May and the official Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month are coming to a close, but we can continue celebrating Asian American culture year-round and we can do it all geeky like with some on-going comics featuring Asian American & Pacific Islander heroes!
Non-stereotyped or side-kick-ed Asian/ Asian American heroes are a rare thing in comics history and present, but right now there are two major ongoing series with leading AA heroes – the slicing and dicing Japanese transplant Katana in her own self-titled series Katana (DC Comics) by Ann Nocenti and Alex Sanchez and the crime-fighting cibopath Tony Chu in Chew (Image) by John Layman and Rob Guillory.
Tony Chu – Chew
If you’re not already reading Chew, go pick up volume 1 now. It’s amazing. The storytelling, the art, Tony Chu… Often disgusting, usually hilarious, always incredibly imaginative, Chew is one of my favorite comics four years running. John Layman has created a world where birdflu ran rampant killing millions of Americans and turning the FDA into one of the most powerful agencies in the country. And that’s where Philadelphia police detective Tony Chu’s story starts off. A scrawny sickly looking guy, Tony Chu is a cibopath, meaning he can get psychic visions from anything he eats. Anything. Yep, just imagine all the potential for gross. But beyond the disgusting, Chu is stone-cold cop with a wacky ability in an absurd world, and he isn’t the only one with “special” talents… Not a single Chinese stereotype in sight with the no-nonsense Tony Chu, and the story is one of the most imaginative in comics today.
Katana (Tatsu Toro) – Katana
She may not have been born in the U.S., but Katana has been fighting for justice on American soil for decades now. Originally hitting the DC universe in 1983, Katana has bounced around quite a bit (and had quite a few costume changes), mostly spending her time as a member of The Outsiders. However, these days she’s front and center, not only starring in her own New 52 series Katana, but also appearing as a team member in Birds of Prey and recently in Justice League of America. Only in issue #4, Katana has shown some promise, giving Tatsu more depth and character, from her former life in Japan to the emotional toll of her fierce attachment to her revenge and to Soultaker, her powerful sword. With top-notch writer Ann Nocenti on the job and Alex Sanchez putting out some really stunning art, here’s hoping this one sticks around.
There are also a handful of leading Asian American heroes fighting crime and villainy as part of some superteams from the major publishers.
D.D. Mau – The Victories
The abrasive, hyperenergetic, cocky D.D. Mau is one of my favorite characters in comics right now. A key member of the superhero team “The Victories”, D.D. Mau has super-strength and super-speed abilities, but they come at a cost. The Victories (Dark Horse) creator Michael Oeming gets deep with his characters, and we quickly learn that behind the (quite a lot of) cocky trash talk, D.D. Mau’s superpowers aren’t all power punches and speedy thrills. No spoilers, just read it, but I will say yes, “D.D. Mau” is also the name of an apparently fairly popular Vietnamese sandwich shop in Vancouver… and irony is not lost on our curvy superheroine. It’s only in issue #1, with some backstory appearing in Dark Horse Presents #20-22, so go get it!
Karma (Xi’an Coy Manh)– Astonishing X-men
First appearing in the 1980’s as a member of the New Mutants team and sticking with the team until 2011, Karma is now a major member of a new team of in the on-going series Astonishing X-men (Marvel). Written by Marjorie Liu, the latest team is made up of Wolverine, Gambit, Warbird, Northstar, Cecila Reyes, Iceman, and of course Karma. Early on in Liu’s run on the series new reveals and a solid glimpse at some of Karma’s previously known tragic history were told, giving new readers a connection to the old superheroine. If you’re new to Karma or Astonishing X-men, the beginning of Liu’s run #48 is a great place to jump in.
Jubilee & Psylocke – X-men
Brian Wood’s all-female team in X-men #1 is out this Wednesday. Besides being awesome for its all-XX chromosome team, the team is also notable for its diversity, with Jubilee, Psylocke, and Storm all starring. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with Jubilee who probably isn’t anyone’s favorite character and seems to pull the short-stick quite often…Psylocke I suppose is debatable as an Asian American woman, since she was actually a white British girl before her mind was transplanted into a Japanese woman’s body. Psylocke is also currently a major player in Uncanny X-Force alongside Storm.
Shang–Chi – Avengers
A kung-fu master who has appeared throughout the Marvel universe since 1973, Shang–Chi is a familiar face. He recently appeared in Avengers #11, when he was recruited to help with a spying mission, where he faces down an old enemy. Avengers #11 was all about him, but will he remain a key player in the series?
Mettle (Ken Mack) & Hazmat (Jenny Takeda)- Avengers Academy & Avengers Arena
Mettle, a young superhero in the recently ended Avengers Academy (Marvel) is one of the few Pacific Islander superheroes to appear in a mainstream comic. He went on to appear in Avengers Arena. With a body made completely out of iridium, Mettle is basically indestructible, able to withstand high temperatures and blunt trauma. He also has superhuman strength, however, he is unable to feel most physical sensations. Hazmat also appeared in Avengers Academy through its end in January 2013. She and Mettle are a couple in both Avengers Academy and Avengers Arena. Hazmat takes her alias from the fact that she must constantly wear a hazmat suit due to the harmful radiation she continuously emits from her body.
Chakra (Raju Rai) – Chakra the Invincible
Stan Lee debuted a new hero on Free Comic Book Day this year in Chakra the Invincible #1 from Liquid Comics. Raju Rai isn’t actually Asian American. He’s a teenager living in Mumbai, where he puts his technological genius to work to develop a high-tech suit that uses the bodies “Chakras” to unleash super-human capabilities. No word on issue #2 yet…
Secret Identities Universe
It may not be mainstream, but I just had to give it a shout-out. The “Secret Identities” universe was created back in 2009 by a huge collective of Asian American artists and writers when they put together Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology. The anthology hosts a creative explosion of short comics featuring new Asian American superheroes created by Asian American artists. The second volume Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology just came out last year. Check ’em out!