New Super-Man and the Justice League of China #22 Review
New Super-Man and the Justice League of China #22, by writer Gene Luen Yang and penciler Brent Peeples, with inker Matt Santorelli and colorist HiFi, is the the third part of the “Seas of Change” arc, and it really turns up the heat for the team. Previously, the North Korean Aqua-Man, still discovering his new powers, fled to China, where the JLC protected him until he fully transformed. Now, sporting a magical sword and the ability to generate and control water, he is caught between the squabbling JLC and the Chinese government that wants to send him back home.
Yang, who created New Super-Man and the Justice League of China, has really done an amazing job fleshing out these characters, making them their own thing instead of pale reflections of the originals, and this issue is no exception. Super-Man and the rest of his team continue to evolve and surprise readers with every step they take. Kong (Super-Man) is still getting a handle on his powers, which are less connected to Superman and more about achieving perfect balance. In this issue, he seems to finally achieve that balance, transforming into an ultimate version of himself after shaking off a Kryptonite attack. Unfortunately, the transformation also brings about a ruthless side to Kong that puts him at odds with the rest of the team as they attempt to rescue Aqua-Man.
The internal turmoil of the team is also handled well by Yang in this issue. None of the JLC can seem to get on the same page on what to do with the North Korean Aqua-Man, because it is a sticky political situation. Wonder-Woman and Flash want to grant him the asylum and protection that he so desperately wants, but Bat-Man believes doing that would lead to major international incident. Super-Man, himself, is caught in the middle, unsure of what to do. Both sides seem to be right in their own way, so it’s a situation that is not easily solved by the fledgling super team. They’re barely getting started and they’re already falling apart. In earlier issues, this rudderless direction seemed like a weakness in the writing, but it has turned out to be the most interesting and realistic thing about the book, because no group of young, powerful people in high tension situations would know exactly what they should do and agree on it all of the time.
The North Korean Aqua-Man also continues to surprise in this issue. At first, a timid schoolboy, once he fully transformed, he became a skilled, sword-wielding warrior who proves to be more powerful every time he chooses to fight. But if you thought this guy was a pure-of-heart hero, you would be wrong. Underneath all of the scales and armor, he is just a confused kid being guided by his father, an ancient mythical being that wants to wipe out North Korea. Again, Yang takes a seemingly straightforward character and swerves to the opposite of the audience’s expectations, which makes for an extremely fun book.
The pencils by Peeples in this issue don’t seem to be up to his normal level of skill, but he and inker Matt Santorelli still provide some great moments throughout the book. The scene where Super-Man makes his perfectly-balanced transformation, while taking out the entire Chinese Green Lantern Corps, is well done, as well as all of the other action scenes in the book. Everything flows well and Peeples storytelling skills are great, as usual, but his one big flaw is that he has varying degrees of success drawing the new Yin Yang “S” shield on Super-Man’s chest. Sometimes it looks okay, but, other times, it’s nearly unrecognizable and it never looks half as cool as it does on the covers, which are rendered by Philip Tan. Hi-Fi continues to provide excellent colors and effects for this book, making the use of the characters’ superpowers seem like they’re glowing and rising off the page at times.
All in all, this arc has been a great read so far, and the book itself is turning out to be one of DC’s best kept secrets. It almost seems inevitable that this title will be canceled, as these little books not starring the A, B, or C list characters that fans know and love often are. And what a shame that will be, given the book’s uniqueness in the market, with an entirely Asian cast, a location in another country, and quirky, well-developed characters that draw you in over time. If you’re not already reading this title, do yourself a favor and at least pick up these last three issues. You might find that trying new things can be rewarding.