This is my second “Super For The Soul” post, and my first official post not about ‘what it is.’ I haven’t really nailed down the format yet, and still playing around with what this will actually end up being even after having written a statement about ‘what it is.’
What is “Super For The Soul?”
The New Super-Man #1
Publisher: DC Comics (Rebirth initiative)
Release Date: July 13, 2016 (On my birthday!)
Written by Gene Luen Yang
Pencils by Viktor Bogdanovic
“MADE IN CHINA” Chapter One: An impulsive act of heroism thrusts an arrogant young man into the limelight of Shanghai as China begins to form its own Justice League of powerful heroes. Rising from the ashes of The Final Days of Superman, award-winning writer Gene Luen Yang and on-the-rise art star Victor Bogdanovic introduce readers to Kong Kenan—the New Super-Man! When the world needed a new hero, China made him!
There is so much that can be discussed about and explored about this book in general. like the cultural, societal, racial, political, and global contexts, and their implications in real life and within the DC Universe. What does it mean to be a hero in China? How does China view Superman? Is he their hero too? Does that effect China’s views on this New Super-Man? All these questions, but alas, that’s not the focus of this post.
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
In the DC Universe, China seeks to emulate this American and International iconic legend, Superman. Superman is a universal symbol of who and what humanity aspires to be. Truth and Justice. China is inspired to make a Super-Man of their own. As well as the entire Justice League as it appears by the end.
Traditionally when we think of super heroes, we may think of the iconic and idealistic ones like Superman, who stand for truth and justice. He’s someone we admire for his love and belief in humanity, for being brave, selfless and always making hard decisions to do the right thing. What we do not often think of is a bad role model who then becomes a super hero. In modern comics, super heroes are a lot more complicated, very much like real people, with real problems and flaws. Today we can see examples of flawed super heroes everywhere. Some will say that they are more relatable than the classic super heroes like Superman who are inhumanly perfect, infallible or even godlike. The argument for Superman is that he represents an ideal that all people can relate to having aspirations to be more like. He IS the good we all hope to stand for and a beacon of hope for humanity. Versus other more modern heroes who make mistakes, fails and are less than perfect, but go through trials and eventually prevail. Some will argue that the relatability of a flawed super hero who struggles as we do helps us to see ourselves prevailing in our own trials in life. I believe both are valid and there is room for both. Though I’d be curious to know whether there’s a study to determine which is more effective in inspiring people to greatness: an ideal or an example of overcoming adversity.
In the case of The New Super-Man, we are presented with the latter, modern type of super hero. For those who dislike Superman for his boring boy scout persona, here’s the New Super-Man for you. The protagonist Kong Kenan (The last name is often said first in Chinese) is far from an ideal. Sure it’s an origin story, but he’s also not your stereotypical male power fantasy protagonist, like Peter Parker, a scrawny nerd who becomes Spider-Man or Clark Kent who is portrayed as a mild-mannered clumsy geeky guy who is actually an incredibly powerful alien who happens to look like a perfect male specimen.
Ironically, unlike the stereotypical male power fantasy in which a geeky weaker guy is empowered and fights back against the bully, Kenan Kong in this introduction is portrayed more like the stereotypical insecure jock who would typically be cast as the antagonist to the nerdy good-hearted guy. Kenan is the bully. He is also an opportunist and braggart.
These are all traits people don’t normally look highly upon, but he is the protagonist. And like most modern comic protagonists, he is flawed. He has hardships of his own, one of which I imagine will be to overcome his ‘bad’ character. Though that doesn’t really make him relatable or the reader sympathetic to him. In a way, he is his own antagonist. What I find wonderful about this is that inspiration isn’t only for ‘good’ people who have hardships to overcome. ‘Bad’ people can also be inspired to be “good.” I don’t like using such black and white labels, as I believe no one is truly good or bad to any extreme. We all have good and bad in each of us, but they come in different forms. So though Kenan is ‘bad’ because he’s a bully and stuff, we later discover that he’s also a good-hearted person who loved his mother who tragically died in a plane crash. This is where we begin to see Kenan in a more relatable light. His mother’s death, and his relationship with his father are part of the hardships of life he must overcome. The pain of his mother’s death also slightly explains his behavior with Luo Lixin, the geeky guy in the beginning Kenan bullies as a misdirect to the reader. Lixin’s father also owns the airplane company of the plane his mother died in.
In the comic, Kenan has a vision, like the dreams he’s had so often, of seeing his mother’s plane fail and begin to fall out of the sky. There is a clue in the comic that it’s possible Superman may have been involved with this incident also. In this vision, unlike his dreams, he has become Superman. He can fly and desperately attempts to save his mother. It’s reminiscent of how we’ve all at one point or another looked back at a tragedy or any incident wishing we could’ve been able to do more to make a difference. It’s a tenant of fantasy. The power fantasy. Being able to be the hero!
All of a sudden, this bully, this “bad” person seems more relatable.
Obviously this provides the character a LOT of room to grow into the hero we assume he will become. His journey to learn what it means to be a hero, or villain will be ours, the reader’s too. It’s possible he could become the villain in his own book. He could be an anti-hero which is always a popular character type. Seeing as he’s gotten a taste of heroism and fame, depending on various factors including which provided a bigger high, he could go either way. Both can be very addictive. Will he be addicted to fame or inspired to heroism? Can people really change? Perhaps that will also be part of his journey, to discover the humble charm of idealistic super heroes such as Superman.
When Kenan says “Dad you just don’t get it, I could have died today.” This moment shows us that the heroism and fame didn’t completely get to his head. He wasn’t necessarily bragging to his father about what happened, but perhaps he thought he’d be proud that his son selflessly risked his own life to save another’s. But his father was a bit cold, but perhaps it’s to show Kenan’s desire to accepted by his father, which would be tragic if his father dies. I wouldn’t be surprised if his death is a triggering event for Kenan’s turn to becoming a hero at some point. Or, more tragically, Kenan is the cause of his father’s death. Or maybe it’s not, and is the opposite.
Perhaps a look at Clark Kent’s life would be an indication of where Kenan is headed? In a way Kenan Kong and Clark Kent are parallels to eachother. Both of their first and last names begin with similar sounds.
Here’s a great interview with Gene Luen Yang who talks about coming up with The New Super-Man’s name: Kenan Kong. Aparently the ‘Ke’ in Kenan means ‘to overcome!’ How appropriate!
Clark was inspired by his upbringing, his parents, but specifically his father instilled in Clark everything he stands for. Kenan’s father, the writer and conspiracy theorist, is very passionate about “Truth, justice and democracy.”
His father seems to embody the ideals of a classic hero. He says “Some things are more important than any one individual.” A lesson Kenan may tragically learn later I suspect. Clark has Lois Lane, a reporter, and Kenan in this issue meets Laney Lan, also a reporter with L.L. initials and similar sound. Both Clark and Kenan have lost a beloved parent, Clark his father, and Kenan, his mother, who were huge parts of their lives and integral to who they are and will become. I may be assuming a bit with Kenan, as I have yet to read anything that describes Kenan’s relationship with his mother, but I can tell he REALLY loved her, and was probably closer to her than his to his father. Clark eventually grew into a man who inspired a whole generation of people and beyond.
Superman can now more realistically be an inspiration to Kenan because he can actually BE like Superman. He also has a similar name and emblem, which would hold him to Superman’s legacy in one way or another. Will he succeed? Will he fail? And how? That’s the exciting part about this book.
In the current DC Universe, Superman has died.* And just as in life, there will always be someone to take the place of fallen heroes, because hope and inspiration are real in this world. This New Super-Man could continue in Superman’s tradition, and be a new inspiration, and a new hope for many in general, including myself and Asians everywhere.
Perhaps if you do not appreciate Superman, you would appreciate this New Super-Man who could grow into, who and what, Superman is and represents. Maybe you’ll even learn appreciate Superman more.
*FYI: The Superman who died was the New 52 Superman, a re-imagining of Superman that embodied more of the ideas of the modern super hero. Shortly after another Superman, the one the world is more familiar with (from pre-New 52 and pre-Flashpoint DC Universe continuity) mysteriously appeared. Yay, Superman is back!