So much good stuff coming out today (and soon), you guys.
- The Shadow Hero drops today; I’m away from home without my review copy (thoughtfully provided by :01 Books) because I am a genius, so this is from memory. It’s partly a story set in the 1930s, and partly an exploration of an actual public domain character called The Green Turtle and what he could have been.
The Green Turtle was probably the first Asian-American superhero; he appeared for a few issues during World War II, created by comics artist Chu Hing, whose publisher was adamant that the hero was Not Asian. So despite running around in China, fighting Japanese invaders, with an Asian boy sidekick (sigh, “Burma Boy”), The Green Turtle’s skin was always printed in a bright, garish, we-told-you-he-wasn’t-Asian pink, to make it clear just how Not Asian (i.e.: white) this character was. Writer Gene Luen Yang has rescued some of The Greet Turtle’s dignity, giving him a name (never revealed in the comic, thus Not Asian), a history, and even a reason for that super-pink Not Asian skin.
Hank Chu doesn’t want to be a superhero in his pre-WWII west coast Chinatown; he doesn’t hear the call to destiny (well, he does eventually), he isn’t granted amazing powers by a fantastic being (okay, that happens too), but rather he is propelled into the hero biz by something bigger than himself, something that cannot be ignored or avoided. Namely, his mom.
She’s decided Hank is going to be a hero, and she makes him a costume, thinks up a codename, drives him out at night to fight criminals, and goes around shoving him into handy chemical spills hoping to provoke powers. The only thing provoked is his skin reacts to moisture by turning bright pink, which actually serves to disguise him as he moves among the native and immigrant Chinese population. When his father is murdered by criminal gangs, he inherits the sponsorship of one of the great gods of ancient China and gains one very particular power, although it doesn’t prevent him from getting the crap kicked out of him.
Hank’s enemies are the gangs, but also the systemic racism that keeps his family and community from full participation in society. It fits in well with Yang’s earlier examinations of what it means to be Chinese and Chinese-American; the art by Sonny Liew doesn’t look like Yang’s work on American Born Chinese or last year’s masterful Boxers & Saints, but it has a loose-limbed, somewhat goofy approach to character that Yang’s work is too restrained to achieve. If Yang is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — all clean lines and everything perfectly composed and gorgeous — Liew is Kung Fu Hustle, all frenetic energy and over the top action. Together they’ve created a marvelous story that resonates for all the right reasons.
- Today’s also the launch of Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods and Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds, both of which I will be obtaining at the first opportunity.
- Not actually dropping for some weeks is Jim Zub’s Wayward, but he was kind enough to send me a review copy, and if there’s one thing you never have to ask me to do twice, it’s tear into a Zub-penned issue #1 despite the fact I know it will be frustrating as hell. Not because the story won’t be good, but because the man knows how to hook a reader, bring things to a proper level of excitement, and then stop the goddamn thing because he’s hit page count right on a point of high tension and now I’m going arrgh and counting the days until issue #2.
For the record, Wayward #1 did all of that more efficiently than usual, because Zub not only created an initial set of characters, set up major plot points, and hinted at the major conflict of the series; he did do against a background of modern Tokyo in a way that deeply affected me. Flight to Narita followed train to city followed subway to neighborhood is trip I’ve taken, and the feeling you get when you finally reach that last kilometer of your journey, where the idea of Tokyo becomes the reality of Tokyo — Zub paces the slog of travel leading to the reveal masterfully, and he’s partnered with artists that can portray it.
Combine that with something that often gets lots in Western comics set in Japan (in general) and Tokyo (in particular): the fact that the country and city are a place of contrasts. The highest-tech, most modern 22nd century district can suddenly turn to quiet local neighborhood of traditional shops and homes in the space of five minutes walk. The skyscrapers covered in LEDs have alcoves almost too narrow to stand in between them, where a rock draped in garlands sits. The rock is the home of a kami, it’s always been the home of a kami, people revere that kami and its rock, and the skyscrapers will just have to be built around them because the kami ain’t moving. This is the feel that Zub imbues in his Tokyo in Wayward and it’s pulled me in.
As I write this, I’m sitting in an office building directly across the street from the Transamerica Pyramid, which I recently saw on fire after being punched by giant monsters in the new Godzilla. I require very little from such movies to be entertained — giant monsters need to punch each other and things need to get knocked down and that is deeply satisfying.
Likewise, Zub has provided a fight scene here with one of Japan’s traditional monsters and he’s laid out the struggle in a way that’s easy to follow and perhaps more importantly, emphasizes the nonhuman nature of the monster. These are not just people with a strange shape and odd mannerisms; they carry themselves with an attitude that they are different from humans, better than humans, they saw the first humans pull themselves out of the muck and have little regard for humans. They are kappa¹ and kappa are better than humans and that characterization is as deeply satisfying as watching stompy monsters flatten a city. Also, Zub’s chosen to describe these particular kappa as distinctly ninja turtle-like, and thus it is hilarious when they get their asses handed to them by a pair of teen girls.
What I am saying here is that Zub wrote this comic pretty much exactly for me, but it is crafted with his usual skill and flair, so you do not need to be me to find it well worth your time and money. Pre-order it today, read it next month, and share in my arrgh until we all get to read #2 together.
Spam of the day:
Nothing good today. I’ve been buried for a couple weeks, and today it’s nothing but long strings of question marks. Borrrrr-ing.
¹ I have a soft spot in my heart for kappa, as they were the first of Japan’s traditional yokai that I learned about. They are turtle-like, they must keep water in the bowl-like indentation on their foreheads or they will die, and they will drown humans to eat the inside of their rectum. However, they can be bribed with cucumbers, and if you get one to return your bow, their forhead-water will spill out and they will be helpless. There’s menace there, but ways to deal with the menace if you’re clever or prepared.