On a podcast a couple of months ago we were talking about DC Comics Rebirth event and conversation veered to New Super-Man, a new series written by Gene Luen Yang with art by Viktor Bogdanovic. The premise of the book is that the Chinese government is building its own Justice League by creating heroes based on members of the original league. I was curious if, instead of creating something entirely different, modifying existing intellectual properties was a more effective way to successfully diversify the characters that live in mainstream superhero comic books. I thought some might perceive the approach as unoriginal, while others might view it as an effective bridge to new characters.
It seems my original question was ill-conceived: the issue of diversity in mainstream comic book characters is probably better correlated to a question about the diversity of the people who are writing those stories. It's actually a really important question without a simple answer, and it’s not something I planned on solving today… maybe tomorrow. But the second issue of New Super-Man was released last week, and it built on a very strong first book while reinforcing the notion that good storytelling is what wins out in the end. I don’t know how successful the book was from a sales perspective – turns out you need to do more than Google “sales for New Super-Man” to find this information – but I really hope it’s doing well.
The story follows Kong Kenan, a teenager whose mother died young and he now lives in Shanghai with his father, a mechanic. The father is more interested in uncovering government conspiracies with his “writers’ group” than anything happening in his son’s life, and when we meet Kenan we immediately see some of the flaws in his character that stem from a less-than-stellar parental situation. The first issue introduces us to the man who would become Super-Man as he’s bullying another kid, beating him up and taking his lunch; Yang has since explained that he made Kenan an overconfident bully as an homage to the original Superman stories. Turns out that before he was a bastion of truth, justice, and the American way, Superman was kind of a jerk. Misplaced aggression and a lost sense of self also give the New Super-Man lots of room to grow.
There are a lot of parallels between the new and old Super-guys: aside from the alliterative name there are similar (if so far unreliable) powers, there’s a reporter that to this point is involved in a very one-sided love story for Kenan, there’s even a Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman of China. But the characters in this book aren’t carbon copies; they are based on templates and given new life by an author with his own unique “origin story.” The benefits of diversity in comics (opportunity, representation, perspective, etc.) feed the pool of great stories to choose from, and New Super-Man is a mainstream book that reflects that. The art from Bogdanovic is pitch perfect, and I look forward to future issues, more characters, and the expansion of Kong Kenan's world.