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 #9 began a new story arc for Kong Kenan, as the superpowered Shanghai teen accompanied Lex Luthor to Metropolis. Penciller Viktor Bogdanovic rejoined writer Gene Luen Yang for Coming to America — Part One. ComiConverse contributor T. Kyle King examines the latest installment in the consistently engaging series.
New Super-Man #9 Review:
Kenan is working to learn both the path charted for him by Master I-Ching and the truth about his mother’s apparent murder, so this is not an opportune time for him to visit the United States. When Dr. Omen forces him to accept Luthor’s invitation, will both of their ulterior motives blow up in the Chinese Super-Man’s face?
(Warning: Some spoilers follow!)
New Super-Man #9 Synopsis:
Luthor pays a visit to Oriental Pearl Tower to ask if Kong will accompany him to America to address a “situation” that has arisen at LexCorp. Hoping to establish a relationship with the Metropolis-based conglomerate, Dr. Omen insists that Kenan agree. Master I-Ching tags along as interpreter, while Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman remain in China to fight crime and continue investigating the fate of their teammate’s family. Aided by Wang Baixi’s Robinbot, they make an illuminating discovery about Dr. Omen’s secret laboratory in the Shanxi Province.
Upon arriving in Metropolis, Luthor takes his visitors to his company’s research and development facility, LexPark. There, he reveals that a Mandarin-speaking speedster has been spying on him, then Lex shows Kong and I-Ching two ancient artifacts he has acquired. These relics are door rings depicting the heads of an ox and a horse, respectively, which will open a portal to another dimension. Against his mentor’s advice, Super-Man pulls the doors open, unleashing both solar energy and demonic interlopers. This brings the China White Triad onto the scene… as well as another superpower adventurer.
New Super-Man #9 Analysis:
Although the variant look of the Training Day two-parter made for a nice change of pace, it was great to see Bogdanovic back handling the interior artwork for Coming to America — Part One. The highly stylized visual signature embodied in the exaggerated but not cartoonish expressiveness of Bogdanovic’s imagery is among this series’ defining characteristics. The artist’s uncommon combination of graceful fluidity, nuanced intricacy, and kinetic power is on full display in New Super-Man #9, from the front cover to the final cliffhanger. This issue involves more familiar features from the established DC Universe, yet Bogdanovic manages to give his graphics a unique individuality even when evoking earlier artists’ work. The double-page spread of Kenan’s arrival in America reimagines Tim Sale’s Metropolis skyline; the skeletal Superman emerging from the portal and the narrow panels alternating from Kong’s left eye to the harbinger of the arriving Triad both could have come straight out of a John Byrne comic book; Bogdanovic nevertheless makes them all distinctly his own.
Yang’s storytelling likewise remains as refined as his illustrator’s. After a rapid and naturalistic recap tracking the status of the hero’s trek around the trigrams, the writer unapologetically dives directly into Coming to America, swiftly establishing the premise and quickly getting Kong and Luthor underway. The story moves at a brisk pace without ever seeming rushed, but Yang still takes the time to include such terrific touches as Kenan’s desire for a Big Belly Burger and Bat-Man’s devising of an animatronic sidekick. New Super-Man #9 also incorporates elements from Chinese folklore in the usual unforced organic manner; Luthor’s purloined door rings depict Ox-Head and Horse-Face, offering an initial hint that Lex’s portal is actually the gateway to Diyu, the Chinese Hell. As always, Yang seamlessly weaves Asian myths and legends into American superhero comics to produce a precise fit. The author is equally adept at integrating such ancillary characters as Snakepit and Strato the Cloud-Man in useful and coherent ways.
The central theme of New Super-Man #9 is deception. This recurring motif manifests itself in a myriad of ways, oftentimes in a manner that is revealing or amusing instead of sinister. Master I-Ching deliberately mistranslates Luthor’s and Kong’s conversational exchanges, substituting what should have been said rather than what actually was spoken. Kenan’s mentor later extends an unexpected offer of help to his pupil, whom he aids only to teach the lad a lesson he refuses to learn otherwise. Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman are investigating in secret, Dr. Omen and China White are acting from hidden motivations, and Lex, of course, cannot be trusted: Luthor lies about everything, from his mastery of Mandarin and his acquisition of the artifacts to what lurks behind the portal door and why the Triad is looking in on his nefarious activities.
In the midst of this, Kenan is trying both to know the truth and to be true, but he struggles to make a sincere commitment and follow through with honest effort. Coming to America — Part One begins with Kong stating his goal “to become a true New Super-Man”… yet he pretends to speak English, he skips morning meditation to sleep in, and a single “Ahem” from a glowering Dr. Omen is enough to make him capitulate immediately after vowing that “I won’t” leave Shanghai until he has exposed what really happened to his mother. Once in Metropolis, Kenan allows Luthor to woo him, accepting the tycoon’s simplistic flattery while ignoring the shrewd I-Ching’s skeptical questioning. The Shanghai teen chooses the path of least resistance, confirming his mentor’s prescient critique that he is “hellishly short-sighted.” Kong Kenan’s learning curve is steep, but, as New Super-Man #9 suggests, the truth will set him free.
Well, the truth… and also justice and the American way: Coming to America — Part One concludes by promising that, in the ensuing issue, “Super-Man meets Superman”. Actually, they met already, but their reunion promises to be explosive after this story’s stellar start in New Super-Man #9.
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T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
The creative team takes the tale in a new direction while maintaining the series’ consistently high quality across the board in another winning issue.