New Super-man and the Justice League of China #20
New Super-man and the Justice League of China #20 is the first part to Gene Luen Yang’s Seas of Change story arc, and also the first issue of including the Chinese Justice League’s name in the title. Fortunately, for those concerned that the book would change in some dramatic way, rest assured that it hasn’t.
After a slow month in the previous issue, which focused on reporter Laney Lan, this issue picks up the pace, and throws the League into a big battle with the Apokoliptian Sleez. As mentioned before, the focus of this book is still on Kong Kenan (Super-Man), as he tries to master his powers after learning that he is the embodiment of Yin and Yang. This makes for a lot of fun, as Kong, previously not the most lovable guy, struggles to balance his natural personality with niceness. This leads his teammates to even be weirded out by how nice he’s being, which is good for a few laughs.
The main villain of the issue is Sleez, formerly best known for trying to force Superman and Big Barda to make an adult film (yes, you read that right). This guy is a professional creep, and while he doesn’t try to sexually abuse anybody in this issue, he’s still plenty pervy, feeding off of children’s emotions and calling everyone “baby”. This character belongs in the trash heap, but he serves his purpose as a one-time antagonist that gets put down hard by Super-Man.
The Lantern Corps of China also makes an appearance, trying to arrest the League, but they are very easily avoided by Super-Man and company. This is kind of disappointing, because the idea of China making its own Lantern Corps is pretty cool, but they aren’t given much to do here, and they certainly don’t seem to pose much of a threat.
The North Korean Aquaman is introduced, as well, and he is a far cry from Arthur Curry. Not much information is given on him this issue, but his scenes are, by far, the most entertaining in the book. From his dripping water everywhere he goes, to his last minute save by giant crabs who call him “your highness”, it’s easy to tell this character is going to be a lot of fun, in the weirdest ways possible.
The art team of Brent Peeples on pencils, Matt Santorelli on inks, and Hi-Fi on colors, provide adequate work for the issue, but they don’t ever grab your attention in quite the way they should. The action seems very stiff in some places, like when Sleez is first revealed in a Panda suit, but the scenes with the North Korean Aquaman and his giant crabs stand out as kinetic and cool. Particularly, the panels where Aquaman is being beaten, his body is slinging water everywhere, stand out.
Overall, this issue was a decent introduction to the new direction of the book, but it could have really driven home the point that the Justice League of China is an outlaw group now, and given them a clear mission statement. Instead, the team just bumbles around, going from fight to fight, and moving forward in no particular direction. At this point, it’s unclear if the team is supposed to be rudderless, or if it’s just a lack of long-term planning by Yang, but the story is intriguing enough to hold the audience’s interest for the moment.