Plot, Without Thematics to Match, in New Super-Man and the Justice League of China 23

by Mark Mitchell

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

It’s taken me twenty-three issues, but I am finally coming to terms with the kind of book New Super-Man is, versus the book I want it to be. What it is is a plot-driven book that smooths over its rough patches with sheer momentum and the clever mash-up of Chinese folklore with DC mythos. What it is not is interested in meditating on the themes it employs to drive its plot.

From the beginning, much of New Super-Man (and its current …and the Justice League of China iteration) has been concerned with the idea of paternal identity — the identity of Kenan Kong’s parents was one of the book’s earliest recurring story points, one that was only recently resolved (seemingly). With Kenan’s lineage thoroughly explored, writer Gene Luen Yang pivots in New Super-Man and the Justice League of China 23, poised to tease out similar mysteries about Ahn Kwang-Jo’s (aka Dragonson, aka Aqua-Man) origins.

It’s at this point that I throw my hands up just a tiny bit. Yang is clearly fascinated with the complicated legacy parents leave their children, but where I once anticipated this fascination to coalesce into a point of view, twenty-three issues in I’m beginning to wonder if the fascination isn’t more robotic. Does Yang have anything to say about parents and their children, or does he appreciate the search for identity on a purely technical level, as a tried-and-true storytelling device that can be relied upon to generate the necessary amount of drama to keep Kwang-Jo’s story moving forward?

More and more it seems like the latter. What does it say about who Kenan is as a character that his mom is Doctor Omen? The book has never been interested in finding out, making the pending mystery of Kwang-Jo’s parentage much less exciting — why care too much if the answers are seemingly destined to make for cliffhanger fodder and not much more?

New Super-Man is often clever, and that cleverness is very often entertaining, but twenty-three issues in, it’s wearing a bit thin that it’s a book with nothing to say. After reading one of New Super-Man’s early issues, I wrote that its politics were confusing, but the disappointing truth is that New Super-Man doesn’t really have politics to express — it very rarely has much to express at all.

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