US media and entertainment industry are in the midst of a struggle over diversity. But it seems the comic book industry has pulled ahead of Hollywood to include a more diverse and international cast of characters in repertoire. In July, DC Comics will introduce its first-ever superhero from China!
The new Superman is a Chinese teenager named Kenan Kong.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Kenan Kong, the first-ever Chinese superhero to fly off the pages of an American comic book. Born in Shanghai, Kong is a 17-year-old bully whose life is turned upside down when he is infused with the original Superman’s powers.
American Gene Luen Yang, the Chinese-American writing the series, says it’s about time an Asian character came to the rescue.
“When I was growing up it was very rare to see an Asian face on television, to see an Asian face in the comics that I was reading and I remember feeling this lack of identity in the stories that I read. I am hoping that new Superman will help solve some of that for younger Asian and Asian American readers,” Yang said.
Here at a seminar on Asian identity in Los Angeles, Yang is speaking about the evolution of Asian characters in American comic books.
Look back through history to find many of the most sinister comic villains were drawn with particularly Asian characteristics-sometimes with derogatory names, like Egg Fu.
Yang says those depictions simply reflected the times. He says fresh Asian characters are overdue, but believes the integration of Kenan Kong into the long-beloved Superman franchise will teach readers an important lesson about human values that transcend culture.
“Superman is an icon, he stands for something, truth and justice all these deep values, these are universal so one thing we are allowed to do is by bringing this idea of Superman into Chinese culture is to see how these values play out in a culture other than American culture,” Yang said.
The move represents increasing diversification in the superhero universe. Marvel’s Hulk is currently a Korean-American and Spider-Man now an Afro-Latino man. Some would argue that Hollywood and the media could take a page from the comic industry’s push for an inclusive universe.
“Certain portions of America – especially pop culture and media – continues to see itself and represent itself as predominately white, and this is not reality, so it ends up having a negative impact upon minorities that live in America. Superheroes are not just an American thing it can really empower and inspire people from other nationalities or within America,” Daniel D. Lee, Asian American initiative with Fuller Theological Seminary, said.
Kong will not be alone in his fight for justice. He’ll reportedly be joined by a Justice League of China – a group including New Bat-man and New Wonder-Woman.
For some young comic fans with ties to China, it’s a welcome new chapter.
“My parents are from China seeing what it means to be a superhero, coming from that background, intrigues me and makes me think more about my own story being Asian American and my parents story being immigrants to the U.S.,” Comic fan Phillip Liu said.
Kenan Kong’s story is just one of many to come in DC comic’s expanding universe-blowing up old racial stereotypes about who can fly up, up and away.