The comics industry has come along way. In the past few years, the very public discourse on inclusivity, racism, and sexism have dominated discussions on where the industry needs to go. Narrative devices such as gender/race swapping have long been part of the industry, but have now taken on new meaning as greater sensitivity to underrepresented demographics has not only become the goal, but the new normal. We have seen more female and African American lead protagonists arise over the past few years as a result of this.
However, Chinese protagonists have always been underrepresented. When a Chinese character has been established it was usually as a sidekick and fulfilled some stereotypical role as a martial arts master or mystic. DC Rebirth tries to rectify this with New Super-Man, though I feel as though we start to cross into Orientalism by doing so.
Let me be clear, even the subtitle "Made in China" is a bit provocative. "Made in China" is ubiquitous. It is a symbol of Western Culture while at the same time not being produced by West. When it comes to development and production of Chinese intellectual property and goods as competition to Western brands, they usually carry the moniker "knock-off" with it.
This isn't a "knock-off" Superman book, even though it tries to portray itself as one.
The person who will end up being the "New Super-Man" is a young secondary school student named Kenan. Kenan is a bully - In his mind, he is tall, handsome, and deserving of whatever he can take for himself. He routinely picks on his classmate Lixin, who is the son of the CEO of China Southeast Airlines. After one such altercation, Lixin is grabbed by the Chinese supervillain Blue Condor, who has a penchant for kidnapping the kids of rich aristocrats.
Kenan finds himself standing up for Lixin: He hits the Blue Condor in the head with Lixin's cola and mouths off to him. This confrontation is caught on video by intrepid reporter Laney Lan, whose internet posting immediately goes viral. Kenan's ego is further massaged as the pretty reporter asks if she can come over for an interview later.
Kenan, filled with pride and machismo, takes a cab home using the money Lixin gave him. He figured his father would be happy with him, but is instead given a lecture about responsibility and dedication to a greater cause. This is where we learn about his fathers penchant for believing anti-government rhetoric.
Feeling saddened by his father's scolding, he visits his mother's grave. She died in an airline crash, the same airline that Lixin's dad is a CEO of. While at his mother's graveside, a mysterious woman approaches him and shows him images of the now-deceased Superman... Images that depict him trying to save the plane his mother was on. She then offers Kenan a chance to gain powers like that of Superman. When asked who she works for, she tells him "The Ministry of Self-Reliance." The same organization that his father opposes. Kenan signs up for the experiment.
The experiment turns out to be a great success. His obvious grief over his mother's death seems to give him the ability to survive the experiment and gain Superman's powers. Kenan, like most adolescents, has a hard time calming down. He doesn't seem to be able to keep everything under control, which is why backup is called in.
Some of the problems I have with this story are the portrayal of the characters; The author, Gene Leun Yang, seems to hint that Kenan has a bit of "little emperor syndrome," even though that role would seem most likely to fall on the child he is bullying instead of him. This is where the cultural divide between Western readership and Chinese social reality might see some strains on credulity.
I also don't think Yang means for it to be a "knock-off" Superman - I think the silly allusions and similar names are just there to put a bemused smirk on the readers face. If it's more than that, then it isn't a subtle point being made about the nature of the superhero industry in China. But the intent aside, it still brings up some uncomfortable caricatures of Chinese life.
The art is this book is slightly above-average. Viktor Bogdanovic's styling may not be to everyone's taste - It worked well when He drew Nazi Zombie from Hell. I guess I should reserve judgement until he has a chance to draw a greater variety of scenes and action sequences.
While I was not sold on the overall concept yet, I would like to see more until I recommend a pass on this one.
Rating: 7/10 State Owned Heroes