T. Kyle King’s published work ranges from newspaper columns to film reviews and from short stories to law review articles. Most notably, he served as a site manager and staff writer at DawgSports.com, a daily weblog devoted to University of Georgia athletics, from 2006 to 2013, and he is the author of a book about the history of the college football rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers published by Clemson University Digital Press in 2013. Kyle is a lifelong comic book fan whose thoughts on comic books previously have appeared at ComicsVerse, Progressive Boink, and the Superman Homepage. Kyle is a Superman guy.
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New Super-Man #5 arrived on Wednesday, bringing readers the fifth chapter of Made in China by writer Gene Luen Yang and penciller Viktor Bogdanovic. Kenan Kong finds his loyalties tested in an intense issue, which ComiConverse contributor T. Kyle King is here to review.
New Super-Man #5 Review:
Just as the Justice League of China is beginning to come together as a team, the group’s headstrong young Super-Man questions whether he is fighting for the right side after a series of shocking revelations. Can Kenan determine the proper course in time to save the day?
(Substantial Spoilers Follow!)
New Super-Man #5 Synopsis:
After escaping from the Crab Shell, the previously imprisoned members of the Freedom Fighters of China unleash the ultimate weapon of the Ministry of Self-Reliance in Shanghai. Human Firecracker — who is actually Kenan’s uncle, Zhonglun Kong — assumes psychic control of innocent bystanders after taking them over as host bodies for the G.M.S.: Genetically Modified Starro. Meanwhile, at home, Kenan struggles to cope with the realization that his father, Zhongdan, is the Freedom Fighters’ Flying Dragon General.
Zhongdan explains how he, Zhonglun, and Kenan’s mother, Meitai Kuang, led a student movement for truth, justice, and democracy. Later in life, after they came to embody their ideals as superheroes, the Ministry of Self-Reliance had the Liberty Goddess — Kenan’s mother — killed. Super-Man joins the Freedom Fighters to aid his father and his uncle against the Justice League until Human Firecracker uses the G.M.S. to set Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman at one another’s throats. Zhonglun turns against his nephew, leaving him to drown in the Huangpu River, and Flying Dragon General is forced to make a choice.
New Super-Man #5 Analysis:
The graphic arts team of Bogdanovic, inker Richard Friend, colorist Hi-Fi, and letterer Dave Sharpe seems to get stronger with each issue in the series’ opening Made in China arc. The stories’ visual style shifts subtly as the needs of the plot dictate, and New Super-Man #5 is no exception. Flashbacks to the university days of Kenan’s parents and uncle, the exposure of Zhonglun’s gruesome true face as the G.M.S.’s parent host, and the panicked Super-Man’s horrified reaction to the prospect of drowning all call upon Bogdanovic and crew to flex fresh artistic muscles, which they continue to do with consistent skill.
Hi-Fi paints the past with muted earth tones. Friend frames Bogdanovic’s claustrophobically narrow panels with the literally inky blackness of the watery depths into which Kenan sinks in terrified surrender. Sharpe suggests not only outsized sound effects, but also vocal volume and strength, with such effectiveness that the reader has no trouble hearing New Super-Man #5 in his or her head. Because Made in China — Part Five contains more drama and less levity than previous issues, the graphics are given gravitas commensurate with the seriousness of the circumstances.
The imagery of New Super-Man #5 likewise is replete with homages. Kenan lifts a police car over his head in a nod to the oft-replicated cover of Action Comics #1. When Flying Dragon General appears at the Oriental Pearl Tower, he cradles his son’s limp form the way Superman held his cousin Kara on the Pietà-inspired cover of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7. Super-Man’s descent into the Huangpu River even carries overtones of Batman similarly sinking into Gotham River in The Court of Owls. Even the Starro-enslaved faces of the Justice League of China on the front of New Super-Man #5 call to mind the look of the cover of Justice League of America #190 some 35 years ago. For all the novelty implicit in the series’ title, Made in China — Part Five repeatedly invokes DC Comics’ lengthy history.
Yang’s writing, as always, is sophisticated, layered, and complex as the author explores the weighty themes of truth, justice, and democracy. There are no cookie-cutter characters or commonplace literary stereotypes populating Yang’s cast, as even those who initially appeared to be conventional one-dimensional tropes have emerged as more fully realized human beings operating from complicated motivations. Zhongdan Kong, who could have been nothing more nuanced than a standard-issue emotionally distant father, becomes a man of flesh and blood in this adventure, in which his illusory ignorant indifference is stripped away to show the principled and passionate activist his son never previously knew him to be.
Zhongdan twice faces the choice between his family and his ideals, once during his university days, then again at the Bund in Shanghai; both times, his brother rebukes him for choosing his child over China. In something of a role reversal from the familiar dynamic between the nonviolent Professor X and the militant Magneto, it is the bald psychic Zhonglun who proposes to fight fire with fire as Human Firecracker and the metal-helmeted Flying Dragon General who insists that the ends do not justify the means. Zhongdan debates Dr. Omen quite literally at daggers drawn as they — and, before them, August General in Iron — each articulate an ethos that forms a straight-faced basis for believing that he or she acts in the best interests of the country. Although Kenan gets top billing in New Super-Man #5, there ain’t no good guys, there ain’t no bad guys; there’s only he and she, and they just disagree.
As also is the norm, Yang seamlessly weaves elements of Chinese culture into his narrative, not as mere ornamental filigree, but as an integral story element. When Super-Man forcefully confronts his uncle in defense of his friends and brings down the wrath of the Freedom Fighters, his powers again fail him in the heat of battle. When he is revived at the Tower, Dr. Omen’s assistant, Mingming, theorizes that Kenan may not have acquired Kal-El’s physical abilities so much “as his qi — his life force — instead”.
By his own admission, Kenan lacks ideals, so he cannot comprehend Mingming’s contention that his metahuman abilities fail when his strong emotions allow them to escape and he therefore can retain his superpowers by aligning his intentions with the American Superman’s. Their brief conversation is the crux of the story, though. Made in China — Part Five is about balancing reason and emotion. After too long being governed by abstract ideas, Zhongdan learns to give in to his feelings, while his son still struggles to recognize that, being too driven by emotion, he needs to gain greater command of his visceral reactions in the heat of the moment.
As the story concludes, Flying Dragon General and Super-Man have achieved, if not quite an alliance, at least a rapprochement, but Kenan has crucial lessons yet to learn. The young hero must use his mind to control his emotions if he is to succeed in preventing Zhonglun from using his mind to control a planeload of G.M.S. hosts — including Baixi and Deilan — bound for the Zhongnanhai national government center in Beijing. Kenan Kong may not have mastery of subtle nuances and large ideas, but the series in which he stars most certainly does.
How fine did you find Made in China — Part Five?
Let us know what you thought of New Super-Man #5 by ComiConversing with us in the comments!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Source: DC Comics
Vivid artwork, convincing characterization, and thematic intricacies enriched this compelling superhero adventure and added to this series’ consistent excellence.