Written by: Gene Luen Yang
Art by: Viktor Bogdanovich
Publisher: DC Comics
Gene Luen Yang got pretty much thrown in the deep end with DC last year. Getting to take over Superman surely sounds like a dream, but having to be immediately roped into a crossover with a vastly different Superman couldn’t have been easy, which lead to a run filled with good ideas and intentions, but poor execution. Yang now has a chance though to tell a story with much more breathing room and a huge new sandbox to play in. New Super-Man #1 shows a lot of this potential, and without the need to crossover with really any other DC book, it’ll hopefully need the time it needs to grow.
The series stars Kenan Kong, a young bully living in a working class area of China. He feels very much in line with the Superior Spider-Man type of character, of an unlikable character with occasional flashes of good in him. I’m definitely a fan of this sort of character, and applying this approach to a Superman book, a character famous for unwavering morality, is certainly an interesting approach. His family background too avoids some stereotypes, with his single father being a supportive man, yet fully aware of the type of person his son is. It promises some interesting dynamics outside of the usual superhero wheelhouse and leaves me intrigued to see where the story goes.
There are a few instances to characterisation and plot that feel a little less natural and a bit forced. For example, it takes only one act of heroism for Kong to apparently be the perfect candidate for the experiment to give him Superman’s powers. There seems to have been no previous build up to this or any indication the agency behind him have been watching him before, one viral video of Kong and then not so much as a background check before they trust him with all of superman’s powers. It just feels weird, both for Kong performing the act of heroism and everyone to react so in love with him over it. It feels a bit contrived and as if Yang is moving the story far too quickly. Some more natural softening of Kong would’ve felt nice, or more indication that he’s actually a good person. There’s also a few pieces of clunky dialogue in this origin scene, such as Kong declaring himself” I’m like a NEW SUPER-MAN!”, though for the most part the writing feels nicely self-aware and interesting enough to make the book feel fresh.
Equally as promising as the script is the art courtesy of Viktor Bogdanovich. The setting feels totally new, and his pencils make China look completely gorgeous and like no other place in the DCU. His character designs also look great, both for New Super-Man (though I did like the original design with the Chinese characters on the shield) and for the characters who appear on the last page that I can’t spoil. His designs for Kong himself often look a little… doughy, which is an odd look for a superhero, especially as he picks on a boy for being fat at the start. Mostly though, his art provides a clean, fun style that looks wonderful and makes me want to see more of the world the book is crafting.
New Super-Man is off to a solid start in DC’s attempts to diversify it’s like. There are still a few quibbles to begin, but the book is much like it’s main character; it may be rough around the edges, but it’s heart seems to be in the right place. The story of Kenan Kong is off to an interesting start, if you’re looking for something a little different amongst Rebirth, this could be the book for you.