[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for “New Super-Man” #1]
As the poster boy for the publisher (and medium) as a whole, it only seems right that any company-wide initiatives or relaunches at DC Comics should revolve around the Superman himself. Although The Flash has had control over the last few universe-altering events, the heart of the DC Rebirth is quickly showing itself to be more about Superman than even the massive twist that spawned the initiative – or, more accurately, those characters who bear the coveted ‘Super’ in their hero monikers.
While the “Rebirth” era kicked off with the death of the New 52 Superman (which may not have been exactly as it seemed), it wasn’t long before the world’s need for a planetary guardian meant a new Superman was forced to emerge… and then another one. Finally, the pages of “New Super-Man” #1 by Gene Luen Yang and Viktor Bogdanovic have unveiled the titular hero as well, a Chinese teenager who finds himself in possession of the Man of Steel’s powers. And if you thought a young boy in China becoming his nation’s Super-Man was the whole story, you’ve only scratched the surface – an entire Justice League “made in China” is on the way.
Yang had hinted that when Kenan Kong made his pre-powers debut, he wouldn’t be the kind of person you would expect to rise to such heroic heights – and the first issue didn’t disappoint. Make no mistake: Kenan Kong is a bully, introduced as he’s chasing down a schoolmate for his lunch. It’s not random, but motivated by something that will certainly become an important subplot as the comic goes on… but more on that later.
Just moments after one of his bullying sessions begins, a supervillain well known to the citizens of Shanghai arrives on the scene – Blue Condor – to terrorize the wealthy of the society before disappearing. It’s a villain readers will never have heard of, and that’s no coincidence: the implication is that America’s superheroes may be fighting global menaces, but when it comes to criminals with jetpacks terrorizing inhabitants of Chinese cities sporadically… well, it’s a problem that the people will likely have to tackle themselves. And tackle it, Kenan does.
Sure, throwing a soda can at a supervillain’s head isn’t the heroic debut that most DC icons hope for, but it does the trick. Blue Condor flees the scene, Kenan gets the cash out of his former target’s pockets, and a news story focusing on this young Shanghai boy who stood up to a supervillain to protect a friend. The elation is short-lived, however, when Kenan’s father reminds his son that he is no hero – and anyone who knows about his bullying would see the truth of the scene – and that publicity and TV profiles aren’t going to bring about real change.
Despite his cocky attitude and denial over the reasons for his bullying, Kenan’s brash performance on the evening news brings him to the attention of a mysterious Dr. Omen, an employee of China’s ‘Ministry of Self-Reliance.’ And has she got an offer for Kenan: in short, taking that moment of heroism and building a full-fledged superhero out of it. Understandably, Kenan – like most teenagers growing up with stories of Superman and the Justice League – accepts.
Of course, the mysterious Ministry is the same shadowy government organization that Kenan’s father is attempting to expose with his writers’ group (with the public not actually believing it even exists). But whatever badness the Ministry and Dr. Omen are up to, the prospect of becoming a superhero is too much to resist, and Kenan undergoes the procedure. Thankfully, he survives, but in the process, is treated to a unique vision: a slightly-modified memory of his mother’s death. A passenger on board a China Southeast Airlines flight (a company run by the bullied boy’s father), Kenan’s mother got a front row view of the Man of Steel himself, appearing out of thin air to rescue the plane from a sudden disaster.
But knowing that Kenan’s mother is nowhere to be found, and that the boy harbors a grudge towards the airline CEO’s son, it seems that Superman’s attempt at saving the day went terribly, terribly wrong. But before those answers can be given (with Kenan imagining himself in Superman’s suit on that day), the containment chamber erupts, and – in the words of Kenan himself – China’s New Super-Man is born, able to fly, project laser beams from his eyes, and who knows what else.
It’s possible that the same self-assured, arrogant teen attitude that has made Kenan Kong an unlikely candidate for a hero is also what kept an experimental procedure from killing him, but it’s immediately a problem for Dr. Omen and her team. Kenan isn’t the kind of person to take orders from an adult, and now that he’s able to fly and destroy buildings with a glance, he’s prepared to take his own Supersuit (with a black, yellow and red styling) out into the world.
But before he can, Dr. Omen calls on the Ministry of Self-Reliance’s other two superheroes-in-the-making, delivering one heck of a tease for the issue’s final panel:
The Justice League of China
That’s right, just moments after China’s own Super-Man is born, he’s brought face to face with the country’s own take on Batman and Wonder Woman. It won’t be a one-shot appearance, either, since the issue teases the next chapter of the story as “The Justice League of China,” promising a bit more insight into the two heroes – Peng Deilan, and Wang Baixi (sharing the same initials as Diana Prince and Bruce Wayne). Yang teased prior to release that “New Super-Man” would examine what the traditional ‘Superman’ concepts of Truth, Justice, and the American Way would mean for the hero if born in a different country. And in just the first issue, it looks like a similar reflection will be made between versions of the Dark Knight and Amazonian Princess hailing from the East and West.
It was a strong enough first issue, complete with a number of narrative hooks and mysteries to likely keep newcomers reading, but with the appearance of this new Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman (with Bogdanovic adding hints of Frank Miller in the design) it’s almost guaranteed. The idea of nationally-sponsored or created Chinese superheroes has been explored plenty of times through DC’s history, but the Trinity itself based out of Shanghai? This we’ve got to see.
New Super-Man #1 is available now.