In college — yes, college — I discovered Marvel and the complicated characters of angst-ridden Spiderman, guilt-ridden Thor and the lonely Silver Surfer. The art was amazing. The frames were like watching a movie with closeups, wide shots and quick cuts. They popped off the page.
Late night discussions during college (encouraged by a couple of beers) didn’t always center around life, death, Vietnam or existentialism, sometimes in half-seriousness, we’d weigh the probable fate of our superheroes.
Kenyan Kong joins a growing stable of superheroes of color, though many of them have been unable to grow beyond their mantles, according to cultural critic Keith Chow, founder of the cultural criticism site The Nerds of Color and editor-creator of the two Secret Identities collections.
“Super-man,” (Can we do away with the hyphen already?) is being penned by Gene Luen Yang, a graphic novelist with a long list of credits including American Born Chinese, which was nominated for Book of the Year in 2006. For the past year, he’s been writing the Superman stories for DC Comics.
While most of the above reboots of traditional superheroes have been out for some time now, the new “Super-man” is set to debut in July this year.
None of the superheroes I read in the comic books looked like me – not that I wanted to be a superhero, but the lack of Asian Americans in the American pop melieu cut me off from what I considered to be my home. It reinforced the feeling that I did not belong nor was I a part of American society, my town, my school and not even in the make-believe world of comic books.
Things have changed – are changing – for the better, I think. I’m sure there will be some Asian American kids reading about the adventures of this new crop of superheroes who will at last see characters who look like them. Today’s superheroes are imperfect. They have flaws and often are dealing with the same feelings of exclusion and angst that young people of color, sometimes feel.
Sana Amanat, the Marvel exec who created Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, recalled those feelings last week at the United State of Women summit at the Washington Convention Center. The Pakistani American was on a panel focusing on diversity in the media, and she shared the stage with such other leaders as Gloria Steinem, TV’s Shonda Rhimes and Muslim Girl editor Amani Al-Khatahtbeh.
“When you grow up being very conscious of the fact that you are the ‘other,’ it cultivates a sense of uncertainty and shame within you that can take a long time to overcome,” Amanat tells The Washington Post. “My desire to be ‘white,’ while covert, fed a delusion in my self-identity that I only broke away from towards the end of high school and truly in college.”
With the introduction of Kamala Khan, Kenan Kong, Cindy Moon, Amadeus Cho and others not mentioned here, hopefully the AAPI kids reading the comic books of today won’t have to be alone in the sometimes gut-wrenching search for identity. They’ll have superheroes who look like them as guides.
Television and films have a ways to go to catch up with the comics. For those two mediums, it is too easy and creatively lazy to recast superheroes to the default white guy. In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.