Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Review: New Superman #2

I'm catching up on some old news and that includes my review of New Superman #2 which came out last week. I must admit right up front that this issue inserted a plot device that I absolutely dislike in comics - powers that turn on and off randomly. Yeesh. Was this enough to make me waver on this title? Maybe ...

I was pretty impressed with writer Gene Luen Yang's first issue which walked the tightrope of having a bully protagonist with a tragic backstory acting as hero. While overall Kenan Kong seems like a jerk, that first issue showed he had some hero inside him.

New Superman #2 continues to introduce us to the character and his supporting cast while deepening the environment and background plots. Again Kenan is an immature, self-centered kid blessed with powers and maybe becoming a hero. And for now, that hook seems interesting enough to keep me around a little longer.

Viktor Bogdanovic is on art and brings a breezy, scratchy style which seems suited for this book which is a mix of political pot boiler and silly teen superhero hijinks.

Last issue ended with the arrival of the People's Republic's version of Batman and Wonder Woman arriving at Dr. Omen's lab to corral the newly powered Superman.

In the midst of the skirmish, suddenly, Kenan's power cut out.

Was this a temporary power boost to Kenan? Does he need to occasionally need to recharge in the machine? How does he access them? Having Kenan need to choose to repower himself might be a decent hook. But things get wonkier later.

I did like that this Batman seems to have the same sort of superiority complex as the regular Bats. Is there something about that moniker that makes people so haughty?

I do like that Yang comments on the Great Ten. China has a pre-existing and rather unique team in the DCU. Why does the Ministry of Self-Reliance think they need a Justice League?

I can't imagine we won't be getting some Great Ten in this book. I hope we get some commentary on the more classic sounding Ten to the American analogues in China.

Despite his immaturity and lack of powers, Omen wants to keep Kong there to 'train' him on how to be a hero. She applies a visor to Kenan that she can use to punish him if he doesn't stay on track. He will complete his 'homework' or he'll get zapped.

Homework? Negative reinforcement? Or brainwashing?

I do like how the visor hearkens back to the vision power glasses The Metropolis Kid wore in his solo title.

As I said in the last issue, Kenan's father being part of an underground group trying to investigate the Ministry of Self-Reliance is a great thread for me.

Here is Kenan, trying to discover himself, trying to be a hero and work for the Ministry all while his father is thinking it is corrupt and needs to be taken down.

And his father's obsession with this, to the point of not even noticing Kenan was gone overnight lends some heft to their personal relationship.

That is grist for the mill.

The League is sent to investigate a crime the Ministry has stumbled on. A supervillain named Sunbeam has broken into the house of Wei Li, the founder of Wei Data, a huge data consultant. Somehow, despite being powerless, Kenan talks his way into coming for the mission (he uses a rather implausible reason).

Batman and Wonder Woman rescue Li's daughter and stash her in the Batmobile with Kenan.

As I mentioned last issue, the emotional impact of Kenan losing his mother is a defining moment for the character. Like the death of Uncle Ben or the loss of the Waynes, I hoped Kenan will realize that his powers can be used to stop others from suffering like he did. Yang pulls that off here in the second issue.

Kenan sees the girl's mother threatened, sees that look on her face, and decides to intercede even though he has no powers. Now that is heroic ...

And magically his powers return.

And this is the trope I dislike, the dreaded on again/off again powers plotline I have read in Supergirl and with Mon-El, never in a way that I find satisfactory. We never see the powers go off when they are flying, or hoisting an impossible weight, or under fire. While supposedly random, the switch fits the story too easily.

Maybe if we get an explanation here I'll like it more.

But I sometimes leave books because of this.

Luckily, Yang recovers nicely.

The press and police arrive to the scene to cover the battle. And Kenan unmasks himself to the world. It reminded me of the end of the first Iron Man movie. Smarmy, conceited super-powered person decides to ride the wave a bit. How will this effect Kenan and his father? This is a good cliffhanger for me because I am already thinking about the fallout.

So Yang has me for another issue. This book has been more enjoyable than I anticipated. It straddles pained teenage hero with silly fun with political intrigue ... not an easy brew. And I sense a bit of the Reign of the Supermen Superboy in Kenan and that isn't a bad thing.

Overall grade: B


Anonymous said...

This book has surprised me (in a good way) as well.

Also, did we ever find out if the Great Ten caught Dr. Omen's first experimental "Super-Man"? (IIRC, New-52 Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman had to leave China if they didn't want to cause an international incident.)

Unknown said...

Hey glad you're enjoying the book, but I'm surprised you wrote off the fact that Kenan's powers came back when he was hit by the villain SUNbeam SOLAR powers. I think Yang does a pretty good job at spelling out that Kenan got recharged by that blast. It wasn't really random.

I'm thinking his powers may work similar to Apollo of The Authority where he needs to recharge more regularly. After all he did get his powers from the solar flare power.

Maybe as time goes on he'll be able to stockpile more energy and use it to greater effects, but till then it might be really interesting seeing him have to think smarter in power application. It actually reminds me of the superhero manga My Hero Academia. There the main character is limited by the amount of power he can output, because too much will result in broken bones for him.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments.

Anon - we never did find out what happened to that first guy!

Godfrey - Thanks for pointing that out. I think I am so soured by the on again/off again powers that I missed something that obvious.

Thanks for the explanation!