Kate’s Review: “New Super-man: Made in China”

33232743Book: “New Super-man (Vol.1): Made in China” by Gene Luen Yang, Viktor Bogdanovich (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, June 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: #1 New York Times best-selling author and National Book Award nominee Gene Luen Yang continues his work at DC with New Super-Man, Volume 1, a part of DC Universe: Rebirth!

An impulsive act of heroism thrusts an arrogant young man into the limelight of Shanghai as China begins to form its own Justice League of powerful heroes. As the government creates their own Superman, will they live to regret the person they’ve chosen? Rising from the ashes of Superman: The Final Days of Superman and the death of the Man of Steel, will this New Super-Man step up to the challenge, or be crushed under the weight of his hubris and inexperience? 

Award-winning writer Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese, Superman) and on-the-rise art star Viktor Bogdanovic (Batman: Arkham Knight) introduce readers to Kong Kenan, an all-new superhero who could change the world…or be the end of it, in New Super-Man, Volume 1.

Review: For those of you keeping track, one of the best moments that I had at the ALA Annual Conference this year was getting to hear Gene Luen Yang speak about his career and his “Reading Without Walls” Initiative. Yang has written some of the best graphic novels I’ve read, and I was thrilled to hear that he not only really likes Superman, but writes Superman stories for DC. He focuses on the idea of Superman as an immigrant, and when he was writing Superman stories before this new endeavor the question of identity was a huge theme in those arcs. But now with Rebirth, Yang is doing something different: He’s writing a new Superman story, with whole new characters. Was I skeptical? I mean, kinda? After all, isn’t Clark Kent Superman? But I also knew that Yang is super awesome, so skepticism aside, I was all over getting my Superman loving mitts all over it.

One of the things that “New Super-Man” does right is the origin story. Instead of giving Clark Kent a completely new origin, or getting rid of Kent to make room for a new person to take over the Superman mantle, Yang goes in another direction. Kong Kenan is a regular teenage boy in Shanghai, China whose random and out of character act of heroism gets the attention of Dr. Omen, a scientist for the Chinese Government. China has decided that it wants to have a group of superheroes not unlike America’s Justice League, and Kenan is recruited to be Super-Man. One super science experiment later, and he is given super human powers. Sometimes I have a hard time swallowing it when old secret identities are swept aside for new ones, but when they’re done right I think they can be great. Yang does it so right. It not only avoids a new character being shoe horned into a role that’s already been well defined, but it also gives the familiar role, i.e. Superman, a new mythology that is more about expanding mythos instead of changing it.

Kong Kenan himself is a very complex and interesting character. When we think of Superman we tend to think of earnest and loyal and dutiful Clark Kent, an all American hero and Boy Scout. With Kenan, well, it’s a little different. He’s not a bad person at all, but he is definitely flawed. He’s kind of a bully, as we meet him bullying a classmate (whose father is the CEO of an airline, the airline that Kenan’s Mom was on when her plane went down), and then acting like a bravado filled narcissist for the TV cameras. But he is also desperate to impress his father, who is an outspoken critic of the Chinese Government who has been emotionally shut off ever since his wife died. It isn’t exactly the environment of Ma and Pa Kent, but it does give Kenan some difficult emotional issues to work through. His Super-Man powers are freeing for him, which is kind of a fascinating dichotomy when compared to Clark, who has always had an underlying sense of Otherness because of them. But I also really liked that we didn’t just get Super-Man, but we also get Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman, as China wants their powers too. Wang Baixi is a chubby tech nerd who has taken on the Bat-Man cowl, and I love his dry with and quiet seriousness. But Wonder-Woman is the most fascinating, as Peng Deilan is very determined and willing to call Kenan out on his nonsense as well as being a moral center in a lot of ways. She feels like the true leader of the team, and I want more more MORE of her in later issues. And yes, there is a Lois Lane equivalent, which is definitely important! Her name is Laney Lan, and she’s very adorable. And it’s refreshing that she actually doesn’t seem to hold any torch for Super-Man, at least not yet. Don’t get me wrong, they should probably absolutely be together, but she’s very focused on getting the story and not the superhero.

I also greatly enjoy the art in this series. I’m so used to Yang’s own artwork, but it wouldn’t really fit for the superhero/DC aesthetic. Viktor Bogdanovich’s artwork definitely feels more comic book-y, and I love the vibrant splashes of color and the vibrancy. I love the greens and reds and blues, and love how the characters tread the line of realism and pure comic pop.

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I am so excited to see where Yang takes his characters in this take on Superman! I knew that I didn’t have to worry, but it’s still great knowing that he’s really doing the original story all the justice in deserves.

Rating 8: An action packed and fun filled ride, “New Super-Man (Vol.1): Made in China” is a creative and splendid new take on the Superman story.

Reader’s Advisory:

“New Super-Man (Vol.1): Made in China” isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists at the moment. But I think that it would fit in on “Diverse Heroes in Comics/Graphic Novels”, and “Comic Creators of Color”.

Find “New Super-man (Vol.1): Made in China” at your library using WorldCat!

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