New Super-Man #14 By Gene Luen Yang, Billy Tan, and Hi-Fi
Plot
Characterization
Art
Summary
Writer Gene Luen Yang tells yet another delightful story, bringing Kong Kenan to a place of newfound confidence and heroism.
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New Super-Man Takes Flight
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NEW SUPER-MAN holds a fascinating place in the DC Rebirth pantheon. It’s one of many spin-offs of the main SUPERMAN title, but it’s the only one to take place in a foreign country. It also doesn’t feature any of the original SUPERMAN characters, except in guest appearances. Instead, it features an entirely original roster, led by Kong Kenan as the new Super-Man. Writer Gene Luen Yang has achieved something remarkable with this title. He’s reinvented the Superman concept by honoring the values of the original character and translating them through traditional Chinese symbols and stories.

NEW SUPER-MAN #14
Courtesy of DC Comics

Among the DC Rebirth lineup, NEW SUPER-MAN is one of the few titles to hold strong through 14 issues. Every issue has been utterly compelling, each one bringing Kenan closer to transforming into a true Man of Steel. NEW SUPER-MAN #14 marks the most important step so far in that journey. It brings Kenan firmly into the role of team leader as he finally comes face to face with the cloned Emperor Super-Man. The issue also marks a satisfying resolution in the budding romance between Baixi and Deilan, the Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman of China. NEW SUPER-MAN #14 winds up being a tent-pole issue in the series. It completes several important story threads while setting up a new trajectory for its characters.

NEW SUPER-MAN #14 finds Kong, Baixi, Deilan, and old mentor I-Ching fighting against Emperor Super-Man’s army of villains. The self-proclaimed Emperor calls the shots from the top of Shanghai tower, which he’s converted into his own “Fortress of Sovereignty.” The fortress holds many hostages prisoner, including Kong’s resurrected father, and Dr. Omen, who just proclaimed herself Kong’s real mother. The conflicted Kong struggles with this new knowledge as he nevertheless hastens to rescue his parents. All the while he copes with his new role as team-leader, a role which seems to suit him quite well. It enables him to realize how much he truly cares for those around him. This realization moves his Chi from a self-centered focus to one that embraces others before himself.

READ: Catch up with Kong Kenan’s American counterpart with our review of SUPERMAN #28!

Kong’s story has been remarkably nuanced and engaging. The excellent sub-plots — particularly those dealing with Bat-Man, Wonder-Woman, and Kong’s parents — often are so engaging that it’s easy to forget this comic is, in fact, another version of the Superman origin story. Where Clark Kent learned how to be Superman with the homegrown moral guidance of Pa and Ma Kent, Kong Kenan has been learning to develop himself internally with the ancient wisdom of I-Ching. This is where Yang employs Chinese tradition. He describes in delightful detail how Kong gets in touch with Superman’s original powers by accessing his Chi. Over the course of the past few issues, Kong has accessed many of his abilities by opening himself up to others. Kong began the series as a selfish bully, but I-Ching has helped to chip away the layers of self-obsession.

Kong’s confrontation with the Emperor, who’s in fact just a hyper-powered Superman clone, in essence, allows Kong to confront the worst aspects of himself. Emperor Super-Man is a being of pure order and power, believing humanity to bring nothing but weakness. But the Emperor’s lack of empathy is exactly what allows Kong to finally realize how important his friends are. Dr. Omen, I-Ching, Baixi and Deilan have all led Kong to finally embrace his role as a leader, caring more for others than he does himself. Kong channels this realization into his Chi and finally accesses his heat vision, dispatching Emperor Super-Man. It’s an important step for Kong, who in the transition from teammate to leader, has finally become a true Superman.

NEW SUPER-MAN #14
Courtesy of DC Comics

Meanwhile, Yang gives Deilan and Baixi a lovely little romantic subplot. After many issues of ongoing flirtation, a monkey wrench was thrown in when Yang revealed Deilan originated from the animal realm. Again taking inspiration from classic Chinese folklore, Yang described how Deilan was a snake who desired a human boy and therefore harnessed her Chi to become a human girl. Deilan reverted to her true snake form in issue #11. But in NEW SUPER-MAN #14, Baixi and Deilan’s feelings come to the forefront. The two share a kiss, which allows Deilan to transform once again into a human. Yang really excels with this kind of storytelling, offering us another example of traditional Western story techniques combined with Chinese mythology. The combination of the two grants Yang a unique perspective as a writer, and helps NEW SUPER-MAN feel consistently fresh and inventive, even as it cleverly reuses familiar material.

I-Ching holds a similar position in NEW SUPER-MAN #14. I-Ching mentors Kong, while his twin brother I-Chang mentors the Emperor Super-Man. They are identical but for one difference: I-Ching wears sunglasses, and I-Chang wears white spectacles. The twin brothers are a quite literal representation of Yin and Yang — but with a twist. I-Ching, as Yin, or the moon, is the good guy. I-Chang, as Yang or the sun, is the bad guy. I-Chang is obsessed with power, using Emperor Super-Man as his agent to consume Shanghai. I-Ching, operating from the shadows, guides Kong without ego or any particular plan, other than helping Kong find himself. It’s a classic Western model — master and apprentice, practicing ancient traditions of light and dark. It’s Jedi vs. Sith, retold with a distinctive Chinese flavor.

READ: Superboy has taken center stage in DC Rebirth. Read all about the journey of Jon Kent in our analysis, SUPERMAN: The Rise of Superboy!

With all these distinctive plot threads criss-crossing, the only major loss is Emperor Super-Man. He’s never allowed any real character development. It’s a bit odd, considering the Superman clone was introduced way back in “The Final Days of Superman.” This suggested his character was going to be of some import. But his ultimate use is to serve as I-Chang’s muscle, with little presence of his own. He’s taken out of the picture fairly quickly, paving the way for an odd plot twist — the arrival of the Suicide Squad.

They appear in NEW SUPER-MAN #14 quite suddenly, and I’m not sure their inclusion makes a whole lot of sense. Harley Quinn, Deadshot, and Killer Croc don’t really jive with the world Yang has established. I’m concerned they might pop the insular bubble Yang has blown over comic book Shanghai. Still, Yang hasn’t let us down yet, so it’s worth giving this crossover a chance.

Artist Billy Tan is on his usual fine form, drawing the characters with energetic verve. The combination of Tan’s pencils and Hi-Fi’s dizzying colors create the illusion of fluid motion during action scenes. Much like Yang, Tan’s style is a combination of both Eastern and Western influences. The page layouts and slam-bang action style are very much in the American comic book style, but the facial expressions and body gestures take after Manga and Anime. Hi-Fi’s colors pop off the page, helping distinguish the various characters through a variety of costume color combinations. Taken together, the artwork of NEW SUPER-MAN #14 reflects the writing perfectly. Both the writing and artwork use a fusion of Eastern and Western influences to refine a distinctive comic book flavor.

New Super-Man #14: Final Verdict

NEW SUPER-MAN #14 brings a satisfying conclusion to “The Zero Ultimatum” storyline. Moreover, it completes a major cycle in Kong’s growth from zero to hero. I’m sure he still has a lot of growing left to do, but this issue gives the feeling that Kong has reached a major turning point on his journey. He is now ready to lead the Justice League of China. With Kong’s journey entering its next phase, and Baixi and Deilan finally a romantic item, it’s time for Yang to turn to the remaining unresolved plot threads: Kong’s confrontation with his parents, and I-Ching’s battle with I-Chang. If the series thus far has been any indication, Yang is sure to deliver a tale that’s traditional yet entirely fresh.

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2 Comments

  1. Abhilasha Sharma

    August 11, 2017 at 3:19 am

    Nice info thanks for sharing with us.

    Reply

  2. Himani Sharma

    August 11, 2017 at 3:00 am

    Awesome and much useful information. Nice and detailed explanation.
    Thanks for sharing this excellent info and tweeted 🙂

    Reply

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