Monday, November 14, 2016
New Super-Man #5 Review and **SPOILERS**
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Pencils: Viktor Bogdanovic
Inks: Richard Friend
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Viktor Bogdanovich and Hi-Fi
Cover Price: $2.99
On Sale Date: November 9, 2016
**NON SPOILERS AND SCORE AT THE BOTTOM**
Something I should probably not disclose at the beginning of a review for New Super-Man is that I love Charlie Chan movies. They used to come on at midnight on Long Island’s channel 55—alternating each week with Mr. Moto movies, which I did not like as much. Of course, I thought the racist stereotypes were uproarious, but not because they sought to denigrate Chinese people, but because the producers (and creator of the character, Earl Der Biggers) were trying to portray Chinese culture earnestly. It was so off the mark, yet almost reverent in its unassuming idiocy. To make matters more ridiculous, Charlie Chan often played against actual Asian actors—all of his sons, for instance—only driving the point home that the part did not need to be played by a jowly Sidney Toler. And, of course, let us not forget Mr. Chan’s valet, Mantan “Birmingham” Moreland, who did play a very extreme racist caricature and the less said about that, the better. Luckily, Charlie Chan movies didn’t inform my worldview, and so I am still in a good position to review New Super-Man #5, which will happen right now!
There comes a time in every young boy’s life when he must face his father—not as an authority figure, but as his super-powered arch enemy. So it is with Kenan Kong, the New Super-Man, confronting his estranged father in his kitchen after learning that he is Flying Dragon General, one of the enemies of sanctioned Chinese superheroes. Kenan’s dad Zhongdan tells him a story, how he became Flying Dragon General: when he was young, his brother Zhonglun was anti-government, but Zhongdan was brought in to the resistance for the love of a pretty girl named Meitai. Which actually puts some historical coups in perspective. How many monarchs and leaders have been deposed just in order to impress some chick? Zhongdan throws himself into the cause, receiving some lumps during a particularly violent protest for him, since everyone else ran away. Meitai visits him in the hospital and kisses Zhongdan, forever stunting his understanding of sexuality and love. Meitai winds up pregnant and they leave the resistance. But Meitai cannot give up her ideals, and after seeing Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman on television one day, decides that it isn’t enough to fight for what you believe, you must become it. For instance, Meitai clearly believed she was one of David Bowie’s discarded personalities from the mid-1970s, so she dresses up like a thrift store Statue of Liberty and calls herself the Liberty Goddess.
Two months later, she was killed in a plane crash that was staged to look accidental. This has long seemed to me the most wasteful of assassination plots, I mean not only do you lose the plane, but there’s the collateral damage of all the other innocent passengers. I think the only way to economize this is to arrange for all of your enemies to be on the same plane, maybe for a fake vacation offer or as part of a fabricated reality show. One Meitai died, Zhongdan figured the best way to honor her would be to dress up like a bunch of stunt doubles from the Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai and wage a war for democracy and justice! That’s when Kenan’s dad drops the bombshell: the people that killed his mother were the Ministry of Self-Reliance, the very organization for which Super-Man works! His dad’s crew, the Freedom Fighters of China, are down by the Bund, a tourist area in Shanghai, launching cloned Starros at people and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Now, Kenan must choose between fighting for freedom with his father or being a literal government stooge for that mean lady and hang out with those two jerks that don’t even like it. It’s pretty much a no-brainer, particularly because Zhongdan has a real flying metal dragon, per his Flying Dragon General name.
Down at the Bund, Kenan jumps right in the mayhem, even hurling a police car overhead akin to the cover of Action Comics #1. He tells the police to scram, though, so as not to hurt anyone. Zhongdan meets his brother, Zhonglun, after many long years (turns out he contacted his bro a little while ago to get the band back together) and now, with Super-Man, they are ready to enact their plot: drive a plane full of Starro-controlled passengers into the heart of Zhongnanhai! Which is like a government center, incidentally. Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman show up and are quickly Starroed, and just when Kenan finds his cojones to stand up to this maniac, he loses his powers and his shot into the ocean, his hands tied by some weird energy thing. Kenan drowns, but then we cut to the Oriental Pearl Tower, where the Ministry of Self-Reliance set up shop, and Zhongdan is holding Kenan’s prone form in his arms, begging them to save his life!
They throw him on a table and zap him with yellow sun energy, but it doesn’t bring back Kenan’s powers. That’s when Mingming surmises that his powers might not be effected by solar energy, but by his life force—that by learning Tai Chi, he can focus his “wind” to become “breath” and thereby become indestructible again. I don’t know about Kenan, but you don’t want to be in the same room with me whether I’m expelling wind or breath. They table this discussion for the moment because an airliner full of mind-controlled passengers is on its way to a collision course with Zhongnanhai. Mingming shoots Flying Dragon General with a compliance bomb (it’s sort of her thing), then father and son are off—but now to stop the Freedom Fighters of China!
This book is the surprise hit of Rebirth, and it clearly has nothing to do with direct legacy. What it does have is the quips, the characterization, and the over-the-top action that makes comic book reading so much fun. I love Kenan Kong, not despite but because he is an incredible dork. And his problems are very much problems facing any teenager, combined with the larger problems of being a superhero and having to face off against his dad and uncle. I also can’t help but say I do enjoy the peek into Chinese culture. This is far from a travelogue or a hard examination of China, but even small things like Kenan sharing tea with his father or the nature of political resistance in that country—something I’d been raised to believe was absolutely impossible—says a lot and gives me some inkling that perhaps China is not the interminably oppressive place I’d been made to believe it was. No big shocker, the art by Viktor Bogdanovich is great. And the coloring is so lively in this book. It’s just a good time for the low price of three bucks.
Bits and Pieces:
There's a lesson about the Kong family's past, but really this issue is fun romp with Kenan acting his usual goofy but kind-hearted self. Plus we learn something that implies Super-Man's powers are different Superman's. See what I did there? For want of a hyphen, the horse was lost. Think about it, kids. I know I haven't.