In June, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
Welcome to month three of DC Reborn!
Note: the review below contains **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on this book, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
New Super-Man #2
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Penciller: Viktor Bogdanovic
Inker: Richard Friend
Alex Lu: Last month, I praised New Super-Man #1 for its nuanced approach to Kenan Kong, a character type we rarely see in the protagonist role of a superhero comic. He’s brash, dumb, and more than just a bit of a jerk. He’s also Chinese– a rarity in the DC Universe. These character elements combined with the unique geographic and cultural setting of the series were encouraging signs to me that writer Gene Luen Yang and Viktor Bogdanovic were preparing to embark on a journey unlike any we’ve seen in DC comics before. Unfortunately, New Super-Man #2 stumbles by retracing old steps rather than continuing to break new ground.
This issue’s story focuses on Kenan’s adjustment to life in the Ministry of Self-Reliance as well as the sudden disappearance of his powers. Several times throughout the comic, lead Ministry researcher Dr. Omen emphasizes that they have done research on the American Justice League and aim to beat them at their own game. Kenan even takes a “crash course” about the League while he is grounded. However, for some reason, no one seems to realize that all Kenan needed to do to regain his powers was be exposed to sunlight. While I accept the idea that the characters in New Super-Man might not know about Superman’s relationship to yellow suns, readers certainly are familiar with the concept. That makes this issue of the New Super-Man feel worn, introducing readers to an old idea using a new coat of paint.
In some ways, Gene Luen Yang’s writing style is similar to Hope Larson’s, whose Batgirl #1 Kyle and I were divided on when we discussed it a couple of weeks ago. Both have written extensively for all-ages audiences and the trappings of that writing style shine through in their works. In the case of New Super-Man #2, Yang has a tendency to write for the younger set. Jokes like the Chinese Bat-Man always doing his homework because “Bat-Man is a nerd” are fitting to Kenan Kong’s character, but fall flat while read by an older audience member such as myself. It’s certainly a subjective thing, but the tone of New Super-Man strikes me as more adult than the tones of some of Yang’s previous work– something emphasized particularly by Kenan’s womanizing treatment of the Wonder Woman of China and Kenan’s father’s belief in a major government conspiracy. The tonal disconnect between these themes and his literary voice throw me off kilter in an uncomfortable way.
How did this issue fare for you, Kyle?
Kyle Pinion: The problem with this issue where I’m concerned is that I read it following the exhilarating Superwoman, and this issue felt a good deal more ordinary by comparison. I didn’t mind the tone so much, as I tend to think that you can still present complex concepts to a younger reader, like the idea of the political conspiracy and do it in a way that allows them to understand what that adds to the story (unless you’re George Lucas). And I thought his sort of bullying jokes at Bat-Man and Wonder Woman’s expense were actually fairly on point with the character. I mean, what we’re looking at is basically high school era Flash Thompson becoming a superhero at a point long before he ever matured. This is a good, intriguing concept, and when you combine that with Yang’s ability to world-build and an entire blank slate that is the DCU China, the possibilities are pretty endless for where this could go.
I think my disappointment likely stems from this being an issue that’s punctuated by fairly static action beats on both ends. We begin with a dull, and visually sterile battle between Kenan and his two future Justice League counterparts and then in the latter third, we hit a hum-drum face off between Kenan and the villain Sunbeam during a rescue attempt of Wei Li. It’s difficult to consider where the blame should be placed, is Bogdonovic less interested in action-storytelling than he is in developing the more personal bits, such as the scene between Kenan and his father? Or did he just not have very much to work with in Yang’s script?
I still found nice portions to glom onto in this comic. I loved the reference to the Great Ten, which I had been wondering what their status was. I like that Kenan is a continually developing presence, and regardless of his personal growth, he’s still capable of massive foibles (that last page was a nice kicker), and I think the growing rift between he and his father, which is headed towards a big reckoning of some sort, is a good place for Yang to hang his hat on. I think I just need a little more time to get an understanding of just who these new Justice Leaguers are that we’ve been introduced to, and what’s driven them into the costumed life, and I’d like to see the book double down on what it does best, it’s more quiet, contemplative moments vs. the need to be a typical superhero comic full of punching. It’s a tough balance, and I’m reminded of how some of the DCYou comics struggled with the same. Still if you liked the first issue, I don’t think there’s much that’s going to turn you off here, it’s a step down, but not enough to make it a deal breaker, especially if you’re as into Kenan as I am. It’s still better than Larson’s initial effort, that’s for sure.
Alex: Unlike you, I rather enjoyed Batgirl #1 and I think for me, New Super-Man is about on par with it now. Bogdanovic’s figure work are still one of the highlights of the book for me because his people have an almost elastic quality to them. When Kenan engages in fights, even ones as stilted as those presented in this issue, he stretches and twists his body in a fashion that subtly echoes Looney Toons cartoons. It’s obviously not the most realistic art style among the DC Rebirth line, but it does offer a lot more room for creative expression and fun visual moments.
I also really adore the costume designs that the creative team has come up with for all the metahumans in New Super-Man. Where the American Wonder Woman and Superman share a common patriotic color palette, the Chinese analogues are given more room to distinguish themselves. Bat-Man’s, Wonder Woman of China’s, and Super-Man’s costumes are each dominated by a bright singular color that helps them stand out against any background they’re placed against. Gold accents and black bands break up the solid colors and unite the heroes under a common motif. Even Sunbeam, this chapter’s main villain, gets a distinguished look that stands out in the brief scenes she appears in.
Indeed, I’m not ultimately turned off enough by New Super-Man #2 to pass on it, but I do understand more of the criticism that was levied at the first issue now. Yang and Bogdanovic have a great concept on their hands. All they need to do is use these new characters, locales, and entities to do something that doesn’t echo what we’ve seen in DC books set in the western world. I’m going to say buy, but I have much stronger reservations than I did last month. No matter what though, I fully recommend at least keeping this book on your pull list for another one or two issues to see where it goes. How about you, Kyle? Still on board?
Kyle: I think so. Look, I know Yang is an incredibly gifted storyteller, and on paper he’s probably the most talented comics creator in DC’s current line-up. But, I still think we’re in a bit of a transitional mode for both he and Larson, and some of their skills as YA-focused cartoonists haven’t quite translated into the world of Big Two/adventure-based comics. It’s strange, I find that a bizarre thing to say about a genre that’s built on the back on children’s interests, but there’s still a slight sense of awkwardness here. Though, I still firmly believe once this book hits its full-stride, it’ll be the perfect vehicle for Yang and his predilections in the medium. I’m still leaning buy, especially on the promise of that final page.
Final Verdict: Buy