A New Take on a Classic Hero

New Super-Man Vol 1New Super-Man Vol 1: Made in China by Gene Luen Yang DC Comics 2017 144 Pages

Most people are familiar with the classic superhero Superman. Guided by a strong moral code, he is on a constant mission to do what is right. But what might happen if someone with less of a moral compass suddenly gained Superman’s abilities? In New Super-Man Vol. 1, Gene Luen Yang explores this idea in a fun and compelling way.

Readers are introduced to seventeen-year-old Kenan Kong who lives in Shanghai, China. In the first scene of the comic, Kenan bullies a wealthy acquaintance he calls Pangzi, or fat boy. Soon after this, Kenan encounters the supervillain Blue Condor and stands up to him in an act of bravado. This gets mistaken as an act of selflessness, and attracts the attention of reporter Laney Lan, who Kenan finds attractive. Even though he was not extraordinarily brave, Kenan agrees to be interviewed in hopes of pursuing something romantic with Laney, though he quickly gets rebuffed.

This draws the attention of Dr. Omen, who works for a mysterious organization called the Ministry of Self-Reliance. Dr. Omen approaches Kenan, and tells him that the ministry has found a way to transfer Superman’s powers to someone else, and they think Kenan is the right person for this transformation. Soon Kenan shares Superman’s abilities of flight and super strength, but he still lacks many of the attributes that make Superman a great hero. Kenan soon meets Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman of China, and together they form the Justice League of China, borrowing the title from their American counterparts. However, outside of sharing the same superpowers, Kenan and Clark Kent share very little in common, which makes for an interesting twist in the narrative.

In the traditional Superman stories, Clark Kent takes great care to protect his identity from even his close friends. Superman is the head of the Justice League because of his strong sense of morals that help guide the league of superheroes. Kenan declares himself the head of the Justice League of China simply because he’s the New Super-Man, and thoughtlessly reveals his true identity because of his romantic feelings towards Laney Lan. Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman of China act more like their American counterparts, carefully doing research and thinking through actions, which provides an interesting foil to Kenan’s brashness.  Gene Luen Yang walks a careful line between Kenan being irredeemable and unlikable to being a flawed hero. One of the most satisfying aspects of the story is seeing Kenan’s transformation from selfish bully to a somewhat clueless hero who is attempting to do the right thing.

Yang is a talented author, winning the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature and the Eisner Award, the comic industry’s highest honor, for his book American Born Chinese. In less capable hands, New Super-Man could feel like a gimmick, but it is instead equal parts thoughtful and funny.  New Super-Man is a great start to a new series, and readers will be left wanting to join in more of Kenan’s adventures in future volumes.

Elizabeth Weislak is the Youth Services Coordinator for Alamance County Public Libraries. She may be reached at eweislak@alamancelibraries.org