The importance of character diversity to the DC Universe is something we celebrate during AAPI Heritage Month and all other months. Our readers come from a wide variety of racial and cultural backgrounds and so our superheroes should as well. Asian-American heroes like Cassandra Cain, Rose Wilson and Damian Wayne are exciting and appeal to all of us, but also allow us to experience unique stories through their eyes.
However, the key to true authenticity in diversity isn’t just to create characters who reflect particular races or groups. The authentic experience comes from the creative teams themselves. While many great Asian-American characters may exist in the DCU, only a few in DC history have come from Asian-American writers and artists. (And even then, we’re fudging the definition of “American” a bit and also including Canada.)
This month featured the debut of “We Are Legends,” three new comics that put in action the idea of Asian voices creating Asian characters. Fortunately, it isn’t the first time this has happened. As we get ready for new adventures with Spirit World, The Vigil and City Boy, let’s take a moment to recognize some more Asian-American-created Asian-American characters.
1) Monkey Prince
Created by an all Chinese-American team of Gene Luen Yang, Bernard Chang and Jessica Chen, the story of Marcus Sun is one that infuses classical Chinese mythology into the modern superhero genre while analogously serving the immigrant experience. With an origin borrowing just as much from Superman as from Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West, Marcus finds himself a stranger in every new city his family takes him to while he wrangles with the birthright of his lineage kept secret from him all his life. Only by embracing both halves of his self can Marcus transform into the Monkey Prince he’s destined to become.
2) Green Lantern (Tai Pham)
When you go back to read the original superhero comics of the Golden Age, the Asian representation which exists there can be troubling. Such was the case of the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, whose lantern was initially forged from a meteor which took on mystical properties when it crashed in “Old China.” So, when creating their own Green Lantern, Minh Lê, a Vietnamese-American writer, and Andie Tong, Malaysian-Australian artist, had a new idea: what if the originally Asian Green Lantern had an Asian champion?
Green Lantern: Legacy introduces us to Kim Tran, the first Green Lantern of an alternate Earth who fills in as analogous to the Alan Scott and Hal Jordan of our world. Generations after moving with her family from Vietnam to Coast City, Kim passes on her legacy to her grandson Tai. As the new Green Lantern, Tai Pham must determine how to be a superhero while honoring the tradition of his grandmother.
As a WildStorm creation, Percival Edmund Chang of Gen13 was very much a Nineties Kid. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Seattle, “Grunge” was emblematic of the subculture from which he took his name. His love of extreme sports, extreme comics and extreme noise made him an embodiment of the young audience that creators Jim Lee and Brandon Choi, both Korean-Americans, were capturing with their young WildStorm lineup. While Grunge’s affinity for martial arts (and Asian entertainers like Bruce Lee and John Woo) kept him connected to his past, he was thoroughly a creature of his time, and never just one place, always adapting to the zeitgeist of America’s cultural melting pot.
For the DC Universe’s most eligible young bachelor, you have to be a pretty special lady to catch the eye of Dick Grayson. Barbara Gordon and Starfire make for some tough competition. But one young woman up to the challenge was Shawn Tsung, an Asian-American Blüdhaven transfer with her own sidekick experience on the other side of the moral fence. The pen of Asian-Canadian artist Marcus To originally brought Shawn into Nightwing’s life as the leader of ‘The Run-Offs,” a support group for former super-villain sidekicks and henchmen looking for a clean break. It was To’s art which really sold the connection between Nightwing and the former Defacer, allowing readers to give the already dance card-laden Grayson a new shot with a new love.
5) Mayor Nakano
In Detective Comics #1027, Japanese-Canadian author Mariko Tamaki set up her forthcoming run on the title by introducing a new character into Gotham City: the idealistic GCPD patrolman Christopher Nakano. Surviving a gauntlet of tragedies which inevitably come with any prolonged stay in Gotham City, Nakano took his losses and gathered them into a force for change—leveraging them into a successful campaign as the city’s new mayor. Although sometimes misguided in his stance towards Gotham’s heroes as well as the compatriots he chooses in his vision for a safer Gotham City, everything Nakano does is for the sake of ensuring a safer future. He and Batman may never see…I was going to say “eye-to-eye,” but, uh, never mind. Anyway, our point is that they both ultimately serve the same dream of a world where none will have to suffer as they did.
As fantastic as the denizens of the DC Universe are from aliens to demons, every character in every medium is limited by an inescapable principle: people write what they know. All artists can’t help but translate their own experiences into the characters they create, each an expression of themselves. That's why it's so important to have Asian creators bringing their own experiences into Asian characters. And in Spirit World, in The Vigil, in City Boy, and further into the future, that’s exactly what we’re going to see.
The first issues of all three “We Are Legends” comics are now available in print and on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE.
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros., nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.