Tue
May 20 2014 1:00pm

Top Ten Asian Pacific American Comics Characters

Asian American comics characters Cassandra Cain Batgirl

Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! Er... did you know that May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month?Well, now you do. And I hope you have a happy one.

All over cyberspace, folks are celebrating in all sorts of ways. Wall Street Journal columnist Jeff Yang (no relation) kicked things off with an article that asks if the APA community is one or many (and graphically compares it to Voltron). CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) launched a campaign of YouTube videos with several prominent APA entertainers talking about their career paths.

I’m doing my part by sharing with you my Top Ten Favorite APA characters in comics. They aren’t listed in any specific order, but they all meet these requirements: They’re in comics, they’re of Asian or Pacific Islander descent, they’re American, and they make my heart happy.

 

Asian American comics characters Amadeus Cho

1. Amadeus Cho. Amadeus is the brainchild of superstar writer Greg Pak, and he explodes the stereotype of the Asian American teenage super-genius by pushing it past its most ridiculous limits. Amadeus is a skinny Korean American kid who’s so smart, they call him Mastermind Excello. And he’s partnered up with the Hulk and Hercules, two of the Marvel Universe’s toughest heroes.

 

Asian American comics characters Jimmy

2. Jimmy. Jimmy’s the protagonist of Jason Shiga’s many graphic novels. He and his creator are proof you can be nerdy and badass at the same time. In Fleep, Jimmy wields his math skills like a weapon to escape a phone booth encased in concrete. In Bookhunter, Jimmy chases down overdue books, armed with not much more than a pistol and a heart full of tenacity. In Meanwhile, Jimmy eats ice cream, time travels, and fools around with the Kill-o-tron, a machine that will kill either the person standing inside of it or the rest of humanity depending on a coin flip. Like I said. Nerdy. Badass. At the same time.

 

Asian American comics characters Jubilee

3. Jubilee. Jubilation Lee seems like someone I would’ve hung out with in high school, except for the part where she shoots fireworks out of her fingertips. A So Cal native, she joined the X-Men after discovering she was a mutant. Her fashion sense is proudly stuck in the 90s and she’s spent much of her superhero career palling around with Wolverine. Quick-witted and resourceful, she would’ve been a riot in my Saturday morning Chinese language class.

 

Asian American comics characters Quick Kick GI Joe

4. Quick Kick. When I was a kid, GI Joe was probably the only American franchise that regularly featured Asian Americans. This was because most of the Joe comics and many of the cartoons were written by Japanese American Larry Hama. Hama’s Asian Americans are complex and three-dimensional—in other words, human. That’s not to say they weren’t goofy in that 80s cartoon sort of way. Quick Kick, a Joe of Japanese and Korean descent, is a martial arts expert. He never wears a shirt or shoes, even when the Joes and Cobra are duking it out in the snow. As Angry Asian Man blogger Phil Yu likes to point out, apparently being a super-hardcore martial arts master renders you impervious to cold. But Quick Kick is also a ladies’ man, maybe the only Asian American ladies’ man I saw as a kid.

 

Asian American comics characters Tony Chu Chew

5. Tony Chu. Man, Chinese people will eat anything. Tony Chu, the leading man of the popular series Chew, turns this stereotype on its head. Tony’s a cibopath. When he eats, he has psychic visions of his meal’s past. He sees where the tomatoes in his pasta sauce were grown, how the cow in his burger was butchered. He’s an officer of the law, so naturally he solves murder cases by eating cadavers. Writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory turn your stomach in the most awesome way possible.

 

Asian American comics characters Tony Chu Chew

6. Nancy Kim. In Derek Kirk Kim’s masterful graphic novel Same Difference, twenty-something Korean American Nancy smokes, curses, farts, and relentlessly cracks on her best friend Simon. When letters arrive for her apartment’s previous tenant, she not only opens them but also answers them, writing in the voice of their intended recipient. She and her friends remind me of me and my friends when we were in our twenties, though we never committed mail fraud. (Honest.)

 

Asian American comics characters Cassandra Cain Batgirl

7. Batgirl. For about a decade starting in 1999, the Batgirl mantle belonged to a Eurasian teenager named Cassandra Cain. Raised by assassins, Cassandra’s a broken soul who is eventually adopted into the Bat Family, at which point (I would argue) she becomes an Asian American. Her costume borrows a little too heavily from Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, but I have a soft spot for her. Weirdest fun fact about Cassandra Cain: She’s an English-as-a-second-language learner because her first language was body language. No joke. She has yet to show up in the newly rebooted DC Universe, but I imagine she will soon.

 

Asian American comics characters Secret Asian Man Tak Toyoshima

8. Secret Asian Man. Tak Toyoshima’s been tackling Asian American issues in his popular comics strip for well over a decade now. Main character Osamu Takahashi (who is basically a cartoon version of Tak) and his friends have graced the pages of influential newspapers like the San Jose Mercury and Boston’s Weekly Dig. Osamu’s an immensely likeable dude. Who knew a bowl haircut could be so endearing?

 

Asian American comics characters Lynda Barry

9. Lynda Barry. Because she does autobiographical comics—or as she describes them, autobifictionalography—cartoonist Lynda Barry is both a character and a creator. Her comics are raw, delightful, and often uncomfortable. She explores every corner of her life with a disarming honesty, including her relationship with her Filipina mother. If you haven’t read her stuff yet, please do. Right now. My favorite of hers is One Hundred Demons. What It Is is a close second.

 

Asian American comics characters Green Turtle The Shadow Hero

10. Green Turtle. Okay. This one’s self-serving, I admit. But if I didn’t genuinely love the Green Turtle, I wouldn’t have teamed up with Sonny Liew to revive him in our graphic novel The Shadow Hero. The Green Turtle was created in the 1940s by Chu Hing, one of the first Asian Americans in the industry. Though the evidence concerning his ethnicity is murky, the Green Turtle just might be the very first Asian American superhero. And that’s why I’m so into him. His existence shows that at the beginning of superheroes, this quintessentially American genre, Asian Americans were there.

 

Did I leave off your favorite Asian Pacific American comics character? I bet I did. And that’s kind of cool isn’t it? It means there are now enough APA characters in comics that they won’t all fit onto a single top ten list. When I started reading comics in the 80s, I would’ve struggled to come up with a list half as long

So do me a favor. Fill in the gaps I left. Tell me your favorite Asian Pacific American comics character in the comments below, and have a great APA Heritage Month.


Gene Luen Yang’s first book with First Second, American Born Chinese, is now in print in over ten languages and was a National Book Award finalist and winner of the Printz Award. Yang’s other works include the popular comics adaptation ofAvatar: The Last Airbender, and the New York Times Best-Selling graphic novel diptych Boxers & Saints.The Shadow Hero, the story of the first Asian-American superhero is his most recent graphic novel. It is being published in six e-issues, starting in February, 2014; the fourth will be available on May 20th.

14 comments
Jolly Fats
1. Jolly Fats
No love for Valiant's RAI? What about Glenn from The Walking Dead (comics and show)?
Mordicai Knode
2. mordicai
Cassandra Cain forever. She'll always be my Batgirl. She is, to my mind, the only Bat Family character besides Dick who has an origin story that measures up to Batman's.
Jolly Fats
3. mic?
Glenn Rhee (TWD) and Nico Minoru (Runaways) for me definitely.

Happy APA Heritage Month!
Alan Brown
4. AlanBrown
Back in my day, Jimmy Woo, the Chinese/American Agent of SHIELD, was the biggest APA character in the comics I read. Among the many negative portrayals of Asian characters in the comics of the day, he was the exception; generally portrayed as smart, competent, and cool.
And I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Agents of Atlas comics, when Marvel resurrected him for new adventures.
David Peterson
6. drakeverdell
Shang Chi in the Master of Kung Fu. I loved this book as a kid. Shang Chi was the perfect trained killing machine that decided he didn't want to kill. Talk about a crisis! SO of course, everybody rushes at him to get killed, ha! Unfortunately, it started out a flat, prejudiced, opportunistic mashup of the popularity of martial arts via Bruce Lee and the inclusion of the Fu Manchu mythos (sort of) plus a little bit of James Bond(?), but I thought Doug Moench and Gene Day took the book to some great places, while rounding out the characters and creating some angst. Mike Zeck did some great work on this as well, after the death of Mr. Day. It turned me on to Buddhism, Fleetwood Mac and Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminati trilogy. Go figure! Haven't read it since the original series died out years ago, but I don't recall it being blatantly racist. My memories are of a man trying to figure out how to be the best person he could be, and how difficult that choice could be.
Liz J
7. Ellisande
Tiny little wave for Lian Harper - who wasn't exactly a character in her own right, being a toddler, but at least for awhile was adorb and made Roy Harper oe of the few superhero dads of a small child. (and okay her mom was mixed already, so Lian's only a quarter Asian, but I remember I enjoyed that run of Single Dad Roy With His Baby Girl).
Jolly Fats
8. DJ Zobe
Xombi from Milestone/DC comics. More or less is the Korean American Spiderman.
Jolly Fats
9. Lee Noé
Rhyan Choi is the 4th incarnation of the Atom. I really dig his storyline as The All New Atom by Gail Simone.

Alysia Yeoh is Batgirl's (Barbra Gordan) roommate in the new 52 universe and is more than a background character. A self-described activist who also happens to be a queer asian trans woman.

Sway (Suzanne Chan) time stoping mutant who was once a part of the x-men.

Dr. Light (Kimiyo Hoshi) the second incarnation of Dr. Light, she was a member of the Justice Leauge.

Armor (Hisako Ichiki) is a teenage mutant that currently is attending the Jean Grey School and is a part of the x-men.

Mantis a german/vietnamese woman who has taken on many roles throughout the marvel universe.

Thunderbird (Neal Shaara) third incarnation of Thunderbird and member of the x-men.

These are just a few more that I thought of. Thanks for all of this :) I am excited to go look up more comics.
Jolly Fats
10. Brett Harris
G'Day Gene,
Thanks for the list and I am very much looking forward to the printed collection of the Shadow Hero !
My favourite American Asian superhero was Jolt, the naive super-powered teen who joined the Thunderbotls when they were still in their Masters of Evil phase. It was the inclusion of Jolt which started the undermining of Baron Zemo's control of the group and had members like Atas and Songbird enjoying their heroic roles.
Jolt was a happy-go-lucky optimist despite having a tragic origin, and her super speed and electricity powers were icing on the cake (they're my favourite super powers and the ones I would choose to have !)

Jolly Fats
11. Brett Harris
Oh, and may I go on a tangent and talk about my favourite Asian character in all of comics (and fiction) ?
David Mack's Kabuki is not only a brilliant heroine but a comic which demands to be read, then re-read as often as possible to navigate its many layers of meaning and story.
Jolly Fats
12. Gabriel Isaac Bloomer
Rai isn't Asian-American, he's just Japanese (although he is awesome and one of my favorite current books).

I'd encourage you to read Rocket Girl. It's about a 15 year old Korean-American named Dayoung Johansson from an alternate 2013 where she serves on the NY Teen Police force and travels back to 1986 to investigate a crime that changed the timeline.
Jolly Fats
13. Eliot L.
I don't read X-Men but I read a really interesting writeup on Karma (a vietnamese expatriate.) She seems like a nuanced and cool character that deserves more time in the spotlight.
Jolly Fats
14. Mozpheus
Where is Grail of wetworks and the new commander steel? both are filipinos.
Jolly Fats
15. KE Woolfork
Dupli-Kate and Multi-Paul from Robert Kirkman's Invincible . . . if only for their names.

Colleen Wing is a Daughter of Dragon and Misty Knight's partner in Marvel Comics.

The Wasp in Marvel Comic's Ultimate Universe is APA . . .

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