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guest_offenderDOMINIC

Dominic Mah is a writer, director, rock musical aficionado, and ex-professional gambler. He can be found on the internets as dommahparanormalstatus.com, and @ThorHulkCritic. His personal heroes are Stan Lee, Bruce Lee, Annabel Lee and Barbara Lee.

It is very cute that a movie about Marvel’s BIG HERO 6 exists, and thank gosh they remembered to use the Oriental Menu font in the title logo.

Big_Hero_6_Logo_2I’m sure it will be a precious fun movie. But as “an Asian Marvel movie?” DOES NOT COUNT. DOES NOT QUALIFY. Let’s just quash that idea before it trends.

BIG HERO 6 (and its DC equivalent, “Super Young Team”) is full of silly characters exploiting the half-idea that “a team of Japanese stereotypes and manga archetypes would be totally kawaii!” Yeah, cute, but, dude. These are not the Asian Marvel characters you’re looking for. A real Marvelasian superhero movie (or hey, a videogame) would feature some or all of these characters:

1. SUNFIRE

Marvel’s premier Japanese superhero, frequent ally of the X-Men, a character that cries out to be played by Tadanobu Asano. He flies, controls solar plasma, and also is sort of a dick (that’s not a mutant power, it’s his character flaw). Whenever the X-Men are in the Eastern Hemisphere and need some major shit blown up, Sunfire is usually on the scene, in one of his many totally excellent costumes:

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“I thought the X-Men shouldn’t all be white Americans.” – Roy Thomas, Marvel writer, co-creator of Sunfire.

2. KARMA was one of the original New Mutants, a (laudably) multi-cultural X-team from the 80’s. She is Vietnamese and has the power to take control of others’ bodies. As noted in my first-ever Guest Offender piece for YOMYOMF, Karma’s finest and loopiest storyline was that time she was possessed by telepathic crimelord Amahl Farouk (a fat evil dude) and became Morbidly-Obese Karma:

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OMG! A body-image storyline featuring a Vietnamese woman! In a comic book! I know, right? Later, Karma sheds the evil pounds by walking around in an Asgardian desert for a month and hunting lizards to survive. (See, we used to not even think of these stories being told cinematically, because Asgard seemed “too weird.” But now, thanks to the master planners at Marvel Studios, Asgard is just another place that people mention in conversation, like Wisconsin.) Anyway, Karma goes through this whole body-dysmorphic vision quest before meeting up with her teammates again to fight Loki, and in later versions she has the costume with the Yin Yang on it, and later she has pink hair, and I think at one point she is gay.

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So my point here is, in addition to being an excellent storied character, Karma is a bit of a chameleon.

3. ARMOR was created by Joss Whedon, and although she is somewhat egregiously Whedony (snarky female waif with improbable skill at punching people + gratuitously Japanese-cute) she has a cool power and, more importantly, is not Jubilee (more on that later).

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4. OMEGA SENTINEL

Remember the female Terminator in T3 who could basically do anything? So that is Omega Sentinel, who was a police officer in India before she became a devastating enemy of the X-Men, and later she became an X-Man. Er, X-Person. X-Cyborg-Killing-Machine. Anyway, it’s complicated. She is nearly indestructible and has hands that are guns.

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We sort of like the idea of Frieda Pinto as Omega Sentinel, don’t we? I think we do.

5. SHANG CHI, MASTER OF KUNG FU

Remember in the ’70s when people were as crazy for kung-fu films as they are for comic-book films now? It’s contextually important when considering Marvel’s main Asian character of the ’70s, who, in case you were wondering, is a master of kung fu.

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Shang Chi was a top-selling title for Marvel in the early ’70s, because, again, kung fu. But note something else here. What’s odd about this picture? Oh yes, it’s an ASIAN-AMERICAN MALE LEAD, FLUENT IN ENGLISH, IDENTIFIABLE IN POP CULTURE, BECAUSE BRUCE LEE IS AWESOME.

Let’s track this: In the ’70s, Marvel has a top-billed Asian male hero. In the ’80s, the X-Men fight some ninjas, Iron Man fights the Mandarin a few times. In the ’90s, some Asian female characters rise to prominence. In fact, previously-Caucasian Psylocke becomes Japanese, just to be weird. In the ’00s-’10s, Asian female Marvel characters are increasing visibility at a steady rate, some of them retconning to become even more Asian than they were previously: Nico Minoru, Mantis, Omega Sentinel, Armor, Jubilee, Wolverine’s 37 Other Female Asian Sidekicks.

What major Asian male character (non-villain, non-Wolverine-slashfodder) has Marvel introduced in the last 10 years or so?

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I think the answer is Amadeus Cho, and I think I don’t give a big hoot about him. But points for trying. Once. (Mr. Cho was co-created by Asian American writer Greg Pak.)

And I get it, ’cause I get how comics work. Asian women are more fun to draw, and more appealing to the demographic that likes Asian women (i.e. Everybody). You achieve some measure of diversity while maintaining the sexualization at the same time. It’s a marketing win-win and no one minds too much that Psylocke never wears pants.

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See, Marvel Comics are good for another thing; they’re a curated visual record of American cultural trends. For example, before Bruce Lee died, it was briefly cool to be an Asian American male in the pop-cultural context. We know what happened to that farfetched notion. Today, using the Marvel Universe as an evolving reflection of our cultural landscape, we see that it is a little bit cool to be an Asian female (as long as you forget pants) but with the sole exception of Sunfire, your only cosplay choice as a male Asian American Marvel fan (of which there are literally hordes) is to dress up as, um, I dunno….the Invisible Woman?

I mean, I don’t give a huge hoot. I do like Spider-Man because he’s a dude in a mask who could be anybody. And I am a big fan of most of the Marvel films; and yet, Asian males haven’t seen themselves as the hero in a Marvel book, much less a film, since Shang-Chi? Is that weird? Because we all know it’s the Asian dudes with glasses who are reading the comic books, and also Asian dudes are about 25% of the human race, give or take. And we’re all somehow excited because CHRIS PRATT is unconventional casting? WTF?

For whatever reason, in recent years, DC has had a lot more Asian male characters than Marvel. One of them’s the Atom, but still. Maybe because Jim Lee is in an executive position at DC now? Hopefully so (more on the all-powerful Jim Lee later).

6. XORN/ANYONE BUT JUBILEE

I dissed Grant MorrXorn_(Earth-616)ison earlier for Super Young Team, but he is also the mad genius writer who created Xorn, a Chinese mutant with a star for a brain and more than a few similarities to the Dalai Lama. He turns out to be not really Asian and not really a hero (it’s an ingenious story, worth reading) but for a while he is the X-Men’s Yoda, instilling Eastern spirituality into the young students at X-Men School.

A lot of people would point to Jubilee as the premier Asian American Marvel character, but seriously, Jubilee sucks. The only reason she has a following is because she was lucky enough to debut being drawn by JIM LEE (Every superhero loses their mind at the thought of being drawn by Jim Lee; he’s like the Annie Leibowitz of comic artists). But her power is, well, stupid.

So yeah, Asian and Asian American Marvel Heroes, they’re out there. And most of them are friends with the X-Men, so they could conceivably show up in an X-Film. We’re not asking for the moon here, Marvel Studios people. It was way cool how you cast Fan Bingbing as Blink when you didn’t really have to do that. But hey, how about one of those characters who has, y’know, a story? Or even a strong villain character with history and complexity, like the Mandarin….?

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Oh, wait, forget that.

10 Comments

  1. You forgot about the OMAC.

  2. OMAC is DC, aren’t they, dude?

  3. NVM, that’s DC

  4. I’m with you on Jubilee sucking. She’s like the last X-Men character from the early 90’s cartoon I cared about, behind Beast who was in jail for a long time, and Morph who “died” in the first episode. Heck I still remember the “Wolverine pull back!” line.

  5. There was concept art for Jubilee appearing in X-Men: DOFP. But they preferred instead to re-cast Blink as an Asian woman! THAT is how much Jubilee sucks.

  6. Ugh, don’t be stuck in the 90’s dude. Jubilee mature since you saw her in a cartoon, particularly if you read any of her stories written by Marjorie Liu (X-23) or Brian Wood (X-Men). And I can’t believe I’m defending her on the internet.

  7. I sort of can’t believe you’re defending her on the internet either! 🙂 Fer sure I can’t claim to have read every Jubilee story or every Karma story or every Sunfire story…but have certainly never read any Jubilee story where I wished she’d be in the cinematic universe.

  8. I’m replying to this a bit late, but I completely agree with this post. It seems like comics have gotten progressively more racist over the years, which is strange because one would expect the opposite. The only exception, perhaps, is with the African [American] representation on behalf of Marvel, with the Black Panther becoming more prominent in recent years, the Falcon being the new Captain America, the cinematic and Ultimate universe Nick Fury, and a slight push for Luke Cage a few years ago.

    As far as Asians go though, the efforts have always been questionable. It seemed like they really tried pushing Shang-Chi by making him a part of the Avengers, and he even comes off as a very likeable character when he does make the appearance. But these appearances are so few and far between, that when reading the issues you never forget he (and most of the other newcomers) can only play second fiddle to the predominantly Caucasian “main cast”. Marvel even made a half-assed attempt to bring back the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu series with a highly questionable creative team – which turned out awful, unsurprisingly.

    Similarly, they put Sunfire on the Uncanny Avengers team, but he’s done very little compared to the likes of Wolverine and Captain America – both of whom, realistically, have significantly less interesting abilities. Claws and healing factor. Super soldier steroids. Compared to what, the ability to fly, emit solar radiation, and burn as brightly as the sun? I get it that Sunfire is no Thor, but he should be doing a hell of a lot more than they have him.

    And then there’s characters like Amadeus Cho and Jimmy Woo. Both of whom, in my opinion, have the potential to be great representations. Unfortunately, they prefer to show Cho’s “weaker” and annoying sides more than his genius level intellect (which, surprise surprise, PALES in comparison to brilliant white men like Tony Stark, Reed Richards, and Hank Pym). In the case of Jimmy Woo, he just isn’t used much – because no one really wants to see a suave Asian male who actually has a history of being a romantic lead. And don’t even get me fucking started on Wong, manservant of the superior white Dr. Strange, a master of mystic arts from Wong’s place of origin. Because that made a whole lot of fucking sense. At least Iron Fist has an excuse. He was brought up in an Asian-inspired fantasy city since he was young, and embraces it as his actual home.

    There was also a newly introduced Captain America villain called the Iron Nail. On the surface he’s just another Fu Manchu clone, but his back story had some interesting espionage elements. Unfortunately, that was only explored in a mini series for the Winter Soldier, and the Iron Nail himself joins the ranks of the Mandarin, Silver Samurai, Radioactive Man, Mr. Negative and the Gorgon as a forgotten throw-away Asian villain, forever in the shadow of more threatening Caucasian antagonists.

    Lastly, I have to complain about this. I was ecstatic to learn that the lead female in Marvel’s Agents of Shield would be a female Asian who, beyond being smart and beautiful, was also able to kick ass. And then they had to sexualize her character, having her engage in a sexual relationship with one of the sleaziest douchebags on the show. Only thing that somewhat redeems her character in my eyes is that she eventually beats the shit out of said douchebag. Nevertheless, it reinforces a very unfortunate stereotype on behalf of all Asian women. In the past, Marvel has been egregiously offensive in this regard, hypersexualizing characters like Psylocke and Mantis, and making pretty much every Asian woman Wolverine comes across a love interest/fuck buddies (unless they are obviously underage, in which case they become a sidekick forever under his shadow).

    Anyway, I guess one can’t complain too much. DC Comics treats their Asian characters far worse. Since being horribly murdered, the Asian Atom, Ryan Choi, barely has his name mentioned in the new continuity. In fact, there are no noteworthy Asian characters right now except for Lady Shiva and Katana. I use “noteworthy” loosely, implying that they appeared in more issues than you can count with one hand.

  9. Does anyone remember that Oriental superhero movie from back in the late 70’s or early 80’s where the hero had 4 rockets on his ribs like the signature scratches Bruce Lee had..He rode a motorcycle. I think he was created in a lab either as a mistake or intentionally..The posters were at every movie theater inside & out like the cut out cardboard kind.. Any idea lol