This AAPI Heritage Month, DC is welcoming some remarkable new heroes to the DC Universe. We Are Legends is a new family of comic books featuring AAPI superheroes embarking on culturally accurate adventures—all written and drawn by AAPI creative teams. First out of the gate is Spirit World #1, in which writer Alyssa Wong and artist Haining build on their delightfully dark story from Lazarus Planet: Dark Fate #1 that first introduced their new non-binary hero Xanthe. The debut issue of Spirit World, which lands in stores today, is a radical adventure that incorporates characters like John Constantine and Cassandra Cain in a supernatural story filled with beautiful art and stunning twists.

To celebrate the release, Wong answered a few of our questions about the series and teased what's next for Xanthe and their Spirit World adventures.

Xanthe is such a brilliant character! What was their creative origin?

My editor, Jessica Chen, pitched me the idea of a Chinese afterlife book. We were talking about the Qingming festival, when people sweep their ancestors' graves and burn joss paper money so that their loved ones can have it in the afterlife. Jess wanted to take that idea further and use it to explore what happens to the dead whose families have forgotten them, or who don't have anyone who sends them burned offerings. I thought, "Okay, what if there was someone who could work around that?"

The living burn joss paper, which becomes something real for the dead. Xanthe Zhou is someone who is both dead and alive, and their ability is being able to take a folded paper object and turn it into a real one by lighting it on fire. If they can fold it, they can make it. They use this talent to deliver goods to the Spirit World's forgotten people. If you need something but have no way to get it? Xanthe will find it for you. Of course, operating as a Spirit Envoy comes with its own risks...

You're collaborating with such a wonderful artist in Haining. What was it like to first get those character designs back and see Xanthe come to life?

I adore Haining. Absolutely adore her work. She's also the perfect artist for this project—just incredible! She's nailed every single design and I can't wait for you to meet all of the characters Haining has drawn up. And I mean, have you seen the splash page at the end of our Lazarus Planet: Dark Fate #1 story where we get our first look at the Spirit World? It's stunning.

I tend to keep character descriptions pretty loose so that the artist has room for their own interpretation. Xanthe's look is based on LA Asian American street fashion: sneakerhead kicks, embroidered bomber jacket, West Coast cool. Plus chrysanthemums, my favorite funeral flowers. Those were the visual touchstones, and Haining nailed Xanthe's design on her first try. I think Jess and I called each other and were like, "Oh my god, that's them. That's Xanthe. Just...that's them."

We just knew. All of the elements were so thoughtful, and you can see that in Xanthe's weapons, accessories and everything else. 

How did it then feel to get to introduce Xanthe in a massive event like Lazarus Planet: Dark Fate #1?

It was wild. The event was in full swing: magic green resin was raining from the sky, chaos abounded and I had ten pages to introduce a new character in a story that needed to feel fully contained and serve as a prologue for the miniseries. I love a good challenge.

At this point, I'd been living with Xanthe in my head for about a year, so I knew their voice pretty well. The Lazarus Planet: Dark Fate #1 story, "The Envoy," was a fun, splashy test run for the Xanthe/Cass Cain/Constantine character dynamics, and I just wanted to tell a good story that people could have fun with. Haining's art and Sebastian Cheng's colors were incredible, as were Jess' notes. It was our first go as Team Spirit World, and I think as everything came together, we were like, "Yeah. That's what it is."

I loved seeing the jiangshi enter the DC Universe alongside Xanthe. Could you talk about that choice a little bit and why they make the perfect antagonists for our heroes?

I've been obsessed with jiangshi since I was a kid. Chinese hopping vampires? Yes, please! It just made sense to have jiangshi in a story about afterlife magic and unquiet spirits, especially one starring a Chinese American character who traverses life and death. Like, why not? Jess is also fond of jiangshi, so she was on board too! And Haining's designs were perfect.

You often see jiangshi wearing centuries-old clothing—Qing Dynasty-era outfits. There's something interesting about spirits with a long history who occupy the present. I think it's why we're obsessed with, say, Victorian hauntings or Wild West ghost towns. Spirit World is full of spirits whose designs blend traditional and modern elements, and the present vs. the past is an important theme throughout this book.

You also get to play with some true DC legends here. Constantine is such a perfect partner for Xanthe. How much fun was it to get to bring them together?

Constantine!! The man, the myth, the legend! I think Jess was the one who suggested bringing in Constantine and I couldn't believe my luck.

Constantine and Xanthe make great partners. They're both neck-deep in weird magic, they've both dealt with demons and spirits, and they're both clever, sarcastic little jerks (in the best way). Their dynamic is playfully antagonistic, but there's a strong undercurrent of mutual respect there. Constantine is also older than Xanthe and Cassandra Cain—I like having someone on the team with a decade more experience and exhaustion to pair with all that youthful enthusiasm and energy.

This is also a very queer book, and having Constantine on board is a real pleasure.

Cass Cain is a beloved character who has historically been overlooked—though great titles like this, Batgirls and Shadow of the Batgirl are changing that. What did it mean to you to bring Cass into this epic tale and to throw her into the Spirit World?

Cassandra Cain was the character who got me interested in superhero comics. I remember finding her Wikipedia page and thinking, "There's an Asian Batgirl?! I want to read about her!" She's always going to be special to me because of that. I've had the chance to write her a couple of times in shorter stories, like "The Hunt" in The Doomed and the Damned and my Batwoman story in Batman: Urban Legends #8-9, and I'm excited to have her for a longer run!

I also love writing someone who doesn't talk very much. I write a lot of characters who talk too much, often to deflect from their feelings and vulnerabilities. Cass is the opposite. I see her as someone who is honest, direct and intentional. When she speaks, you listen. Words are difficult, so each one is precious. Having her play off of Xanthe and Constantine in Spirit World is a lot of fun.

One of my favorite things about this issue was how much you and Haining got to lean into the horror of it all when we first reunite with Cass in the Spirit World. You've written some great horror in the past. How fun was it to bring those elements to your superhero storytelling?

Horror is where the heart lives—my heart, at least! I love the genre for many reasons, but a big one is that it inspires a visceral, emotional reaction. You feel terror through your whole body: your hands, your stomach, your legs, your skin. Horror is a moment of reconnection with our bodies. It's a reminder that we're alive.

Sometimes superheroes can feel distant, shiny and clean. I've found that horror is a great way to ground them in something real. It's also a very intimate genre: everyone's fears are personal, so horror lets us push past the masks and capes into who someone is.

Also? I just think it's delightful.

Another thing that I adored about this series is Xanthe’s awesome Buster Sword. Could you talk a bit about what inspired you to give them such an iconic weapon and share a little about its importance?

I love a big sword. When I was figuring out Xanthe, I thought, "What kind of media would someone who died young have experienced in the Land of the Living?"

I imagined Xanthe as someone who watched anime as a child, saw Miyazaki films and read picture books about fantastical adventures. The big anime sword made sense. I also wanted something that would be fairly easy to fold out of paper. In my head, it was one of the first things Xanthe learned how to fold. It's a cool, flashy weapon that speaks to Xanthe's background and influences...and hints at a slightly more childish side to this bold, confident character.

The first issue ends on a great cliffhanger. What can you tease for Xanthe's journey going forward and the rest of the Spirit World miniseries?

Not everything that haunts us is supernatural. From forgotten ghosts to the vengeful living, memory and how far you're willing to go to hold onto people is a theme that lives at the heart of this book. Xanthe and Constantine race to rescue Cass Cain from the Spirit World while Batgirl finds herself embroiled in a supernatural mystery of her own. The afterlife is a dangerous place for the living...and for the dead as well.

Spirit World #1 by Alyssa Wong, Haining and Sebastian Cheng is now available in print and as a digital comic book.