This week brings us the New Super-Man from DC Comics. Please take note that there is a hyphen in the name of this Super-Man in order to differentiate him from the real Superman. There is also the fact that the new Super-Man is a young Chinese kid who lives in Shanghai. When I first read about DC’s decision to give us a Chinese Super-Man I was confused. It made little sense. But, then I realized that this New Super-Man title is all about the Chinese market.
So many corporations ranging from the auto industry to Hollywood have become obsessed with making it big in the Chinese market. Hollywood will green-light sequels, Michael Bay’s Transformers, even if they do poorly in America just because they are so popular in China. DC appears to be following the same line of thought with New Super-Man. I am interested to see how much appeal this title will have to the America market. Let’s go ahead and hit this review for New Super-Man #1.
Words: Gene Luen Yang
Pencils: Victor Bogdanovic
Inks: Richard Friend
Story Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin in Shanghai, China. We see a fat kid being chased by a bully through an alley. The scene is narrated by a person who talks about how he is going to tell us his story. The voice makes sure that we know that he is not the fat kid being targeted for his lunch and his money.
We see the bully demanding the fat kid’s lunch and his money. The voice then says that he is the bully. That he is handsome and broad-shouldered. The bully says that the fat kid’s name is Lixin. Lixin asks why the bully always targets him. The bully answers that it is because Lixin’s family owns an entire airline. Lixin replies that his family doesn’t own it. They just run it. The bully ignores Lixin and tells him to bring a better lunch tomorrow. The bully struts off.
Lixin then throws the discarded lunch at the back of the bully’s head. The bully chases Lixin around a corner. As the bully turns the corner we see the Blue Condor holding Lixin. The Blue Condor is one of Shanghai’s first American style super villains.
The bully whispers to himself “Run.” But, the bully doesn’t run. Instead, the bully throws his can of soda at the Blue Condor and hits him in the face. The Blue Condor drops Lixin. The bully yells for Lixin to run. We see a girl in a pink baseball hat recording the entire scene with her smart phone.
The Blue Condor stares at the bully and then flies off. (Huh. Kind of a wimpy super-villain, huh? He lets a teen-ager treat him like a bitch in public and does nothing about it. Okay.) Lixin runs over and hugs the bully and thanks him for saving his life. Lixin says that he doesn’t know how he could ever repay the bully. The bully says that Lixin can start by giving him all of his money. Lixin happily hands over his money. Lixin then says that he will bring more tomorrow. Lixin calls the bully his “hero.”
The girl in the pink baseball cap runs over. The girl introduces herself as Laney Lan (Groan We keep the Superman tradition started by Lana Lang and Lois Lane alive.) Lan says that she shared the video of the bully standing up to the Blue Condor and it already has half a million views. Lan says that she is a reported for Primetime Shanghai. (Of course she is a reporter. Why do anything different or unique?)
Lan asks the bully for his name. He introduces himself as Kong Kenan. (Remember, last name goes first.) Kenan then says that the kid he saved was Luo Lixin. That they go to school together. Lan films a quick interview with Kenan where he acts like a big tough hero who simply did his duty. Lan says that the Blue Condor is the deadliest villain in China and that Kenan was one of the few people to survive a confrontation with the Blue Condor. Kenan plays it off like it was no big deal. Kenan says that he was not scared. Kenan flexes his arm and asks if anyone would be scared with biceps like this.
We cut to a mysterious lab with two women watching the video of Lan interviewing Kenan. One of the women says that Kenan is the one.
We cut back to Lan asking Kenan if he is free this evening. Kenan asks if it is like a date. Lan answers “No.” Laney just wants to interview Kenan’s family. Lan gives Kenan her card. Kenan agrees that she can come over tonight. Lan walks away and Kenan yells how Lan is just his type. (Very snazzy. Working with a stereotype of what a teenage male “acts” like.)
We shift to Kenan arriving at his dad’s auto repair shop. Kenan starts to tell his dad all about what happened. Kenan’s dad is working on a car. (Kenan’s dad is like John Goodman with a mustache.) Kenan’s dad is unimpressed with Kenan’s story. His dad says that he already saw the video.
Kenan says that Lan is coming over later tonight to interview them. Kenan’s dad says he cannot make it. That he has a Writers’ Group meeting tonight. That it is an important meeting. That they have finally gathered enough evidence to prove that the Ministry of Self-Reliance actually exists.
Kenan thinks how his father and his writer buddies are all a bunch of conspiracy theorists. That his father has says that they have been ready to publish something about the Ministry since he joined five years ago.
Kenan gets sad and tells his dad that he could have died today. Kenan’s dad replies “But you didn’t.” Kenan’s dad says that some things are more important than any one individual. Truth. Justice. Democracy. These are things the writers group is fighting for. Kenan’s father says that he is not skipping something important like that for some spectacle being used to generate television ratings.
Kenan’s dad adds that Kenan does not want him talking to Laney, anyway. Kenan’s dad asks why he was there with Lixin. Kenan’s dad says that every time Kenan “hangs out” with Lixin that he gets a call from Lixin’s father threatening legal action. Kenan’s dad says that he is just a simple mechanic who has a hard time holding his own against the CEO of China Southeast Airline.
Kenan’s dad says that he told Kenan to stay away from Lixin. That Lixin has nothing to do with what happened to Kenan’s mother. Kenan’s dad says he knows who Kenan really is and that Kenan does not want the pretty reported to know, too. Kenan’s dad tells Kenan to go home. Kenan goes home heartbroken.
We cut to late that night with Kenan standing next to his mother’s grave. Suddenly, the woman from the secret lab appears next to him. She sasy that she is here because Kenan has shown that he has the heart of a hero. She says that she can give Kenan powers to match.
The woman says that she knows that Kenan’s mother passed away when he was 12. (And Kenan’s dad says that it has been five years since Kenan’s mother died. So, now we know that Kenan is 17. Huh. Dude acts more like he is 13. I honestly thought he was younger.)
The woman shows Kenan a video of Superman trying to save an airplane from crashing. The woman says that she and her colleague have found a way to replicate Superman’s powers. Kenan asks to the woman “Who are you?” The woman introduces herself as Dr. Omen. Dr. Omen says that she works for the Ministry of Self-Reliance. (Oh, shit. John Goodman was right!)
We cut to the Oriental Pearl Tower. (Hey! That building actually exists!) This is where Dr. Omen’s lab is located. We see Kenan in a red (Cause Communist) Super-Man costume. Dr. Omen tells Kenan to step into a chamber. Kenan steps into the chamber. Dr. Omen says that there is just a 17.5% chance of terminal failure.
Kenan thinks how he just agreed to do this to make his dad angry…or proud. He is not sure. Kenan begins to have second thoughts and yells that he wants to come out. A gas fills the chamber. Suddenly, a bright light full of energy envelops the chamber.
Kenan finds himself watching the China Southeast Airlines plane with his mother on it. The plane is crashing toward the ground. Kenan sees himself in the traditional Superman costume. Kenan flies toward the plane yelling that he won’t let his mother die.
We cut to Dr. Omen and her assistant monitoring the chamber. The assistant says that the Origin Chamber is coming apart. Dr. Omen orders the power to be cut before the place explodes. Dr. Omen says that the procedure is already a success or Kenan is dead.
We then see Kenan full of solar energy blasting through the chamber yelling “I won’t let you die!” Kenan then returns to his normal human self. Kenan is floating in mid-air. Kenan starts laughing. Suddenly, his heat vision fires off and accidentally blasts part of the lab.
Dr. Omen yells at Kenan for him to control himself and land on the ground. Kenan says that he does not know how to fully control his powers. Dr. Omen hops onto her communicator and orders for Peng Deilan and Wang Baixi to suit up and enter the lab ASAP.
Suddenly, we see a dude in a rip off Batman costume and a woman in a green Wonder Woman styled costume bust into the lab. The knock-off Batman introduces himself as “Bat-Man.” The knock off Wonder Woman introduces herself as “Wonder-Woman of China.” Bat-Man tells Kenan that this is his last warning. That he will stand down immediately or he will be brought down. End of issue.
The Good: New Super-Man #1 was a solid, but not spectacular, debut issue. Gene Luen Yang delivers a yeoman’s effort by checking off most of the necessary boxes that should be accomplished in a proper debut issue.
Yang clearly establishes the mission statement for New Super-Man. Yang clearly lets the reader know what kind of title we are going to get. New Super-Man is going to be a straight forward super hero action adventure title that skews to a younger readership. This is definitely a good demographic to target. Yang lets the reader know that they can expect classic themed super hero stories with all the proper trappings. To be sure, New Super-Man #1 has that distinct Silver Age vibe wrapped up in modern storytelling style. Personally, this is exactly the style of super hero comic that DC should be focusing on more with the new Rebirth direction.
Yang does a great job introducing the main character in Kenan and the supporting characters in Lixin, Lan, Kenan’s father and Dr. Omen in a pleasant and an organic fashion. It is always important to get all of the main characters quickly in place on a debut issue of a new title. The character work is solid. The reader gets a clear sense of the different personalities of all the various characters. The dependable character work also results in some quality chemistry between the characters. The characters that displayed the most chemistry would be Kenan and his father and Kenan and Lixin.
Kenan’s character is nothing unique or earth shattering. Instead, Yang sticks to the basics and delivers a solid protagonist with all the classic traits of a hero that is ingrained in the super hero genre. I like how Yang portrays Kenan as one-dimensional and shallow in the beginning of the issue and then slowly peels back Kenan’s veneer to display a much more sympathetic and complex character. Yang achieves this through the death of Kenan’s mother and how it impacts his daily life and also with the relationship between Kenan and his father.
I love how Yang has the reader immediately believe that Kenan is nothing more than a shallow bully with how he treats Lixin. This makes the later reveal that Lixin’s father runs the airline that Kenan’s mother was flying when she died that much more compelling. I dig that Yang reveals that Kenan is working through and trying to process his mother’s death by bullying the son of the CEO of the airline that she was flying when she died. This is some quality psychology.
Yang also reveals as the issue progresses that Kenan’s brashness and ugly bullying traits are simply a facade. The rude exterior is a front put on to his Kenan’s pain and suffering stemming from his mother’s death and his rocky relationship with his father. Yang reveals to the reader that, at his heart, Kenan is a good kid who does the right thing. That is seen when he saves Lixin from the Blue Condor.
Yang makes sure that there are plenty of parallels between a young Clark Kent and Kenan without making Kenan look like a cheap rip-off whose only difference from Clark is his ethnicity. First, it is noticeable that Kenan has a penchant for blue and red clothing. Second, both Clark and Kenan are good kids at their core and instinctively stand up for the weak. Third, both Clark and Kenan come from humble backgrounds. Clark is the son of a farmer. Kenan is the son of a mechanic. Fourth, both Clark and Kenan lose a parent early in their lives. The death of Pa Kent impacts Clark as he becomes a man. The death of Kenan’s mother is obviously impacting him as he transitions from a teenager to a man.
Kenan’s father is a great character. I love his gruff blue color exterior that hides the pain he is going through with the death of his wife. Kenan’s father has lots of potential to be a powerful figure in Kenan’s life and to greatly influence the New Super-Man as he begins his career.
I love the dynamic between Kenan and his father. This was the highlight of New Super-Man #1. The scene between these two characters is easily the strongest writing of the entire issue. This is the standout scene. I dig how Yang shows how both Kenan and Kenan’s father are processing their grief over the loss of Kenan’s mother. Each one is finding their own way of coping with the pain.
Kenan’s processing of his loss by bullying Lixin is more immature and less nuanced than his father’ approach. Kenan’s father turns to his writer’s group who believe in conspiracy theories concerning the shadow government known as the Ministry of Self-Reliance. It is sad to see how the death of Kenan’s mother has broken both father and son. Kenan’s father is clearly obsessed with his writers group to the point where he does not spend enough time and attention on his son.
Kenan and his father are two broken men desperately trying to fill the hole in their souls while pushing each other away. Kenan has the conflicting desires to make his father both angry and proud. While, Kenan’s father is tough and unable to open up to his son. I hope that Yang continues to give Kenan’s father plenty of panel time as a core supporting character. There is so much potential with this character. And the relationship between Kenan and his father is easily the most compelling relationship in this issue.
Yang takes the relationship between Kenan and his father and plays it excellently into Kenan’s motivation to agree to Dr. Omen’s test. Kenan wanting to either make his father proud or angry or a combination of both is the impetus for him saying yes to Dr. Omen’s proposal. This also neatly folded in the Ministry of Self-Reliance that Yang hinted at in the scene between Kenan and his father. This is an example of excellent plotting and good internal logic. It is nice to see where characters makes decisions based off of scenes that the writer delivered earlier in the issue.
Speaking of Dr. Omen, she is a rather uninteresting and one-dimensional. Having said that, there is only but so much character work Yang can do in one issue when introducing the reader to such a large cast of characters. I do think that Dr. Omen has the potential to Kenan’s arch-nemesis the same way that Lex Luthor is Clark Kent’s arch-nemesis. It will be interesting to see what direction Yang takes Dr. Omen’s character.
Lixin is a another great character. Lixin as the potential to be Kenan’s Pete Ross. I hope that Yang has plans for this character. Lixin brings lots of possibilities to the table and can act as a good foil to Kenan’s character. Lixin can also be a character who can get into plenty of trouble necessitating Kenan to come to the rescue as Super-Man.
Yang does a nice job with the setting of Shanghai for this story. Shanghai takes on more than just a simple backdrop to the story. Shanghai is an integral ingredient to this story that helps to give New Super-Man #1 its own unique flavor that helps distinguish it from the real Superman titles. I dig that Yang uses actual real-life buildings and landmarks. Yang does an excellent job treating a foreign culture respectfully and honestly while still making it accessible to an American audience.
I like the knock-off JLA that Yang introduces at the end of New Super-Man #1. This couples well with the title of this issue: “Made in China.” The label “Made in China” is associated with cheap knock-off goods. China is the king of the black market where trademarks and copyrights are routinely flouted. China is the center of the universe for imitation products. It is seen in all markets from high-end purses and watches to Chinese cars that clearly steal from foreign companies.
I am curious to see in what direction Yang takes the knock-off JLA. In general, I do not like imitation characters. But, in the case of China, having an imitation JLA might actually prove to be interesting and entertaining.
Victor Bogdanovic and Richard Friend deliver solid artwork. I did not find the art to be anything amazing or particularly interesting. I am not thrilled with some of the looseness of Bogdanovic’s lines and lack of detail. There are panels where the art looks a bit rushed and sloppy.
Having said that, Bogdanovic does deliver some great facial expressions that inject some nice emotion into the story. The facial expressions were easily the greatest strength of Bogdanovic’s art. Overall, I do not think the art adds much to the story but it certainly does not detract from the story, either. Bogdanovic and Friend’s art on this issue is certainly serviceable.
The Bad: While New Super-Man #1 performs most of the necessary tasks of a debut issue, it misses on several critical ones. First, the issue ends without an honest hook ending. Yang ends this issue with false suspense. Kenan is not attacking anyone. Kenan is not out of control. There is no reason for the over the top approach of Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman. There is no reason for a fight. The reader knows these facts and knows that there is no reason to worry and that nothing is going to come of the ending.
Yang also fails to install a main villain for the opening story arc. If Dr. Omen is to fill the role of the main villain then Yang missed on that attempt. Dr. Omen is a rather bland character that does nothing to hook the interest of the reader. A super hero story has trouble rising above the quality of the main villain. Yang has handicapped this debut issue by not installing a main villain for the opening story arc.
Another problem is that Yang does not install much of a story arc at all in this first issue. Yes, we get introduced the roster of characters. And we see the protagonist get his super powers. But, that is it. There is no real main plot line that is installed that created conflict and tension and that serves to hook the reader into coming back for the next issue. There is nothing in this issue that truly gets the reader emotionally invested and eager to come back for the second issue of New Super-Man.
New Super-Man #1 also suffers from the fact that this issue is slow and lacks any real action at all. This makes this issue a bit of a boring read. There is not much in this issue that gets the reader pumped up or excited. At no point is the reader brought to the edge of their seat.
The only scene that had anything that resembled action was the scene between the Blue Condor and Kenan. And, even then all the action consisted of was a soda can being thrown at Blue Condor. What was odd about this scene was Kenan’s interaction with the Blue Condor. Blue Condor is supposed to be China’s deadliest super villain who few people survive meeting. Yet, Blue Condor takes getting hit by a soda can and does nothing at all in retaliation to Kenan? This just felt awkward and did not make much sense.
While there is some interesting character work in this issue, overall, there is nothing particular original or compelling to this issue. The story is basic and a bit shallow. New Super-Man #1 does nothing to separate itself from the hundreds of super hero titles already crowding the stands. There is nothing in New Super-Man #1 that stands out and gives the reader a reason to come back for more. New Super-Man #1 is like a bowl of vanilla ice cream. It is pleasant enough, in an inoffensive manner, but is nothing so special that you are going to excitedly anticipate the next issue and immediately purchase it once it is published.
Laney Lan is the only character that was a miss with me. Obviously, from her name and her occupation, Lan is Kenan’s Lois Lane. I get the need to have a love interest or a character than can provide some romantic tension. However, Yang could have done a much better job than the shallow Lan character. Yang did such a fine job with the other characters on this title in making them unique but still evoking certain Superman characters. However, with Lan, Yang mails it in and delivers a tepid and uninspired rip-off version of Lois Lane. I would have much rather seen Yang go in a different direction with Kenan’s love interest and come up with a character more creative and original.
There is zero chemistry between Kenan and Lan. Kenan’s sudden infatuation with her feels forced and artificial. This is the moment where a writer jams a square peg in a round hole just for the sake of the story. There is no reason why Kenan would be so infatuated with Lan. Especially, given how bland and annoying her character comes across in the scene. It seems like Yang just slapped the two characters and said Kenan like her because…well, because I said so! It would be much more enjoyable if Kenan took the slow burn approach to the relationship between Kenan and Lan and built up a substantive reason for Kenan to like Lan.
While I am cautiously optimistic about the knock-off JLA I still worry that this could go off the rails quickly. One problem with the knock-off JLA is that it makes the story in New Super-Man feel derivative and unoriginal. It also makes it easier for readers to dismiss New Super-Man as unimportant.
By employing such knock-off characters, Yang does not give New Super-Man its own unique and original legs to stand on to carve its own destiny. I understand DC’s logic for a Chinese super team or heroes. But, making the Chinese heroes original characters with their own unique identities might have been a better direction to go in.
Overall: New Super-Man #1 was a slightly better than average read. However, I am not sure that Yang did enough to distinguish New Super-Man #1 from the myriad of super hero titles already on the market. Readers have limited dollars to spend and getting readers to jump aboard a new title requires giving a strong reason why this title is different the other super hero titles being published. New Super-Man #1 was not special enough to demand that readers come back for the next issue. In general, the story itself was a bit forgettable and felt somewhat formulaic. Having said that, there is no doubt that New Super-Man #1 does display the potential to become a quality read. New Super-Man is a title worth keeping an eye on to see if this potential ever gets fully realized.