In recent years, many classic superheroes have had their monikers adopted by people of races, cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations, and genders that differ from the hero’s original secret identity that have been met with bizarre backlash from the comic community. It would seem some comic readers are quick to disavow their allegiance to a beloved character because someone else, someone who doesn’t fit the mold that has been drilled into their heads, is taking up the mantle. They often jump to the conclusion that the shift will be terrible before even reading the first issue. I find this both absurd and downright offensive to the creative teams making these changes.
The most recent change in the comic canon regarding a superhero’s cultural background can be seen in DC’s New Super-Man #1, in which a young man named Kong Kenan, from Shanghai, China gains certain powers once attributed to The Man of Steel. Thankfully, this book hasn’t received the same vitriol as other titles that have made a similar shift in ethnicity (at least, as far as I can tell, but I try to avoid the cesspools that are certain subreddits so…). To be honest, I read New Super-Man #1 with some apprehension. Not because there’s a Chinese Superman, but because I’m not a Superman fan (Look, you say the words “Chinese Batman?” I’m down).
Before we go any further, I want to make it clear that I never want to see a comic fail. I never want to dislike anything I put in front of me, but sadly New Super-Man isn’t that great. And it’s not because Superman isn’t the pale skinned Übermensch we’ve all come to know (actually the change of nationality is probably the most entertaining aspect of the comic when we get to the environments for the characters). It’s because this first issue is simply not very enjoyable. New Super-Man #1 is written and often drawn like a hot-at-the-time late ‘90s Image book that everyone hoped current day readers would forget (cough*Gen 13*cough).
Gene Luen Yang, writer of American Born Chinese (a brilliant graphic novel that should be rubbing elbows with seminal works like Maus and Blackhole) has delivered one of his most insipid scripts in recent years. While his pacing is completely serviceable, the dialogue is way too clinical and the characters are flat. It’s hard to care about Kenan’s relationship with his father or what really happened to his mother, because the character isn’t fleshed out. I know this can be difficult to do in a single issue, but there isn’t even a shred of intrigue to make me want to learn more. The relationships Yang presents in this issue simply lacking any sort of emotional punch. Developing interactions between protagonists and the supporting characters around them is something Yang excels at, but here, it just seems like he’s collecting a paycheck (Note: I do not hold that against him).
Viktor Bogdanovic (Batman: Arkham Knight) does bring some style to the book.Bogdanovic’s work has always reminded me of artists like Greg Capullo and Mark Silvestri. He combines gritty ‘90s line work with Manga-influenced flash. It’s not necessarily the most original style to lend to Superman, but it’s efficient and doesn’t upset me. His settings look great. You get the feeling that Shanghai is a living, breathing city in each panel where an alleyway or a skyline is drawn.
Unfortunately, New Super-Man #1 doesn’t make a big splash in its first issue. Perhaps in later issues the pace will pick up and maybe, just maybe this title can join the ranks of great comics that have come from other alter ego swaps and join the ranks with books like Totally Awesome Hulk, Spider-Gwen, and Mighty Thor. We’ll just have to wait and see.
- Solid Artwork
- Serviceable story pacing
- Flat dialogue
- Inauthentic character relationships
- Pales in comparison to Yang's previous work