Review: New Super-Man Vol. 2: Coming to America (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

Given six issues and three two-part stories, Gene Luen Yang's Rebirth New Super-Man Vol. 2: Coming to America feels impressively long, and the scope of the stories nicely epic. We have spotlights on the individual members of the Justice League of China layered on top of superheroic battles, on top of a heavy dose of the supernatural. Yang does a significant amount of world-building here, all with his trademark good humor, and I'm glad this title apparently received a reprieve from cancellation so that all that work didn't come to naught.

It's all still too silly for me. The comparisons to Karl Kesel's Superboy continue to hold up, but possibly I don't have the appetite for that kind of thing that I once did. Yang dawdles a bit in the middle of the book on material tertiary to this book's central plots, and it slows things down when there's so much more interesting ground to cover. Also, while I appreciate the amount of Asian culture and mythology Yang imbues the book with, the mythical parts of the last story get downright bizarre, stretching credibility perhaps because Yang hasn't done enough to set up those areas of the book prior to now.

[Review contains spoilers]

Yang increasingly demonstrates that the strength of New Super-Man is in its characters. The initial two-part "Training Day" gives New Super-Man Kong Kenan a backseat to Bat-Man Wang Baixi (with Wonder-Woman Peng Deilan); while Baixi's fight to re-prove himself at the Chinese Academy of the Bat is somewhat formulaic, the interaction between Baixi, Deilan, and Baixi's sister is enjoyable, and ultimately what's going on behind the scenes is truly surprising. Yang subtly and sweetly sets up a romance between Baixi and Deilan that pays off with enormous twists in the book's last chapter. The parallel story of I-Ching training Kenan is also fun (and funny). One of the most interesting parts of the book is Yang, via I-Ching, positing Kenan's powers as mapped on a trigram, very effectively differentiating Kenan from any other Super-character out there.

I liked the final "Zero Ultimatum" story because it introduces a "bizarro" enemy for Kenan separate from the tedious Dr. Omen (who's obviously been Kenan's mother from the beginning and I wish Yang would get on with it). But layered in that story, "Zero" is really a profile of Wonder-Woman parallel to "Training Day," ultimately revealing Deilan to actually be an actual giant snake of legend who through force of will became a woman. This is perfect in many respects; it is not quite being an Amazon born from clay, but it does give this "Wonder Woman" a nicely mythological bent, and also it puts a big wrinkle in Baixi's feelings for Deilan. At the same time, the sudden appearance of giant turtles and giant snakes is off-puttingly unexpected; there was no supernatural material in New Superman Vol. 1: Made in China, so it doesn't feel natural when it occurs here and especially so absurdly.

Sandwiched in the middle is "Coming to America," which mostly sees Kenan interacting with "Super" Lex Luthor, but ends up with a Superman appearance in the aftermath of Superman Reborn. There's not much purpose to the rampaging demon hordes that the three Supers battle, and the ins and outs of how the Super-energy that gave Kenan his powers ended up manifesting in a Chinese hellscape aren't ever quite made clear; I'd as soon these issues have been used to advance some of the book's other storylines. That said, it was great that Yang uses Avery Ho from Flash Vol. 1: Lightning Strikes Twice as China's new speedster, and I do appreciate the interaction between Superman and Super-Man; in the absence of Kon-El, in some ways Kenen fills that "Superboy" role on Team Superman more so than Jon Kent does.

As a "Superman Reborn: Aftermath" story, New Super-Man only barely ties in. Superman does vaguely discuss the events of that story, but there's nothing here most specifically to explain Kenan's origins in the post-Reborn world (except perhaps that Omen stole technology from Lex Luthor now). As a matter of fact, in Yang making very specific references to both The Final Days of Superman and also Doomed, it really seems like Yang is still writing in the New 52 era (as his New 52 Savage Dawn seemed post-Crisis), and he even brings back a character from his now truly defunct Superman Vol. 1: Before Truth story.

I can't in any way fault Yang's New Super-Man for brains or heart; there are interesting concepts here related to the characters, their origins, and their powers, and it seems obvious Yang cares for these characters. The incessant comedy sometimes falls flat, however -- Kenan blithely tells a character she's not his "type" and it's accepted as if that's a normal thing to say, and the joke isn't really funny nor do we even know what Kenan's "type" is -- and that can make the reading laborious. Artist Viktor Bogdanovic is perfect for this title, but his rounded style keeps any conflict from seeming serious. Billy Tan does astounding work on Green Lantern, but a different inker makes his art here look more like Bogdanovic, right for the book but not necessarily my taste.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase New Super-Man Vol. 2: Coming to America

Having come this far, I'm mildly curious to see how Kenan deals with Dr. Omen after New Super-Man Vol. 2: Coming to America's cliffhanger. This isn't a book on the top of my reading pile but the upcoming inclusion of the Suicide Squad, for instance, is a step in the right direction. I'm interested also to see in what ways Gene Luen Yang might course correct this book after what at one point might have been the last issue.

[Includes original and variant covers, character sketches by Viktor Bogdanovic and Billy Tan]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
New Super-Man Vol. 2: Coming to America
Author Rating
3.5 (out of 5)


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