Most of the comic books Americans grew up reading starred white characters. It wasn’t until the ’60s that Marvel introduced the Black Panther and the Falcoln and the ’70s when DC created Black Lightning.
But mindful of a younger generation that expects characters — whether in movies or on television — to reflect the society they’re living in, the comic book companies have been trying to retro-fit some of their iconic characters. A few years ago, Marvel created a half Latino/half black Spider-Man and DC gave us a Chinese Atom. In July, they debuted a Chinese Superman.
Unlike past incarnations where DC maintained the same origin story (in one case, Krypton still exploded but its sole survivor landed in Russia and grew up a communist, not an American), this “New Super-Man” was raised in Shanghai, China, and isn’t Kryptonese. He’s not exactly a role model either. Kenan Kong tells us that in the history of China only three people were as important as he: The first emperor, Chairman Mao, and Yao Ming. The teenager also believes he’s “handsome like a movie star.”
In the opening pages, Kenan chases after Lixin Luo — a chubby Chinese boy — punches him, and once again steals his soda. “I’ve even offered to buy one for you!” Lixin points out in frustration. “Why do you insist on taking mine?!”
“Because for some reason, it tastes better this way,” Kenan answers.
During their struggle, Lixin’s grabbed by one of the country’s first super villains, Blue Condor. For some reason, Kenan throws the soda at him and the heavy runs off. But even when Lixin thanks Kenan for saving his life and says, “I don’t know how I could ever repay you!” Kenan has a response: “Give me all the cash you’ve got on you.”
Only seeing his heroic act, reporter Laney Lan (obviously the Chinese version of Lois Lane) approaches him, and the future superhero is instantly smitten.
We later learn why Kenan picks on Lixin — he’s the son of the CEO of China Southeast Airlines. Kenan was 12 when his mother died when one of those planes crashed. So our bully holds a grudge.
Kenan’s approached by Dr. Omen of the Ministry Of Self-Reliance. This should automatically raise red flags because his estranged mechanic father has been working with others to expose the group for its shady “secret government” affairs. Still, for no good reason, Kenan goes along with her offer to give him Superman’s powers.
Omen informs Kenan that she’s putting together “The Justice League of China” (the American version also includes heroes like the Flash, Green Lantern and Aquaman) as a way of being taken seriously by the West. And he begins hanging out with “The Bat-Man of China” and “Wonder-Woman of China.” (For some reason, these characters have hyphens between their names, unlike the white characters we’ve known since the ’30s and ’40s.)
Erratic and loving the attention, he reveals to Laney Lan — on television — that his secret identity is Kenan Kong and that he’s the leader of the Justice League of China (which no one’s supposed to know about). This brings them to the attention of the American Batman and Justice League as well as Lex Luthor, so the Chinese superheroes may meet their American counterparts soon. The fall out continues in the fourth issue, which comes out this week.
“New Super-Man” is written by Chinese American Gene Luen Yang, the award-winning author/artist behind the “American Born Chinese” graphic novel. The concept of the Chinese Superman was suggested to him by DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and DC co-publisher Jim Lee (who’s Korean American). At first, Yang didn’t want to handle the project, as he was raised in California and didn’t feel he knew the cultural and political specifics of China to pull it off. But he eventually agreed to do it because he realized how rare it was to see an Asian superhero and writing the Chinese version of an iconic character like Superman was hard to pass up.
In my opinion, any new version of classic heroes like Superman or Spider-Man will only pale by comparison. If publishers want to produce ethnic superheroes, they’re better off creating brand new ones that won’t be unfavorably compared to the alter egos of Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, and Peter Parker. On the other hand, putting Asian characters into the suits of top-line characters like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman draws attention and probably creates a sense of pride for some Asian Americans. We’ll see how this concept plays out in the months to come.
Second Round Department: Although ABC’s “Quantico” started out strong last season, it eventually frustrated me with its many twists and turns about who was behind the terrorist bombings. In order to lead us on, the producers kept having its various cast members switch sides so many times (e.g., helping Alex Parrish — played by Priyanka Chopra — then believing she’s a traitor, then working with her again) that it almost didn’t matter. It was a farce.
Apparently, many felt the same because when the spy drama returned for its second season a few weeks ago, its ratings were down in the 18-49 age range by a whopping 50% to a measly .96. Hopefully that number will double as it did last season after seven days for those who record the show then watch it back later.
While the first season dealt with Parrish and her fellow cadets training to become FBI agents, the second season focuses on her and her love interest infiltrating a renegade group of CIA agents to see what they’re up to. A year later, terrorists take over a high-rise building, which resulted in the first lady being beheaded (eep!). Were any of the CIA renegades responsible? So far, it’s a well-constructed set-up.
Thankfully, we’re supposed to see less bed-hopping as the first season, as it was tiring especially since Chopra only slept with white guys. Even this season, it seems like every time she gets into a conversation with — what else? — a white agent, she’s smiling coyly as if preparing to be seduced. Ugh.
“Quantico” airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m/9 central.
Again? Department: I have to admit I was surprised at the big uproar over Bill O’Reilly airing a segment of “Watters’ World” where correspondent Jesse Watters ventured into New York’s Chinatown to get people’s reaction to the presidential election. As you can predict, he made fun of Chinese immigrants by talking to those whose first language was not English, threw in “Kung Fu Fighting” music, martial arts, and foot massage, and made stereotyped comments.
This is the same kind of nonsense disc jockeys have done for decades (like calling up Chinese restaurants and confusing them with sexual questions) and I’ve heard of so many instances I’ve become numb to them.
Thankfully, Asian American Journalists Association took a firm stance asking for a meeting with the producers of “The O’Reilly Factor” and rejecting the host’s offer to discuss it on his program. “No way, Jose,” they said, knowing it’d be a losing proposition to go on his turf where he could control the discussion and end it whenever he wanted. At press time, the producer of the show had agreed to meet with activists in New York. The press conference with elected officials protesting the show also helped.
I loved how Chinese American comedian Ronny Chieng of Trevor Noah’s “The Daily Show” angrily spoke out against the segment and demonstrated how sophisticated the people of Chinatown were both about the election and the Watters piece. Check it out here: www.salon.com/2016/10/07/watch-the-daily-show-takes-on-fox-news-host-jesse-watters-racist-chinatown-skit-when-they-mention-mexico-do-you-send-someone-to-taco-bell/
Comedian Jenny Yang also offered her own take, going to Beverly Hills and asking white people about stereotyped “white people stuff” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZkLzcUoQb0). Both were great in pointing out the ignorant and insulting nature of what Watters — and so many others before him — did.
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.