Review: New Super-Man and the Justice League of China trade paperback (DC Comics)

The series that became New Super-Man and the Justice League of China (formerly just New Super-Man) had a slow start but came into its own once the titular Chinese Justice League became main players. This book marks the final issues after the book was already reportedly cancelled once and provides a nice send off that underscores where the book was having its most success. I'm glad Gene Luen Yang won't stray too far from DC and especially that he's working on a DC Zoom title, which matches in some respects the general tone of New Super-Man. Hopefully this isn't the last we see of Kong Kenan and friends; I'd be happy for them to appear in some other title's international adventure (though without losing the characters' pseudo-comedic tone) or to remain in their antecedent characters' supporting casts (as the Chinese Flash Avery has done in Joshua Williamson's Flash).

[Review contains spoilers]

New Super-Man got good about the time Yang fully oriented the book as a Justice League of China title. Granted the storylines became highly derivative at this point, but like any good "Elseworld," the fun was seeing how this or that hero or villain would be reimagined under these altered aesthetics. And so we have a portly, gruff-but-lovable Bat-Man, graduate of the Academy of the Bat and with his own Joker and Bane figures; a Wonder-Woman who turns out also to be a wholly surprising creature of myth; and an irreverent Flash who's fought alongside Barry Allen and Wallace West. New Super-Man Kong Kenan started out rather unlikable (purposefully, though arguably Yang made Kenan too annoying for the book's own good in the beginning), but the bond that grew among the team members was heartening, and by the end the Justice League of China morphed into a team to root for.

In this last hurrah, Yang brings two more into the mix: the Lantern Corps of China, and Ahn Kwang-Jo, a North Korean man who comes to be known as the Justice League of China's Aquaman, Dragonson. Again, from the moment Kwang-Jo begins sweating buckets of water and fish emerge, any seasoned reader knows where this is going, but it remains fun to see how Yang reinvents and reestablishes these familiar characters overseas. It's good too that, even here at the end, Yang is able to introduce Dragonson as a potential wedge between the couple Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman, demonstrating avenues of drama still to come if this book continued.

Indeed, in his use of the North Korean Dragonson, Yang achieves at least some recognition of the political underpinnings of these characters, which has been absent for much of this book. I was disappointed at the outset that Yang's China seemed much like America and that the book dwelled very little on issues such as free speech or the plight of political prisoners. In Justice League of China, Yang at least nods to China's relationship with North Korea and the lives of the North Korean citizens; it's surface-level to be sure (bad government agents do bad things), but at least it's there. And again, there's a vein of intrigue in this book — Bat-Man splitting from his teammates so as not to defy the government, his recruiting of his crazed sister for some spy work — that I was glad to see and would have enjoyed more of earlier.

At the end of New Super-Man Vol. 3: Equilibrium, Mariko Tamaki offered a one-off spotlight on reporter Laney Lan, who's followed New Super-Man since the beginning; Lan's youth and inexperience, combined with Kenan's brashness, reminded very much of Superboy "The Kid" Kon-El and Tana Moon. Unfortunately, Lan was completed absent in this book, demonstrating Tamaki's good issue (which revealed Lan's family secrets) as indeed just a fill-in and not the start of a new storyline. In the talk of antecedents, however, I did like that Yang introduces a kind of Bizarro New Super-Man when Kenan fully embraces his Yin state, something else that feels like it would have played out well over future stories.

Artist Brent Peeples, who came on in the middle of the last book, draws this whole book to finish out the series, which is always nice to see. New Super-Man is a book that's always been suited to art that's a little more comedic, a little less realistic; that tone was set with Viktor Bogdanovic in the beginning, and Peeples is perhaps even a better fit, with more fluidity to his lines that handles both conversations and superheroics. In writing this, I'm now struck by wanting to see Kevin Maguire draw an issue of New Super-Man over Gene Luen Yang's script, in that New Super-Man has a Justice League International "oh, brother" kind of tone that Maguire would depict hilariously.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase New Super-Man and the Justice League of China

DC Comics sure has popped out a lot of new characters in the past couple of years of Rebirth, from New Super-Man and Superwoman to the entire "New Age of Heroes" cadre. In the not-so-distant past, when a New 52 title was cancelled, you could almost count on an element of said cancelled title immediately appearing somewhere else, be it OMAC or Frankenstein, I, Vampire or the Blackhawks. Not so much anymore, however, though I wish it were; I'd like to know that Silencer, Sideways, and Brimstone have a home, and equally that New Super-Man and the Justice League of China won't be the last time we'll see Gene Luen Yang's characters either. Here's hoping.

[Includes original and variant covers; character sketch section]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
New Super-Man and the Justice League of China
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)


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