyone likes to make jokes about Chinese knockoffs but this comic is no knockoff. If anything it delivers some knockouts of its own.