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The Aqua-Man of North Korea is Less a King, More a [SPOILER]

SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for New Super-Man & the Justice League of China #21 by Gene Luen Yang, Brent Peeples, Matt Santorelli, and Hi-Fi. 

The last issue of New Super-Man & the Justice League of China introduced us to our Aqua-Man. We've learned that, in the most unconventional origin possible, promising cartoonist Ahn Kwang-Jo discovered his powers when North Korean Worker’s Party members roughed him up because he was caught watching old episodes of The Simpsons. During his beating, the sweat from his body touched the floor and turned into a pair of giant crabs that killed the Party members before carting him off across the border.

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Really.

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With New Super-Man #21, the League has arrived to fight the giant crabs, but no confrontation happens thanks to the arrival of Wonder-Woman. The crabs, aware of her origin as the legendary Lady Green Snake, give the unconscious Kwang-Jo to her in the hopes that the League will take him to safety. Despite the efforts of the North Korean military and Bat-Man’s worrying, the League continues to protect the young man. Later that night, Super-Man and Flash are given an ultimatum: either the League of China hands over Kwang-Jo or North Korea comes at them with everything that they’ve got. And then, things get really weird.

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After Kwang-Jo comes to, he demands that Wonder-Woman take him to Jilin Province so he can see what China has to offer, having been told his whole life that the nation lacks food due to “turning back on shared socialist ideals.” While he sleeps later that night, aquatic animals are bringing...something to his room and assembling it on the floor. We then discover what it is that lays at the foot of his bed: the bones of a dragon. Namely, King Munmu, the Great Dragon King of the Eastern Sea -- AKA, Aqua-Man's His father.

Through a dream, Munmu explains it all: during the end of his human life, he became a dragon with the vow to watch over the ancient Kingdom of Silla that currently resides on the Korean peninsula. Unfortunately, Silla is now at its “most corrupt,” and only Kwang-Jo can be the one to keep his father’s vow and return the kingdom to its glory. Touching the remains of his father, the bones and water wrap around Kwang-Jo so he can adopt a look fitting of his heritage and a name to go along with it: the Dragonson.

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New Super-Man has always played around with Eastern philosophy and mythology as a template for its superheroes, but this is the first time that Gene Luen Yang has played around with actual history through Kwang-Jo’s father. Munmu was the thirtieth king to rule over Silia and held the throne for 20 years until he was struck with an illness in 681. On his deathbed, his dying words were for his remains to be cremated and ashes scattered across the sea so he would “become a dragon and prevent foreign invasion.” His son, Sinmun, did as his father asked and later built the Gomun Temple in Munmu’s honor, along with a waterway for the eventual sea dragon to come to and from sea and land. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if these details made their way into future issues of the “Seas of Change” arc.

It remains to be seen if Kwang-Jo’s personality is retained after his transformation into the Dragonson, but he definitely has an axe to grind with North Korea. Now that he’s seen the way neighboring nations aren’t quite as destitute as he was led to believe, the Dragonson will be making waves as New Super-Man continues to explore this weird, compelling character.

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