Despite their popularity across all races, comic book superheroes have been 90 percent white dating back to their invention in the late 1930s. In the 1970s, black comic book fans could at least read about the Black Panther in “Jungle Action” and follow “Luke Cage, Hero for Hire” (later renamed Power Man).
Asian Americans had to wait a long time before one of their own became a superhero and got his own comic book in 1994 when “Xombi” hit the stands. It was published by DC (home of Superman and Batman) and was the alter ego of scientist David Kim, who used nanotechnology to keep himself alive by constantly regenerating his body when he was injured.
His book lasted 22 issues (including an issue #0) and was revived last year as a six-issue mini-series (I’m not going to count Marvel’s “Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu,” as he was from China and perceived as a foreigner).
In 2006, Ryan Choi, a very Westernized scientist (hmm, a trend here?) from China, taught physics at Ivy University in Ivy Town, home of the ’60s Atom (Ray Palmer), who was a Justice League of America member and had taken the name of the ’40s hero who was part of the Justice Society of America. Choi’s book (also published by DC), “The New Atom,” ran for 25 issues until 2008. In 2010, he was assassinated by Deathstroke, the Terminator — the arch-nemesis of the Teen Titans–and his new team of former heroes and villains.
Last month, a third Asian American superhero got his own book (thank DC once again): The Ray, Lucien Gates, a Korean American adopted by white hippie parents who have no TV and like to get high. Once again, this is a third-generation superhero. The original Ray, newspaper reporter “Happy” Terrill, was created in the 1940s and joined Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters. In 1992, his son, Ray Terrill, got a six-issue mini-series and beginning in 1994, a monthly title that lasted 28 issues. He later joined the Justice League and the Freedom Fighters.
Like his predecessors, Gates depends on light to power his lighting-fast speed. He instantly got his powers when an experimental “sun gun” shot a particle beam out from Arizona and mutated everything it touched, including him when he was at a beach working as a lifeguard.
Gates has an Asian Indian girlfriend named Chanti and a black best friend, Darius Williams. In the second issue, Gates goes to meet Chanti’s parents. Because they’re traditional immigrants who don’t want their daughter dating a non-Indian, he changes his appearance to look Indian, which pisses off his girlfriend. At the end of the magazine, she was carried off by a gigantic, metallic, human-eating bug (yuck!) and the Ray took off to rescue her.
The book’s written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, who handled two Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters mini-series as well as the excellent three-issue mini-series “Time Bomb.” And the art by Jamal Ingle (“Zatanna”) and Rich Perrotta isn’t bad. But of the three versions of the Ray, Gates has got the worst costume and looks like an old white man with white hair. .
On the plus side, it’s nice that the writers have paired him up with a fellow Asian, though making his parents white seems like a cop-out to not make the book “too Asian.” And “Lucien?” Really? What kind of parents name their son Lucien? Uh, white hippies, I guess …
We’ll see how this book develops and how long it lasts. If it doesn’t, let’s just hope the new Ray doesn’t get assassinated like the New Atom.
Coming Attractions Department: The latest installment of “Celebrity Apprentice” featuring George Takei and Tia Carrerre has been pushed back a week to Feb. 19.
Although last July, Ryan Murphy, the creator of “Glee,” prematurely talked about a spin-off for the graduating students of the show, falling ratings were probably what put an end to it. Murphy had said those graduating wouldn’t appear in “Glee,” but now, the spin-off is officially dead, and for next season, they’ve come up with a way to tell the stories of both those who continue at the high school and those who’re going on to college or pursuing their dreams in the big world.
In the opening of last week’s episode, we hear the thinking of Becky, the girl with Down syndrome, considering and rejecting possible suitors. When she seems Mike Chang (Harry Shum, Jr.), she says, “No Chan do; I’m no rice queen.” Hmm. Guess even girls with Down syndrome can be racist.
Funny how even a minor, recurring character like her can get her own “inside the head” episode whereas Asian American regulars like Jenna Ushkowitz and Shum never have. It really helps to be white: All of those who shared their thoughts with the viewers — from wheelchair guy to gay guy to football star to pregnant cheerleader to Barbra Streisand wanna-be — are white. Some things never change.
Try That Again? Department: During CBS’ Television Critics Association panel, CBS President Nina Tassler defended accusations that the portrayal of Han Lee (Matthew Moy) in “2 Broke Girls” is racist. She said it was an “equal opportunity offender” and that she’d talked to the creator of the sitcom about adding more dimension to secondary characters like Lee.
But two days later, that creator, Michael Patrick King, denied they ever talked about it, saying that as a comedy writer, he had “permission to be an outsider and poke fun at what people think about other people.” Then he contradicted himself by saying that over time, the other characters would be rounded out more … like in five years.
He’s obviously confusing the level of the quality of his series with more respected ones like “Lost.”
Tim Goodman, TV critic for the Hollywood Reporter, had this to say about the half-hour exchange with reporters: “One of the most contentious TCA panels in memory happened when Michael Patrick King had to defend ‘2 Broke Girls’ against charges of racism, stereotypes and an over-reliance on wink-wink sex jokes (he did a lousy job of it, by the way, and seemed as clueless in his defensiveness as CBS can sometimes be about content issues).
“Often it seems like the fall-back defense is, hey, the ratings are great, what could we possibly be doing wrong? For example: ‘The fact that there is such strong ratings growth for all of them mean that those shows are resonating,’ Tassler said. ‘It means that the characters are resonating. It means that their dialogue is really landing with audiences. The shows are laugh-out-loud funny.’
“OK, no one was expecting Tassler to toss her successful comedies under the bus — a lot of critics don’t like those shows and sometimes the knee-jerk reaction at CBS is that our disdain is elitist, so why address any issues at hand — but it’s clear that ‘2 Broke Girls’ and the upcoming ‘Rob’ have tone issues (regarding race, specifically) that CBS could and should correct.”
Till next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.