New Superman will be Chinese

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In the world of comic books, there are many characters who can take on the mantle of a popular superhero. For example, we’ve had Bucky and Falcon take the mantle of Captain America, Amadeus Cho as Hulk, Dick Grayson as Batman, and X-23 as Wolverine. Now we have a new Superman, and his name is Kenan Kong.

Writer Gene Luen Yang and artist Viktor Bogdanovic will be working on DC Comics’ “New Super-Man”, a new title following the adventures of the Chinese superhero.

Yang talks about how the name of the hero came about on the DC blog.

“My mom’s family left Mainland China when she was just an infant. She spent most of her childhood in Hong Kong and Taiwan. My dad was born and raised in Taiwan. My family hasn’t lived in China for at least a generation. I’ve only visited China twice, so my understanding of Chinese culture is through echoes.”

“I would be writing about Chinese life as an outsider, but some American readers would assume that I was an insider simply because of my last name,” he continued. “It seemed like a situation fraught with peril.”

He decided to move forward with the project by taking his own advice about reading and writing “outside of their comfort zones.”

He did come up with some rules for naming the character:

  • The name would need to be a plausible Chinese name.
  • The name’s meaning should relate to the character’s journey in some way.
  • The English version of the Chinese name should be derived using Pinyin. There are different ways of Romanizing Chinese. A lot of what we see in American Chinatowns uses a system called Wade-Giles (or is “Wade-Giles-ish”). Pinyin is now the standard in Mainland China, so that’s what I want to use in the book.
  • The English version should have the initials K. K. I want to use this as a mnemonic device to help readers connect the new character to Clark Kent. I can’t use C. K. because there is no hard c in Pinyin. The Pinyin c is pronounced “ts,” like in “cats.”
  • The English version should be immediately pronounceable by American readers who haven’t studied Pinyin. This means I have to avoid certain letters like x (pronounced kind of like “sh” in Pinyin) and q (pronounced kind of like “ch”).
  • The Pinyin version cannot sound Japanese.

The last rule was added later after some confusion with the initial name idea.

“What would I think if I were a casual comics reader and I encountered an Asian super hero named Kenji Kong as a supporting character in a couple panels of a DC comic, without any context for the name? I’d probably assume some non-Asian writer had confused Asian cultures. I was only thinking about how I’d make this character and his name work in the particular story I was going to write… I had to change the name.”

And here’s the Chinese character of Kenan Kong:

“孔克南 Kenan Kong
南 Nan means “south.” Appropriate for a kid from Shanghai, since folks from Beijing like to call folks from Shanghai ‘Southerners.’

克 Ke means ‘to overcome.’ What could be more Super-Man than ‘to overcome’?

Kenan isn’t quite as easy to pronounce (in Chinese, it’s closer to “Ken Ann” than “Key Nan”), but it’s pronounceable enough. And it definitely satisfies constraint #6.”

What do you think of the new Super-Man?

“New Super-Man” #1 will be available on July 13th.


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