Jeph Loeb at the Iron Fist panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2018. (Photo credit: Twitter / Charles Pulliam)
Marvel is quickly making a name for itself as the comic book company of unadulterated racial insensitivity and Orientalism.
While comic book fans from around the world gather in San Diego this weekend at the annual San Diego Comic-Con, attendees to the Marvel’s Iron Fist panel bore witness to a breath-takingly boorish stunt by Marvel Television head, Jeph Loeb. To kick off the panel, Loeb appeared to introduce the second season of the Netflix television show. In apparent reference to criticism of the show’s first season, Loeb came on stage dressed as Daniel-San from The Karate Kid — complete with karate gi and headband — and joked that he had trained with Mr. Miyagi in preparation for hostile fans at the panel. Shortly thereafter, actor Jessica Henwick (Colleen Wing) — who may or may not have been in on some sort of pre-scripted act with Loeb — demanded that Loeb remove the outfit, and Loeb obliged.
There is nothing that excuses the racial insensitivity of this pointless and ugly stunt.
Currently, Marvel X-men’s Jubilee is the unofficial face of Reappropriate. At one time, it was DC’s Cassandra Cain — a neuroatypical, mute Asian American adoptee who was the first Asian American and woman of color to take on the mantle of the Batgirl. She is also undisputedly one of the best martial artists in the DC Universe, owing to her abusive childhood when she was deprived of auditory language (or any form of social contact) and instead immersed in deadly martial arts training.
I grew up on Jubilee through her appearance in the 1990’s X-Men cartoon series. Cassandra Cain’s Batgirl occupies a different space in my fandom: her journey of self-exploration and self-agency as the newest Batgirl entered my life when I was just setting out to discover my own budding political activism. Cassandra’s efforts to reconcile her troubled past with her new life as part of the Bat-family resonated with my own exploration of political and personal identity. I love Jubilee; but, in many ways, I identify with Cassandra Cain.
"Reconciliasian" by Joshua Luna. (Photo Credit: Joshua Luna)
By Guest Contributor: Heath Wong
Editor’s Note: Earlier this month, artist Joshua Luna published a web comic titled “Reconciliasian” addressing gender relations in the Asian American community. This post is a response to that comic.
I deeply respect Joshua Luna as an artist and as an activist. But, I find the framing of his latest comic – Reconciliasian – problematic. The comic juxtaposes two panels: one depicting an Asian man and the other depicting an Asian woman. Next to each character, Luna lists the way each has “been hurt” (for Asian men, systemic emasculation and desexualization; for Asian women, systemic fetishization and hypersexualization), and how they’ve “hurt” the other. Luna laments how Asian men display “complicity and/or participation in patriarchal misogyny against Asian women under the guise of racial justice”; Asian women, says Luna, are guilty of “complicity and/or participation in white supremacy against Asian men under the guise of racial preference.” Luna concludes that both Asian men and Asian American women should “choose reconciliation over retribution.”
By the very nature of the symmetrical dichotomy presented by the comic’s layout, Luna implies equivalency. That apparent premise – that Asian women and men suffer equally and have also hurt each other equally, if in different ways – is used to argue that we must reconcile with each other to resist our true enemy.
The problem with that premise is that the equivalency depicted in the comic is false.
It’s a headline that might have described the antics in an episode of “Family Guy”: White guy pretends to be a Japanese guy to work as a comic book writer, and keeps the charade going for two years until he one day kills off his Asian altere-go when it outlived its usefulness. And, as with so many “Family Guy” subplots, the story has an overtly racist undertone.
No one would imagine that not only would this happen in real life, but that the White man in question would be named this year as Marvel Comics’ Editor-in-Chief — one of the top positions in the comic book industry. But yes, earlier last month, Bleeding Cool broke the news that newly-promoted Marvel Comics EIC C.B. Cebulski had spent two years between 2004 and 2005 writing several prominent Marvel titles under the invented guise of “Akira Yoshida”. Adding insult to injury, most of the stories written by Cebulski-as-Yoshida are Asiaphilic fables involving White protagonists immersed in the hyper-saturated colours of Orientalist fantasy.
When I was a kid, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of mainstream Asian American superheroes within my comic books. Most of these characters were reductive stereotypes — ninjas, mystics, or martial artists — and even so, I gravitated to them. I yearned for stories that might add fuel to the fires of my own childhood imagination wherein someone like me might play the role of the superhero. Frustratingly, few of the comic books on my shelves reflected the inner superhero of my fantasies.
This is an experience shared by many nerds of colour, including across the spectrum of the Asian American fandom. Among modern Asian American comic fans, the exasperating dearth of meaningful Asian American comic book characters we experienced during our childhood has forged a shared love-hate relationship with contemporary comics: many of us share a love for the few Asian American characters of our youth (like Jubilee) while we continue to challenge contemporary comics to do better when it comes to diversifying our comic book superheroes.
Thankfully, one comic writer has risen to that challenge. This Wednesday, Totally Awesome Hulk #15 drops. In it, writer Greg Pak (whom I’ve been a fan of since before his mainstream comic writing days when he made the award-winning independent film, Robot Stories) pulls together what seems to be the world’s first (and largest) Asian American superhero team-up in mainstream comic book history.
And, I gotta say: childhood Jenn is all kinds of loving it!
Spoilers ahead! Grab a copy of Totally Awesome Hulk #15 and read it before continuing on!