AAPI Heritage Month in Comics
May is Asian American – Pacific Islander Heritage month and while there are so many incredible comic characters I want to honor this month, this list features but a few of comics greatest characters. I can’t begin writing this post without acknowledging how in comics booming popularity in the 1940’s many harmful asian stereotypes were perpetuated in the anti-war effort in western comics the like of Marvel Comics, Military Comics, Detective Comics and more but in those years since comics have made huge advances in creating, empowering, and lifting AAPI voices in their works, though there is still a long way to go. There is still so much more to be done in terms of representation in media but we still have a wealth of characters to celebrate and I can’t wait to see what incredible characters and events we will see going forward!
Shang Chi – Masters of Kung Fu – Chinese
Shang Chi has been in the spotlight quite a bit lately as his own feature film Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is set to release this fall but the character himself has been around since the early seventies, a product of the rising popularity of martial arts in programs like Kung Fu to the point where Shang Chi even had his physical appearance modeled after world renowned actor and martial artist extraordinaire, Bruce Lee. Upon inception, his origin shows him as a prominent figure born in the Honan Province of China, the son of the literary character/caricature Fu Manchu (which was thankfully later changed to an immortal being named Zheng Zu, or Wenwu in the film, because of copyright issues) who defies his father and chooses to become a hero for the world. He’s worn many hats over the years, a Hero for Hire, Agent of ATLAS and Avenger, Shang Chi was one of comics first prominent Asian superheroes in circulation and now after several missteps in his history and portrayal it seems as if he is finally being given his due course and I can’t wait to see what doors the film opens for this pioneer character in Marvel comics.
Kamala Khan - Ms. Marvel – Pakistani
Ms. Marvel is one of my personal favorite comic series and my heart sings when I still see Kamala Khan doing incredible things across comics and even to video games and soon to be the big screen! Pakistani-American Kamala Khan is a girl who adores Captain Marvel, she is her idol and dreams of being like her when a terrigen mist overcomes her and she wakes with powers akin to Mr. Fantastic, she can stretch (rather, “embiggen”) her limbs and uses this new gained power to help her family and her community, quickly joining the big leagues the likes of the Champions and the Avengers and fully deserving those collaborations. She is unique in having the problems of any teenage girl but handling issues such as cultural perception and the weight of her choices but not only this, she fully embraces her culture in her superhero identity, even creating her costume from a burkini, it is something I have marveled at from day one. She inspires me so much and so many other readers to do good, to be the best version of yourself, embrace your family and cultures, and as she states in one of her first issues: “Good isn’t a thing you are, it’s a thing you do.”
Kato – Green Hornet – Japanese
The Green Hornet was an extremely popular radio program by the same creators of the hit series Lone Ranger; beginning its broadcast in 1936 following the adventures of vigilante Britt Reid and his mechanic and martial arts expert friend, the mysterious Kato in their nightly crime fighting adventures. In the original story, Reid had saved Kato’s life and the two are now equals in crime fighting, though Kato’s actual origins have changed throughout the years based on political climate. He was originally of Japanese origin but at the beginning of World War II the subject was skirted to Chinese, Korean or even Filipino at different points. The 2011 film has him heralding from Shanghai but he has since returned to his original roots. The duo lept once again to popularity in his portrayal by famed actor Bruce Lee (once again being mentioned in this list) in the 1966 TV series of the same name, increasing the popularity of martial arts in media, the two even crossing paths with Batman and Robin, on the same network (and more recently in a crossover comic event penned by Kevin Smith). Kato is a character oft forgotten in comic/media lore but he’s shaped so much of television and comic character portrayals and he deserves to stand in his own light, never in the Green Hornet’s shadow.
Amadeus Cho – Totally Awesome Hulk – Korean
Amadeus Cho may be more well-known now as the “Totally Awesome Hulk,” or rather Brawn now in Champions onwards, but I found my love for this character as the Prince of Power’s sidekick and seventh (at the time) smartest person in the world. No powers save for a genius intellect and snappy comebacks, Amadeus even held his own against Reed Richards and the Dark Avengers in my favorite run of Mighty Avengers. Since then though, he has made huge leaps in understanding his friend Bruce Banner’s Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde fight with the Hulk, making the title his own after the Hulk’s death (which he’s well, fine now.) and seemingly having a grip on the monster while still dealing with the battles of morals that comes with that mantle. The Korean-American hero has long been one of my favorites and I’d love to see him pal around with Hercules once again so I have my fingers crossed to see him on the big screen now that the Greek Pantheon may be gracing the MCU silver screen sooner rather than later…!
Pearl Pangan – Wave – Filipina
Wave made headlines in 2019 as one of Marvel’s first ever Filipina heroes, created alongside the War of the Realms mega event, she is the water based protector of the Philippines. She always had an affinity for the ocean and was even an Olympic level swimmer hailing from Cebu when a botched experiment gave her the power to control the element with ease. She’s collaborated with the new Shanghai hero Aero during War of Realms and with the team Agents of ATLAS. While Wave hasn’t been in too terribly many titles since then, she is an entirely unique character that deserves to be explored and take center stage in her own series sooner rather than later!
Ryan Choi – The Atom – Hong Kong
In comics, characters passing down their super hero mantles is a fairly common affair but Ryan Choi has certainly stuck as the third incarnation of the size altering hero, the Atom. Ryan emigrated from Hong Kong after working closely with Ray Palmer, his predecessor in title and took the mantle after Ray’s disappearance. Ryan is an excellent superhero but is also an excellent scientist and has brought a lot of nuance to the character who has even now made his way to TV and film, being a critical part of the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline on the CW and a minor role in the extended cut of the Justice League film. I hope the films let Ryan debut in his superhero moniker soon as he has so much to offer comic and film audiences alike!
Tony Chu – Chew – Chinese
I know a majority of my posts tend to revolve around DC and Marvel but this Image classic is one that is a must read. Chew revolves around detective and FDA agent Tony Chu who solves crimes from impressions he gets from eating different foods, or well. Corpses. He uses these psychic impressions to solve crimes but gets thrown into conspiracy, running from the law and of course the moral dilemma of cannibalism to find his crooks, but this series and Tony himself have such a unique setting and artwork you are missing out if you haven’t read this 60 issue comic smorgasbord.
Tai Pham – Green Lantern – Vietnamese
DC Comics ran a line of YA and kids graphic novels with their DC Ink and Zoom imprints and my favorite of the line was the kids graphic novel, Green Lantern: Legacy. This story follows Tai Pham, a Vietnamese American who is disillusioned about a lot in life, as he helps out at his grandmother's store and goes through the motions in school and life when his grandmother then unexpectedly passes. Tai inherits her jade ring which throws him into a world he knew nothing about, that his grandmother was a Green Lantern of Earth and he must step into this role, not only in the Corps but in stepping into and appreciating the life and culture his grandmother always tried to show him and embracing all of those parts of yourself and the importance of being brave. You see these parts of Tai in even his uniform, made from a traditional Vietnamese áo dài and even in this short graphic novel we see him grow so much and I cannot recommend this title enough. Be sure to give it a read!!
Katana – Tatsu Yamashiro – Japanese
The Suicide Squad comics and film have given Katana a lot of limelight over the past few years but we still don’t see much of her background or personality in these roles. Tatsu Yamashiro is a skilled sword wielder and the sword that she most often bears harbors the soul of her dead husband Maseo who she continues to fight to avenge his death and fight for justice. She has held her own as a member of the Outsiders, Suicide Squad, even in the Justice League for a time, appearing in film, TV, and videogames and more. She is a character too that I feel is underutilized though she appears in so many things as a side character, I hope she gets further explored as a major character in future works!
Cindy Moon – Silk – Korean American
I adore Silk as a character now but on her initial creation, I definitely had some doubts. Spinning (haha) out of the Original Sin storyline, it is revealed that Cindy was bitten by the same spider that gave Peter Parker his web-slinging powers but she is unable to control them and is taken into custody to “help” her but she is more akin to being a prisoner. Peter eventually saves her but the part I always hated was their “ hypersexual spider-pheromones” that made them jump each other’s bones as soon as they were in the same room which is a pretty problematic character feature but they luckily wrote this out as she came into her own as a character and not an extension of Spider-Man. Cindy is a survivor and skilled crime fighter who has had her own long running series over Marvel comics the past few years and I hope we see her in future films like Into the Spider-Verse and more…!
Raju Rai - Chakra – Indian
Stan Lee’s Chakra the Invincible is not too well known stateside but he is a Indian superhero who uses the power of an experimental super suit to harness his chakra and a genius mind to save people in Mumbai and all over the world! He’s had comics, graphic novels, and animated and live action films in India and though he didn’t take off much for western audiences, Chakra was a revolutionary character that Lee used to expand people's horizons and encourage diversity in comics. Raju Rai is a character I will always hope we see more of and more southeast Asian superheroes in the future!
Ken Mack (Mettle) & Jennifer Takeda (Hazmat) – Avengers Academy – Hawai’ian & Japanese
Avengers Academy is a title that I still believe is a hidden gem in Marvel’s library. Led by Hank Pym who is trying to make amends for his past and pave the way for a new generation of heroes (or villains), the Avengers Academy had a large diverse cast going through the growing pains of teenage life as well as the occasional superhero brawl. Two of my favorite characters from this series (and I won’t…. we won’t talk about Avengers Arena,) are Mettle and Hazmat. The two made an unusual couple as Mettle has a hard exoskeleton armor for skin and super strength, resembling that of a skeleton whereas Hazmat cannot be outside of a radiation suit, her presence poisons anyone near her without protection but because of these two’s powers, they can live and love together without the need of Hazmat’s suit and Mettle’s imperviousness. I know this has been my anthem this whole article but both these characters (and all of the AA for that matter) are criminally underused and they have such amazing character development and stories that need to be further explored! I can’t recommend Avengers Academy enough and I hope you can give it a read!
Cassandra Cain – Batgirl – Ethnically Ambiguous
Cassandra Cain is an iconic Batman character and has always gone against all odds in everything she does. She is the daughter of the villainous Lady Shiva and was trained as a deadly assassin, her past making her remain silent in almost all that she does including speech but after being taken under Batman’s wing we see her come into her own. Now she wields the title of Orphan after her father’s death, Cass has been a fan favorite for years and we have seen her in animation and games and even in a slightly different capacity, in live action film. Cassandra has long been my favorite Batgirl and it’s great to see her still doing amazing things in comics and media to this day!
Thank you so much for reading and for shopping with us and again, for reflecting on these fantastic characters with us! Both Marvel and DC have comic specials commemorating AAPI Heritage Month with stories written and illustrated by AAPI creators featuring these characters above and so much more which you can find at all six of our Houston area locations this month! We hope to see you all in store soon!
Written by Bedrock City Contributor: Victoria