Power of Asian superheroes
January 8, 2016 2:27 AM   Subscribe

To say that Asians cannot be superheroes because of “Asian values” erases traditional and contemporary Asian superheroes, assumes all Asians are the same, and echoes a long history of racist oppression. It tells Asians that we can only be part of someone else’s story, and never make our own stories. Having Asian superheroes is a way of changing all that.
In response to their compatriot Umapagan Ampikaipakan's New York Times piece about the "oxymoron of Asian superheros", fellow Malaysian writers Amanda Ng Yann Chwen and Louise Tan speak of the importance of having relatable role models in fiction.
posted by divabat (60 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
The oxymoron piece, while well written... is baffling.

Is the trope that all Asians (all the billions from east to west) have "humility, self-effacement, respect for elders and communal harmony" deeply embeded in Malaysia?
posted by Mezentian at 3:07 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah I'm not sure if the first article presents anything beyond the author thinking out loud.

I've always seen superheroes/comics as a deeply American (and not just 'Western') art form - as foreign to, say, Britain as it is to Malaysia. But because of the global reach of American culture it belongs to everyone too, and can be cloned and made something local while still being a product of its original location.

Think of something like jazz - quintessentially American, but there's tons of great e.g. Scandinavian jazz which has its own merits. What did Esbjorn Svensson say about his own music "It's jazz, but it's not what jazz is".

Or rap, also a product of a specific community and time and place, which has grown legs so you have stuff like incredible angry French rap that successfully transplants it.

The thing is the 'superhero' is a different thing to the 'hero' one is a specific set of tropes rooted in 30's/40's America but that can be applied anywhere and one is a universal throughout all human history.

But yeah lumping all of Asia together culturally is very stupid - if someone did this for Europe I'd think they were an idiot.
posted by kersplunk at 3:37 AM on January 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Who was the Japanese mutant that joined the X-Men? He disappeared after two issues. A fire mutant., or heat mutant, I don't remember.
posted by Mblue at 4:10 AM on January 8, 2016


Is the trope that all Asians (all the billions from east to west) have "humility, self-effacement, respect for elders and communal harmony" deeply embeded in Malaysia?

It's something that gets reinforced a lot here, yeah. "This is against Asian values!" and "As Asians you must respect your elders!" and etc, often pitted against "Western values" (most common targets: LGBTQ communities, youth activity, any sort of activism).
posted by divabat at 4:10 AM on January 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Better tell Japan to cancel all the mangas then.
posted by adept256 at 4:15 AM on January 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


Who was the Japanese mutant that joined the X-Men? He disappeared after two issues. A fire mutant., or heat mutant, I don't remember.

Sunfire. He did leave the X-Men team after only one mission, but he didn't disappear. He's been a recurring character in X-books and other Marvel books for decades.
posted by Sangermaine at 4:27 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't know, the stuff about manga superheroes not properly representing their culture really seems off. But that might just be due to One Punch Man being so recent in my memory.
posted by charred husk at 4:42 AM on January 8, 2016


I think Sun Wukong would have something to say about this.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:48 AM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


Well, he's right that it can't be an accident why attempts to have Asian superheroes have failed. The reason offered makes no sense to me, though. Every single minority on the planet has been historically underrepresented in US superhero comics. Someone has already mentioned One Punch Man as well, for this argument to make sense we basically have to start discounting huge swaths of manga, which gets a little to No True Scotsman-like for my tastes. Why should we be surprised that when we confine superhero comics to only those done almost entirely by US and British markets, for US and British markets, we find that asians are erased from the story just as thoroughly as they have been from, say, hollywood movies.
posted by teh_boy at 4:54 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Forget superheroes, I'd settle to just see more Asian actors on television and movies that don't exist solely to play old stereotypes. There's been a tiny slow march towards that but still too many that exist solely as caricatures based on race.
posted by Karaage at 5:02 AM on January 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'm reminded of an article that was posted in the Moss Viewing thread that described in great detail how the Japanese mindset is based on the Zen Buddhist destruction of self.

I think would-be cultural analysts must be careful to separate stereotypes of a culture (even positive/neutral ones) from the actual values of that culture and then again from how people who belong to that culture actually feel about those values.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:13 AM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


Danny Rand. Danny Rand. Danny Rand.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:24 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Also take that Asian actor and put him in Fraction's big Immortal Weapons tournament storyline so we can not only see POCs but also fat people and women being completely badass heroes. It also helps that that story is completely bonkers.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:27 AM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]




Borrowing stories from Matt Fraction is always a great idea. But I liked the team-up with Orson Randall story a little more.

Heck, throw a curve ball and make the entire Iron Fist series about Wu Ao-Shi, the Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay. I'd watch the Hell out of that.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:50 AM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think Sun Wukong would have something to say about this.

Quoted for truth. If we're talking about crazoid superheroics, Journey to the West (both the original novel and the hundreds of adaptations thereof) makes Avengers: Age of Ultron look like a mundane Hallmark melodrama. It's true that a bunch of characters are literal gods and demons, but the main protagonists are all basically regular folks thrown into extraordinary situations.
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:51 AM on January 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


As an Asian, Umapagan Ampikaipakan's article made no sense, but Amanda Ng Yann Chwen and Louise Tan's article resonated a lot with me. I too grew up with only window books, to such an extent that when I finally visited England and Scotland it almost felt like home. But like they said, that's not a problem for Marvel or Hollywood to solve; it's up to us to write our own stories about where we live.
posted by destrius at 6:11 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm impressed by Ampikaipakan's sleight of hand. For one half-sentence he almost, almost acknowledges that maybe Asian Americans living in America might see a need for Asian American superheroes the way Asians living in Asia would not; instead he leans hard into "American = white," while also disavowing Ms. Marvel as a legitimate Asian superhero because her experiences are too generically American. Wow. And that's without getting into all the other assumptions he's making about pan-Asian identity, Japanese comics and cultural traditions, etc that are just wrong wrong worng.

A couple more response articles:
What Being an Alien Taught Me About Stories, Zen Cho
The 'Asian Superhero' is Not An Oxymoron, Keith Chow

The podcast BlackComicsChat just did a roundtable about Asian heroes with Ampikaipakan, Chow, and Imran Siddiquee which I'm listening to this afternoon.
posted by bettafish at 6:11 AM on January 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


Also, totally this:
Furthermore, the argument about “Asian values” falls apart because 4.4 billion people aren’t all the same. The idea is a social construct used by politicians like Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Lee Kuan Yew to justify their governments.
My personal opinion of the whole Asian values thing is that it was just a way of wrapping up conservative values and then presenting them in an East vs West dichotomy, tying social conservatism with anti-colonialism/patriotism.
posted by destrius at 6:15 AM on January 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


Is the trope that all Asians (all the billions from east to west) have "humility, self-effacement, respect for elders and communal harmony" deeply embeded in Malaysia?

This is the belief that is taught and is very, very common throughout much of Southeast Asia (certainly Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos---it's Vietnam and small pocket "hilltribes" that I'm not sure of---I'm not sure of). It is more culturally pervasive than traditional basic Judeo-Christian beliefs are here in the US, as far as I can tell based on my years in the region and friendships throughout the area.
posted by mkuhnell at 6:26 AM on January 8, 2016


My personal opinion of the whole Asian values thing is that it was just a way of wrapping up conservative values and then presenting them in an East vs West dichotomy, tying social conservatism with anti-colonialism/patriotism.

YUPPPPPPPPPP. See: "LGBTQ activists and human rights activists are being paid off by foreign Zionist agents to take down our Asian culture!"

This is why I have such a hard time being comfortable with my POC American friends who are all about decolonization and how homophobia is a colonial concept etc: over here homophobia is "decolonial", apparently.
posted by divabat at 6:26 AM on January 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


The Iron Sheik might have been a bad guy, but he was our bad guy.
posted by exogenous at 6:51 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


How can an Asian superhero take down the bad guy without embarrassing both the bad guy’s family and his own? How do you save the world and save face at the same time?

Interesting that Spider-Man comes up so much in both articles, because this sure sounds like a Spider-Man question.
posted by Artw at 6:51 AM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Quoted for truth. If we're talking about crazoid superheroics, Journey to the West (both the original novel and the hundreds of adaptations thereof) makes Avengers: Age of Ultron look like a mundane Hallmark melodrama.

There's a Stephen Chow movie even. Stephen Chow movies seem to contradict a lot of the notions about what is impossible here.
posted by Artw at 6:57 AM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


god bless you divabat for making this post, because i've been trying to gear myself up to do it for since christmas, and i just couldn't. it doesn't help i run in similar circles as the writer, but on the other hand, thanks to fb likes i've got a handy list of people who are dead to me.
posted by cendawanita at 7:31 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


One of the main reasons that there aren't many Asian characters in DC/Marvel comics is that there just aren't that many new characters period. The superheroes that people have heard of were almost all created in the 60's or earlier, in the 80's at the latest -- from a quick look through Wikipedia, pretty much everyone in the Marvel movies except Nebula (1985) first appeared before 1980. Outside of those, there are a few later characters (Jubilee (1989), Gambit (1990), Bane (1993), Jessica Jones (2001)), but not many.

The publishing arms of DC and Marvel make most of their money from habitual purchasers who buy the same thing every month, so it's really hard to launch something really new. New characters have a tendency to get canceled, killed, or both -- a new series running past a year counts as a big success.
posted by ectabo at 8:09 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


If The Heroic Trio isn't a superhero movie, I'll eat my hat. Two of the characters are even named Wonder Woman and Invisible Woman, for crying out loud.
posted by Gelatin at 8:19 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I wonder if the most obvious counter examples being Chinese or Indian is a factor here. The main thing I get from the article (and I am no expert) is that Malaysia lacks a robust pop culture of its own, or there's class issues meaning the author is not in on it.
posted by Artw at 8:29 AM on January 8, 2016


And come to think of it China and India as cultural behemoths trampling your home grown content underfoot probably wouldn't be any more comforting than America doing it.
posted by Artw at 8:31 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


How can an Asian superhero take down the bad guy without embarrassing both the bad guy’s family and his own? How do you save the world and save face at the same time?

Interesting that Spider-Man comes up so much in both articles, because this sure sounds like a Spider-Man question.


I mean, it's even kind of an Abarenbo Shogun question, for that matter... (The Abarenbo Shogun answer is ninjas.)
posted by tobascodagama at 8:34 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ninjas are usually a good answer. Unless Ogami Ittō Is involved.
posted by Artw at 8:36 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


The main thing I get from the article (and I am no expert) is that Malaysia lacks a robust pop culture of its own, or there's class issues meaning the author is not in on it.

You would be forgiven to make that assumption based on what he wrote (and of course you only see non-Malaysian examples cited here because we're both small fry and more consumer than producer of regional/international pop culture), but the fact of the matter is, he's a raised rich anglophile/phone with no sense of connection to the pop culture that's happening literally right under his nose. A lot of this is due to sociocultural, ethnicity and class factors - our pop culture is very robust but also very segregated. There's a lot of things happening, but they're all happening along respective ethnic/language lines, with some intersection depending on class, region, or (in the case of Malay, being the National Language) deliberate promotion. We don't quite have a homogenous culture that subsumes the rest - because of this each cultural community can very comfortably produce and engage in material on their own terms. As I was saying in that other post about the prank with the motorsports, English is as much a Malaysian language as the rest, but there are class associations to it, that's also influenced from colonial legacy. You can very much be raised a true 'authentic' Malaysian with no exposure to local culture unless mediated in English (and all its attendant cultural assumptions about 'exotic' cultures and 'better' cultures). You're seeing one of the products of such upbringing in action.
posted by cendawanita at 8:49 AM on January 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


I think a thorough discussion of post-colonial Southeast Asia is worthy of an FPP.
But I'm too lazy to be the one to do it.
posted by destrius at 8:56 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


The fuck? Journey to the West is basically about a team of superheroes out on a mission: the Monkey King, a cannibalistic pig demon trying to reform, a dragon, and a monk who serves as their moral compass. The bandits in The Water Margin each have their own special powers, and better superhero names than you will find anywhere else: the Blue-faced Beast, the Black Whirlwind, Red-haired Devil, Winged Tiger, Ten Feet of Steel, Iron Face, Stumpy Tiger, God of Death, Demon King of Chaos, and dozens more.

Both works are Chinese classics, both have been made straight into comics many times, and either would serve as a framework for building Asian superheroes any time anyone wanted to use them.

What, China isn't Asian enough to count?
posted by ckridge at 9:07 AM on January 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


One of the main reasons that there aren't many Asian characters in DC/Marvel comics is that there just aren't that many new characters period.

Many comics creators these days refuse to introduce new characters when working for Marvel or DC because they know they won't be allowed to retain ownership. Why give away your great idea for a new superhero to one of the big two when you can take it to a smaller publisher and keep all your rights? Why let Marvel or DC pocket all the cash when Hollywood comes calling instead of pocketing that cash yourself?

This is a result of Marvel and DC's old work-for-hire contracts coming back to bite them in the ass. Younger creators have learned from the horror stories regarding Jack Kirby, Jerry Siegel et al, and they're not about to sign away their own characters so easily.
posted by Paul Slade at 9:14 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I definitely appreciate the author introducing the Green Turtle, but I don't really agree that Asian superheroes are an oxymoron that clash against Asian values. I think the fact that we can point to numerous Asian movie stars (Bruce Lee!), athletes, pop stars, artists, and even statespeople kind of undercuts this. Yes, the celebrity culture in Asia is different than that of the West (and it is different among Asian countries as well), but each of these groups manage to balance the need to "save face" and, y'know, be famous for doing what they do.
posted by FJT at 9:15 AM on January 8, 2016


Speaking of the Green Turtle, Gene Yuen Lang (American Born Chinese, Boxers and Saints, Superman, Avatar: the Last Airbender) wrote a reboot/origin called The Shadow Hero with Sonny Liew (who did the illo for the NYT piece).

(I kind of want to do a mini-roundup of Asian American superheroes in comics right now/Asian American creators working on superhero titles and the heretofore unprecedented overlap between the two but I also don't want to potentially derail from the discussion of superheroes in Asian pop culture. I will hold on this at the discretion of folks in the thread who actually live in Asia, otherwise MeMail me if you want some reading suggestions.)

Interesting that Spider-Man comes up so much in both articles, because this sure sounds like a Spider-Man question.

I had this whole thing about the history of minority fans my age and older projecting onto/relating to Peter Parker's Spider-Man and how a whole host of factors (the advent of Miles Morales, obvs, but also classwashing, the fall of Mary Jane Watson, brand mismanagement issues and Chris Evans) have shifted critical discussion of the character in ways both fascinating and bizarre, but I deleted it because that is a definite derail.
posted by bettafish at 9:36 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ōgon Bat ("Golden Bat"), first seen in 1931, predates American superheroes by several years. Ōgon Bat continued to be popular enough to be adapted into an anime series in the late 60's, and influenced Japanese superheroes and tokusatsu shows.
posted by needled at 9:38 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Little-known fact: Super Mario originally came from Japan, and not Belgium as people tend to assume from the name. Just because they aren't portrayed in exactly the same way in the same kind of stories as the American ones doesn't mean they aren't Super.

My favourite asian superhero is still Bodhidharma.
posted by sfenders at 9:44 AM on January 8, 2016


Wait, there are people who assume that Super Mario is Belgian?
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:00 AM on January 8, 2016


So, remember a while back when we had those tirefire discussions re: cultural appropriation, one of them touched off by a Japanese person trying to speak over Asian-Americans?

This is the same thing. This is a hot take by an actual foreigner who, for some reason, white people are taking to speak for and a cudgel against Americans who have Asian faces, who are considered perpetual foreigners. So fuck that guy and fuck you if you think his op-ed was "interesting" or "incisive" and deserves anything more than scorn.

It doesn't help that the guy's op-ed doesn't even get basic facts right re: manga/anime, and it definitely doesn't seem like he understands why an Asian-American kid would want to see someone who looks like them in an American story as a real, honest-to-goodness character instead of something in the background.

---

Also, Asian-American X-Men include:
Jubilee (Jubilation Lee, Chinese-American, born in the US)
Dust (Sooraya Qadir, Afghani-American, born in Afghanistan)
Karma (Xian Coy Manh, VIetnamese-American, born in Vietnam)

Sunfire was Japanese-Japanese, in both Mariko Yashida (Exiles) and Shiro Yashida (mainline) forms.
posted by qcubed at 10:02 AM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


That first article made my eyeballs roll to the back of my head. Why is this author setting back progress like that, with introducing such thoughtless bullshit?

Everyone else already said what I was going to say up there, but I think it's just insulting that someone else is talking out of their ass about a context that they don't even understand or have thought to think about. Also, I know nooooothing about the Malaysian context, or anything else really. I don't even know the Chinese context that much either. I'm a 2nd generation American. So that is a point I will heartily state.

I've spent so much time having to de-program myself, a 2nd generation Chinese American, from super racist mainstream media portrayals of Chinese culture and people and economy. I still find it amazing when my mom openly shares some badass parts of Chinese medicine, history, culture, superhero stories, and ancestor stories that directly go against and challenge a lot of Western, white supremacy that is so focused on anti-Communism as a monolithic tarring. I think it's fucked up that the noise gets in the way of sharing really interesting, good stories, that can make people question and check their own cultural assumptions and force themselves to be in another context, where their racist generalizations can be checked. If checked and thoroughly dismantled, it can ultimately contribute to a much more open and interesting world.

For my Asian American friends who love comic books, it's a chance to enter that super white space and find a place in it, and a place to carve a different narrative for their Asian-American or Asian-diaspora selves, because that's what they do in their daily lives. It's a chance to explore the journey and confusion that exists, and learning to take apart weird damnings of either side. The conflation of social conservatism with "Asian values" has more to do with very specific groups of people who have immigrated over successfully to Western countries, and I won't go anymore into it because I don't have my citations to back me up right now.

But damn. For those whom this applies, let's just move away from some bad internalized Orientalism, can we?
posted by yueliang at 10:26 AM on January 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


Wait, there are people who assume that Super Mario is Belgian?

Probably not, but according to Wikipedia the only country other than Italy that is home to famous people named Luigi and Mario is Belgium. A country which shares with most of Asia, and indeed the rest of the world, the characteristic of not having many world-famous comic book superheroes of its own.
posted by sfenders at 10:32 AM on January 8, 2016


Sunfire is kind of a dick TBH. Even compared with Cyclops.
posted by Artw at 10:33 AM on January 8, 2016


Exiles Sunfire is pretty cool. Even wants to settle down with alternate-universe Spider-Woman, Mary Jane.
posted by qcubed at 10:39 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm listening to the podcast that bettafish linked above, and the thing that really sticks out is that someone points out to Umapagan Ampikaipakan that results matter and intentions don't, and it sounds entirely like that Ampikaipakan (? I hope that's his surname? I do not know how Malay? Malaysian? names work) had good intentions, but absolutely, completely, terribly whiffed on that essay.

Even worse than Chua's Tiger Mom thing.
posted by qcubed at 11:00 AM on January 8, 2016


he's Malaysian of Southern Indian descent and yes, Ampikaipakan is his surname. No, he's not Malay. ie he's not even one of the politically privileged ethnicity in his own home country. (Which makes the tonedeafness of his piece an absolute facepalm to this Malaysian)
posted by cendawanita at 11:09 AM on January 8, 2016


A country which shares with most of Asia, and indeed the rest of the world, the characteristic of not having many world-famous comic book superheroes of its own.

Yes, because Tintin is too badass to wear a mask.
posted by FJT at 11:39 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


You could say I was primed to buy into all this. I’m Hindu and grew up on the adventures of gods with formidable features: the elephant-like Ganesh; the monkey-faced Hanuman; the blue-skinned, butter-eating Krishna. But they always remained out of reach: I could never be Ganesh or Krishna; they were deities.

It says a lot about me that the most shocking part of this essay was discovering that there are still dualist polytheist Hindus wandering around. (Also, "butter-eating", that's really your extra takeaway about Krishna?)

How can an Asian superhero take down the bad guy without embarrassing both the bad guy’s family and his own? How do you save the world and save face at the same time?

This is, literally, what sets the Bhagavad Gita in motion, this exact specific question.

"Sin will overcome us if we slay such aggressors. Therefore it is not proper for us to kill the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra and our friends. What should we gain, O Kṛṣṇa, husband of the goddess of fortune, and how could we be happy by killing our own kinsmen? O Janārdana [Krishna], although these men, overtaken by greed, see no fault in killing one's family or quarreling with friends, why should we, with knowledge of the sin, engage in these acts?" (1.36-1.38)

It's a good book! It's got some pretty super heroes in it. Maybe this guy should read it.

We geeks out here in the Asian hinterlands have always readily bought into American ideals because the American comic book makes us believe we can be special, too. The Asian superhero, steeped in our cultural baggage, would only undermine the fantasy.

yueliang nails it: this is some heavy, heavy internalized Orientalism and imperialist apology. It's embarrassing and I feel like I have to come get my Indian boy. Sorry about him. He is being gross and weird.
posted by Errant at 11:56 AM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


I've been avoiding reading initial NYT article for a while because it came to my attention via this Twitter exchange with the author wherein he claims that "where [he's] from, pop-culture is seen as purely disposable escapist entertainment." (Oh really? It is? Says who?) At that point, I realize that I have no idea who this Malaysian commentator is (e.g.: is he the Piers Morgan of Malaysia? the Andrew Sullivan? the Charlie Rose? the Ta-Nahesi Coates?) and hence have no idea how to contextualize his opinions. And, yes I know it's just Twitter with all its limitations and stuff, but to just throw out such a wide-ranging, dismissive, blanket statement like that seemed weird to me.
posted by mhum at 12:31 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I just came in here to add Hisako Ichiki (a.k.a. Armor) to the list of Asian X-Men. She's Japanese.

And I'm just going to pretend I didn't hear that diss against Cyclops.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 2:36 PM on January 8, 2016


I'm waiting on Fazia Hussein getting to be Captain Britain when it isn't the end of the multiverse/an alternate timeline/whatever.
posted by Artw at 2:45 PM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


This post made me think of the Yangban in the Worm web serial . The Chinese superheros ("parahumans") all work for the state, and any individuality is brainwashed out of them. One parahuman on the team has the power to share other parahumans powers with others, diluting the power in the process. So instead of individuals each with their own strong power, the China has a team with all of the powers, each just less effective. It really plays in to the trope of the rugged individualism of the West versus the communal vision of the East. The serial also has a distinct culture for their Indian parahumans.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 3:27 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Belgium [...] A country which shares with most of Asia, and indeed the rest of the world, the characteristic of not having many world-famous comic book superheroes of its own.

Surely Jean-Claude Van Damme, Tintin, and the Chimay brewery must all count as superheroes.
posted by Strange Interlude at 4:04 PM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


mhum: He's not really like any one of your examples of cultural commentators to that particular level, maybe a layer below.

I can see what he means about being wary of American exceptionalism - I have been frustrated with how Asian-Americans (even more so than Asians from other places in or out of Asia) seem to assume that Asians either deal with the same issues universally, or assume that Asians in Asia never face any sort of discrimination or bigotry because hey, we're all Asian right?! So in that case it may be an interesting point that Asian-AMERICAN literature can be unrelatable to the Asian-ASIAN experience, especially when you try to drill it down to a per-country level (Indians in Malaysia hold very different social privilege to Indians in India, for example).

Malaysian pop culture is kind of weird. There's an assimilationist thread with primarily-Malay-medium media being imposed onto everyone, and then the overall larger expectations of "Asian values" and the requirement of having to be aligned with what the Government wants lest you get arrested or censored. Which is why almost every Malay-language story ends up with the protagonist repenting and returning to Islam. There's some development of indie media and indie press, but it's tiny, and tends to be confined to affluent anglophile Kuala Lumpur (maybe Penang or Johor too). Good luck trying to get anything through if you're a racial minority, if you're LGBTQ, if you are any level "alternative lifestyle". Between this, and the general lack of useful creative writing education in Malaysia (DON'T GET ME STARTED) it's not surprising that we end up relying on foreign media...and then feel excluded by it because they're dealing with issues that aren't always ours.
posted by divabat at 4:14 PM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


Well, he's right that it can't be an accident why attempts to have Asian superheroes have failed.

Perhaps, but any attempt to do so also has to explain why every other superhero of colour has also failed (for certain values of failure). The real top tier superheroes, those everybody knows are all white men after all, with the occasional white woman as a bonus. All of which has nothing to do with inherent characteristics of huge masses of people making them inappropriate to be superheroes, but rather more with the continuing legacy of racism and sexism within the industry and fandom.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:29 AM on January 11, 2016


Well, he's right that it can't be an accident why attempts to have Asian superheroes have failed.

It's also possible that Japanese pop culture/anime already fulfills some of the function that Asian superheroes would have filled. That is, having media created by Asian people that stars Asian characters (Though with the caveat that of course Japan's portrayals of Asians from other countries sometimes does fall into it's own stereotypes).
posted by FJT at 9:36 AM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I would be ... hesitant about that as a theory, since different communities in different countries are not going to have the same relationship with Japanese cultural imports.

Re: the "there are few (American) superheroes of color because almost all (American) superheroes of note are white dudes created in the 60s or earlier" thread that's come up a couple of times... well. It's true, but it's not a deterministic self-fulfilling prophecy, it's the cumulative result of repeated (in)actions that we can unpack, challenge, and unlearn if we really want to. No one who wasn't reading his comic cared about Iron Man in 2007, Silver Age legacy or no Silver Age legacy.

I have more to say about this but it's super late here so I'm just going to mention that the new issue of Silk (Korean American hero, Korean American artist) comes out this week and I am very happy that this smart, gorgeously-rendered cape comic that tackles trauma recovery, the psychological effects of fighting violence with violence, and the confusing proliferation of Pokemon exists and is a thing I can buy.
posted by bettafish at 6:44 PM on January 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Thanks, divabat, for that run-down. It's much appreciated.
posted by mhum at 7:02 PM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Also, Asian-American X-Men include:
Jubilee (Jubilation Lee, Chinese-American, born in the US)


Speaking of Jubilee: Lana Condor’s Jubilee in X-Men: Apocalypse: New Powers, Old Costume

Also, in the films, Blink is Asian (no idea about the character's nationality.)
posted by homunculus at 6:23 PM on January 23, 2016


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