New Super-Man #1
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Pencils: Viktor Bogdanovic
Inks: Richard Friend
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Review by Joey Braccino
“In the whole history of China, there are maybe three other people as important as I am…”
If those opening lines sound a bit conceited, it’s because they are. And it’s because the eponymous hero—Kenan Kong—is actually a pretty hot-headed, impulsive bully at the start of New Super-Man #1. That doesn’t necessarily change by the end of the issue, but Gene Luen Yang and company are beginning to layer in levels of pathos and intrigue that could make New Super-Man one of the more unique books coming out of the Rebirth.
Putting aside the whole “SUPERMAN IN CHINA” angle to the book (which, quite frankly, apart from establishing shots of the Shanghai skyline and a reference to Mandarin, is fairly non-existent), the origins of Kenan as Super-Man are to some degree quite affecting. After experiencing a serious loss as a young boy, Kenan has suppressed his feelings and lashes out through aggressive, impetuous bullying. That’s the opening scene, really—our introduction to our new hero is of him picking on a classmate he calls “Fat Boy.” An impulsive heroic action a few pages later sets him on a crash course with the Ministry of Self-Reliance, an experimental program that is trying to create a Chinese version of the Justice League. By issue’s end, Kenan’s powered up.
Yang wastes NO TIME. On the one hand, I dig that—we got our New Super-Man by the end of the first issue, so let’s get to work!!!; on the other hand, there is something to be said about decompressing just a little bit to explore why Kenan would go along with the Ministry’s experiments so readily. There is some backstory and some recklessness to his decision, yes, but it didn’t necessarily have the weight to really hit before we get to the inevitable power punching in the next issue.
I love Gene Luen Yang’s work. American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints have both made me reflect on my own Chinese ethnic background. I didn’t jump on to Superman when he took over because it was like issue #41 or something like that, but I saw this as a nice jumping-on point. While I am super excited to be reading a Gene Luen Yang superhero book set, there is something lacking in New Super-Man #1. Maybe I just haven’t grasped onto the Kenan character yet or maybe the narration is a bit overwrought or maybe the narrative itself feels separated from the culture in which it is set, but there is just something missing from the craft of the first issue.
Viktor Bogdanovic’s pencils are heavily reminiscent of Larry Stroman’s scratchy hyperrealism, lending the book an air of old school superheroism that is actually quite distinct given the earlier DC house style that’s been running the stands for the last few years. Add Richard Friend’s strong inking and Hi-Fi’s vibrant color palette and you’ve got a dynamic visual experience for New Super-Man that breathes a sense of fun and energy into Yang’s script.
Wait & See. I’m totally willing to give Gene Luen Yang and this ambitious, intriguing new character a shot, but I’m also totally aware of my bias toward the creator and the concept. With that in mind, I do think there is a lot of promise here in the “questionable hero status” of Kenan Kong, I just wish Yang and Company were willing to decompress the story a little and give us some more time getting to know him. Introducing brand-new, original characters is tough, but I’m interested to see where this goes!