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 #8 wrapped up a busy Wednesday for the Superbooks with Training Day: Part Two. Writer Gene Luen Yang once again teamed up with penciller Billy Tan for an issue combining inner awareness with outward action. ComiConverse contributor T. Kyle King is here to review the eye-opening installment.
(Warning: Major spoilers follow!)
New Super-Man #8 Review:
Training Day: Part Two is about imposters, both real and imagined. Feng Rongpei denounces Wang Baixi’s claim to the Bat-Man’s cowl. An anti-establishment graffiti artist hides behind the mask of Alpaca to challenge China’s status quo. A would-be Super-Man questions Kong Kenan’s worthiness to wear the “S” on his chest… and Kenan entertains those same doubts about himself. Will the true progenitor of superheroes in Zhonggou finally stand revealed?
New Super-Man #8 Synopsis:
Baixi struggles to overcome Rongpei at the Academy of the Bat, where the Gotham Arena conspires against the incumbent Bat-Man. When Peng Deilan discovers Alpaca’s interference with the combat conditions in the server room, Wonder-Woman unmasks the anarchist and learns the culprit is Baixi’s younger sister, Wang Jiali. The level playing field in the Arena is restored, allowing Bat-Man to triumph. Feng foolishly threatens the life of the schoolmaster if Wang does not surrender the cowl. Although Bat-Man outsmarts his arrogant adversary, he is unable to take his wily sibling into custody.
Master I-Ching continues to toy with the blindfolded Kenan, scoring strikes against his prospective student at will. Gradually, the teacher coaches his would-be apprentice to listen. This unlocks the teen’s super-hearing, which nearly overwhelms him until he picks out sounds of impending danger and rushes to the rescue. Kenan concludes he is unfit to serve as Super-Man until I-Ching shows him the path that is hidden in plain view. At the Crab Shell, the incarcerated “Super-Man Zero” — last seen in the final days prior to Rebirth — receives an unexpected visit from Ching Lung, without whom “there would be no superheroes at all.”
New Super-Man #8 Analysis:
Every appealing aspect of this story arc’s initial issue is carried over into Training Day: Part Two. Tan’s pencils and Haining’s inks, while stylistically different from the work of cover artist Viktor Bogdanovic, combine to exhibit a subtle expressive refinement that still effectively portrays the additional action appearing in New Super-Man #8. The sequence showing Kenan’s swift transition from pained to protective is particularly strong. Colorist Gadson’s shifting shades imbue the scenes with mood like the lighting in a stage play, while Yang’s pacing and plotting continue to be as impressive as ever. The writer likewise retains his ear for dialogue, offering such great lines as: “You flew into the sky like a bird. Like a plane.”
That sort of consistent excellence has been a hallmark of this series from the beginning, of course. What sets the most recent issue apart are Master I-Ching’s revelation to Kenan and New Super-Man #8’s cliffhanger conclusion, which recreates the cover image from March 1937’s Detective Comics #1. This closing callback is both sublime and shocking. In one sense, it is perfect, as considerable credence is given to Ching Lung’s claim that “I am the very beginning” by the fact that he antedates the earliest caped superheroes, appeared in the debut issue of the publication that gave DC Comics its name, and was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The move is also daring, due to the villain’s undeniable status as a horribly outdated and offensive racist stereotype. It is to Yang’s enormous credit that he is willing to revisit the worst of DC Comics’ past in tandem with its best, in order to confront, and to come to terms with, regrettable realities that require acknowledgment before they can be overcome.
Ching Lung underscores the challenge of proper deference to one’s elders. Super-Man Zero needs prompting to admit that, when he first saw the New 52 Last Son of Krypton, he felt contempt. Jiali is distinctly disrespectful to her older brother, but she clashes with Baixi over her noble belief in freedom. Rongpei’s defeat does not become his doom until he takes his teacher hostage, whereas Kenan fails to demonstrate his suitability as a student until he finally pays heed to I-Ching’s wisdom. When the New Super-Man at long last listens — in a gorgeous series of panels in which his qi may be seen moving from his fists to his ears — the door has been opened for the master to tutor the pupil, both inside and outside the comic. Here, New Super-Man #8 — a book in which even the issue number on the cover is significant — packs more meaning into that lone integer than any superhero story since Grant Morrison’s Pax Americana.
I-Ching — who, tellingly, challenged the impetuous teen to land one blow before he could land eight — educates Kenan in the significance of the trigrams. When they are arranged into an octagon, they form the eight-part bagua seen surrounding Super-Man at the height of his heroism. The flow of the youth’s life force began in the belly before moving first to his fists, then on to his ears. Along the way, Kong experienced the awakening of his invulnerability, his super-strength, and his super-hearing, respectively. The course Kenan’s qi has taken around the octagon enables Master I-Ching to chart the rest of the hero’s eightfold path… which, elegantly, traces the selfsame “S”-inside-a-stop-sign that appears on the Shanghai Super-Man’s chest. In Yang’s quest to determine whether a truly Chinese superhero is an oxymoron, such wonderful symmetries as this one from New Super-Man #8 offer additional and inspirational evidence that the heart of a hero still beats true in any country and in every culture.
Were you a worthy student of Training Day: Part Two, or were you knocked out by the master’s eighth strike?
Follow the path of your qi into the comments and ComiConverse about New Super-Man #8!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Source: DC Comics