If you’ve been reading my reviews of DC’s Rebirth issues, you know I don’t love Superman. New 52 Clark Kent was far from perfect. In fact, he was so brooding that he started to look more like Batman than Superman. Yet the Clark who replaced him–who’s really just pre-52 Clark–is even darker and, worse, he’s pure fan service. Everything from Justice League to Action Comics suffers for his presence. However, New Super-man is DC finally getting things right.
It would be easy to say that the best thing about this book is that it doesn’t even mention post-Rebirth Clark, but that would be a disservice to the extraordinary work writer Gene Luen Yang is doing. We first meet our hero Kong Kenan (maintaining the comic book tradition of alliterative character names is the most cringeworthy thing about the issue) doing something decidedly unheroic: stealing a weaker classmate’s lunch. However, lest we think Kenan is unworthy of Superman’s iconic “S,” he quickly proves there’s a good guy beneath the bullying exterior when he rushes to save that same classmate from China’s “first American-style super-villain,” Blue Condor.
Admittedly, thoughtlessly throwing a soda can at a super-villain isn’t the smartest move, but that’s just the kind of guy Kenan is. He reacts without thinking because his confidence borders on arrogance. Lucky for Kenan, not everybody thinks his actions were foolish and thanks to footage recorded by intrepid reporter Laney Lan, he catches the attentions of a super-secret organization that offers to give him the same powers as Superman. While it may seem that the organization’s leader, Dr. Omen, is a little too quick to trust a mouthy teen with that kind of power, what happens in the issue’s final pages is so surprising and exciting that it’s easy to ignore how quickly things come together.
That said, some will probably see the ending as a shameless attempt to recreate the DCU in Shanghai, thereby attracting a larger international audience. And yeah, that’s probably true. China is one of–if not the–biggest media consumers in the world. But even if that is true, it doesn’t really matter. Superhero stories are universal, that’s their appeal. New Super-man may be a bit of a knock off of the original Man of Steel, but it’s also way better than anything that’s going on with the real Superman right now. Hell, it might even be the best Rebirth book so far.