Writer of Chinese Superman on Why His Hero Starts Off as a "Bully" and Eastern Influences of His New Comic

Truth, justice and the Chinese way? Gene Yang opens up about his new hero.
Courtesy of DC Comics
'New Super-Man' No. 1

After cutting his teeth on titles like Avatar: The Last Air Bender and Superman, Gene Yang is breaking ground with his new comic. Yang’s latest project, New Super-Man, hits stands today and is an all-new, all-different take on the iconic hero.

After the death of Clark Kent, a brash young man from China named Kenan Kong inherits part of Superman's powers, becoming the new Man of Steel — and he's got a lot to learn. 

Yang's Chinese Super-Man comes at a time of increased diversity in the comics world, with Tony Stark to be replaced by an African-American woman as Iron Man, and Miles Morales, the half-black, half-Latino Spider-Man who deputed in 2011, ranking as among Marvel's most popular new characters.

The writer of this New Super-Man spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about his hero and where he's flying off to after issue No. 1.  

How did you pitch New Super-Man to DC Comic? 

I did not pitch this idea, they pitched me. From my understanding it was [DC co-publisher] Jim Lee and [chief creative officer] Geoff Johns. Each had some sort of a hand in the idea and they actually pitched it me in late December, early January. My first reaction was, no I did not want to do that, but I flew down to the Burbank offices, I had a couple meetings, one with Jim Lee and another one with Geoff Johns, and that’s kind of how I got on board. 

How did artist Viktor Bogdanovic come on board?

The editors who are on the book and I had discussions about what the visual tone would be and they are the ones who found Viktor. Viktor had been doing some work [for] DC, mostly on the Bat-side of things. He’s such a good artist, he’s incredible story teller, very nuanced in the way he lays things out. I wanted the visual tone of the book to be bright, to be colorful and to be hopeful, and I think he has really captured it all. I wanted there to be a balance between the dramatic and humorous as well and I think he’s done all of that.

When we’re first introduce to Kenan, he’s kind of a bully

Yeah … he’s kind of a bully. There are a couple of thoughts behind that; the big one was this: If you read early comics from the '30s and '40s, Superman starts of as kind of a  jerk. He’s really brash, he’s really condescending, especially to the people he saves. He kind of thinks he’s always right.

I think [Superman creators Joe] Siegel and [Jerry] Shuster almost set him up like a bully of bullies.  He would make fun of people who couldn’t figure out his secret identity and there’s even this one scene where he took this slum lord and he left him on this dessert island to starve to death. As the decades went on, he became this moral standard we all think of today. So we wanted Kenan Kong's character arc to be a reference to that, but there is also an interesting overlap too. Are familiar with the Monkey King character? 

Can you explain who he is?

He’s this Chinese legendary figure. His story was first written down in a Chinese novel called Journey To The West. He has a very similar character arc. He’s really brash, he starts off really arrogant, he thinks he’s better than everybody else, kind of selfish. Then the story’s all about learning humility and learning to put others before himself.

There’s this story arc, and you can look at a lot of Western stories, the character always starts off as the opposite of Western cultural ideals. If you look at Luke and if you look at Frodo and even Harry Potter, they’re kind of riddled with self-doubt and the story is all about how they find their confidence and how they find their inner strength. 

If you look at a lot of Eastern stories, like Journey To The West or I am reading this story Slam Dunk right now, which is this really popular manga. The main character starts off as the opposite of the hopeful ideal; so they’re super brash and full of themselves and the story is about the cultural ideal of humility and wisdom. 

Would you say Manga was an influence on you work? 

It has been. I think Eastern stories in general. I was not a big Manga guy when I was growing up, but when I was in my early 20s, I started developing a early appreciation of it. So it’s definitely an influence on me. My favorite artist is Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy. They call him the god of Manga in Japan, so that is definitely in my mind; the Eastern story structure expressed through Manga.

Will Clark Kent be a shadow that hangs over the series?

In true DC Universe fashion, really complicated things have happen to Clark Kent recently. He was killed, he developed a new super power called the solar flare and died. Some of his powers went into Lois Lane and some went into Kenan Kong and then this other Superman from a different reality came and kind of replaced him.

His presence is definitely there. One of the questions we played with early on — why even do this story in the DC Universe? We just could create a Chinese superhero and have him in a stand-alone series. What’s the benefit of doing this in the DC Universe?

One of the benefits is there is this whole superhero mythology that already exists. So Superman in particular, he’s suppose to fight for truth, justice and the American way. How do those values translate into text in a modern Chinese culture? That is what I am interested in playing with. So I don’t really think of Clark Kent as a shadow. I think of him as a story element I can play with. 

What can you tease out for upcoming storylines for readers?

We’re going to slowly reveal a group of Chinese supervillains who acutely pattern themselves after a group of well known American DC comics heroes.

New Super-Man No. 1 is on sale now.

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