It has been the summer of DC Rebirth taking over the comic book world and this week comes a new title, somewhat under the radar, with New Super-Man #1, offering a fresh international take on the next "Man of Steel."
This latest iteration of the all-powerful superhero is a young Chinese boy named Kenan Kong, who finds himself thrust into the life of being a hero when he unwittingly saves a classmate from the clutches of a super villain that terrorizes China's business elite. After his act of heroism gains the attention of the media, including reporter Laney Lan (yep, intentionally on the nose for sure), he is targeted by a shadowy organization that appears to have bigger plans in store for him.
The first thing that came to mind when reading this book is how topically appropriate the release is. One of the more talked about controversies in film and TV this year has been the "whitewashing" of movies and TV characters that were of Asian descent in the original work, like Finn Jones playing Marvel's Danny Rand in Iron Fist, or more publicly Scarlett Johansson playing The Major in the live action version of Ghost in the Shell set for release next year. Many celebrities in the Asian community have been outspoken about the lack of opportunities and options for Asian or Asian-American characters in stories.
New Super-Man #1, while not a movie or TV show, feels like a response to the whitewashing phenomenon. The book is written very well by Gene Luen Yang and aside from the Laney Lan/Lois Lane coincidental, takes a decisively original approach to a Chinese Superman, giving Kenan Kong an origin that's unique and not on the nose. Kenan Kong is not your prototype hero and in the first few pages, you question whether he is capable of being a hero at all due to his bullying of the classmate he eventually saves. It's not until the middle part of the book that you realize where his angst comes from and why his childhood has been a bit rocky.
The fact that Kenan Kong has a rockier childhood is enough to separate him from the traditional Superman narrative, adding to the fact that he is also not an alien, but a human being endowed with the powers of Superman in the wake of his death. For what purpose he has those powers has yet to be determined, but if the end of the book and the title of Issue #2 is any indication, it will be a very intriguing and fresh take on the DC Universe from a Justice League standpoint.
I like seeing new takes on classic heroes, especially when they involve a minority twist. I wasn't reading comics when Miles Morales became Spider-Man, but I am very much looking forward to Riri Williams as Iron Man this fall, and now I can add this series to my list of "Culturally Enriching reboots."
I give Yang a lot of credit too for wanting to tell a different, more internationally ethnic version of Superman's story. It doesn't replace the original at all, nor should it and it appropriately connects itself to the fate of the original at the end of Superman #52, just before the beginning of DC Universe Rebirth. Right now, we've got a multiverse Superman joining the Justice League, Lex Luthor as Superman and now a Chinese Superman. I'll read them all, but this one is so far my favorite because of how intriguing it's going to be to see where they go with the story.
One quick cultural note that I like: In the book, words in blue text are spoken in English while everything else is spoken in Mandarin, so even though you are reading it all in English, Yang makes it a point to remind you that they are NOT speaking English except for a few words. It's almost like we are reading a subtitled Chinese comic. I love that touch.
This looks like a series that fans of re-imaginations and also Asian culture will appreciate. The idea of China creating its own Superman to fight crime is awesome and making Kenan Kong an imperfect character to ultimately make him more relatable and to do away with the "God" metaphor just for a bit is refreshing. I'm looking forward to more in this series as DC is just continuing to do well with the Rebirth line.
5 out of 5 stars - DC UNIVERSE REBIRTH: New Super-Man #1
This is a monthly series, next issue due out August 10th.