Writer: Gene Yeun Yang
Artist: Viktor Bogdanovik
Inks: Richard Friend
It’s been said that clothes don’t make the man, and in this case, they don’t make the Superman either. Gene Yang probably had a lot of fun applying that concept to New Super-Man, which transposes the Superman concept to modern-day China, except it totally doesn’t. If the cover to this title leads you to think that this is just an Orientalized Clark Kent story, it’s totally not, but you’ll keep thinking it is.
Certainly, there’s very obvious, basic parallels to Clark Kent’s story in New Super-Man, whether it be in the form of phonetic puns (the new guy’s name is “Kenan Kong” who meets a burgeoning young female reporter, Laney Lan) or visual similarities (the kid with glasses on page one obviously invokes someone familiar). But then there’s very distinct differences from Kent’s story as well. Whereas Clark Kent was always the all-American saint with wholesome farmer parents and a heart of gold, Kong’s life takes a decidedly different turn. Unlike Clark, Kong lost a parent at a young age, and it’s clearly had an effect on him in ways that we’re yet to see in this issue.
What’s clear, though, is that Kong is, surprisingly, a bully and a braggart. That’s the biggest twist on the Clark Kent story–while Superman’s always been a guy who does good no matter what (powers or no), Kenan Kong is a nasty kid who’s designed to be someone the readers won’t like from the start. That said, Yang hasn’t made him totally unsympathetic–Kong has an early moment of self-sacrifice suggesting he’s not totally lost, and indeed, it’s this moment that inspires the mysterious “Ministry of Self-Reliance” to offer him a chance to become China’s Superman. Whether a bully with Superman’s powers will also develop Superman’s heart is part of the question this series will have to tackle going forward.
Viktor Bogdanovik’s art is OK, but where he succeeds is in his facial expressions. There’s a certain charm in his portrayal of a frightened expression of a fat kid fleeing a supervillain, or various dopey expressions on Kenan’s face as he ends up in different situations. He could use a little development in his character designs, as the mystery “Ministry” characters seem a little generic, as do the costumes of Kong and the surprise characters who appear at the end. Still, his art is competent and he fits this book so far.
New Super-Man isn’t the most stellar offering on the market, but it is an alternative to the current nostalgia fest that is DC Rebirth. It has enough twists that it could be the surprise hit of the week for the reader who’s willing to go unspoiled.
Rating: 3.5 Kryptonians out of 5.