When DC Comics released its first-ever action-packed and emotional 96-page anthology commemorating its Asian superheroes in May, I didn’t expect to see our elders kicking racists across the chest.
Featured in “DC Festival of Heroes” are 11 stories touching on topics that many Asian Americans, longtime fans or comic book rookies can relate to. Whether it’s a coming-of-age story for young heroes, diving into identity issues, feeling a need to assimilate, or dealing with microaggressions and racism, all touch on the importance of representation.
Of the acclaimed creatives who pooled their talents together, NextShark spoke with Gene Luen Yang, the New York Times bestselling author of “Superman Smashes the Klan;” Bernard Chang, an artist who has designed and illustrated for Marvel, DC and Valiant Comics; Jeff Yang, an activist and writer; and Jessica Chen, the editor behind the anthology.
In the anthology’s foreword, Jeff touched on how he “project[ed] wishful Asianness on my favorite characters as a kid.”
“Sometimes Batman went to Chinatown!” he said. “But it was always to meet shadowy informants with bad facial hair or to fight Triads or uncover occult conspiracies, not to pick up bok choy.”
The lack of everyday Asian American stories in comics led him and a team of creators, which included Bernard and Gene, to make the first indie Asian American superhero anthologies, “Secret Identities” (2009) and its sequel “Shattered” (2012).
The success of those books gave Jessica the inspiration to pitch the idea to DC and create an anthology showcasing “diverse AAPI heritages using our most beloved AAPI characters” with associate editor Andrea Shea.
The company “loved” the idea so Editor-in-Chief Marie Javins greenlit the project and then the editorial team charged forward from there.
“I’m hoping ‘Festival of Heroes’ will do the same for the next generation of content creators pushing for authentic storytelling,” Jessica said.
In the collection’s namesake story, “Festival of Heroes,” writer Amy Chu and artist Marcio Takara were “influenced” by the news of the rise of anti-Asian violence, especially on our elders, to come out of the pandemic, according to the DC Comics blog.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
NextShark: With the recent attacks on the elderly, what is the message you want to convey about our elders fighting back in the “Festival of Heroes”?
Jessica Chen: Like most people in our community, I follow NextShark and other AAPI news sources a lot, and the uptick in the violence against our Asian elders is alarming, disheartening, and making most of us feel helpless in what we can do to help.
One of the cool things about working in superhero comics is the ability to take real-life issues that we may not be able to fix or deal with immediately, and having our superheroes be able to so that readers may have somewhere to find solace and catharsis in, even through a fictional space.
For those who may not be following NextShark and other AAPI news sources like the AAPI community and I have, writer Amy Chu and I were hoping to be able to shed some light that these attacks are real, have been happening, and we all must do more together to help combat xenophobia.
Bernard Chang: This project did not arise as a “reaction” to the recent increased wave of violence against the Asian-American population, but its timing has never been more important. Hopefully, [this book] can awaken an inner hero in the readers and activate them to act now.
NS: For new DC Comics fans, are these stories all one-offs or can they be a gateway into the characters and their comics?
JC: The fun thing about comic book anthologies is they’re very inviting to both new and old readers alike. All the stories in “Festival of Heroes” can be read as standalone stories, and all the stories are gateways to reading more about the characters and their comics if you fell in love with any of them while reading this book (and you will)!
Though all of these stories are considered “evergreen” and timeless, two stories specifically tie into the current DCU timeline. “Masks,” by Ram V and Audrey Mok reveals Cheshire Cat’s identity, and you can follow her adventures in the current Catwoman ongoing series. And now that Monkey Prince is officially a superhero running around the DCU, tune in later this year to see if and where else he may show up.
If a reader finds a connection with any of these characters, they should write/email/tweet DC comics and ask for more. The more vocal and supportive our community becomes, the more the industry will respond.
There are so many old and tired tropes in entertainment — “a female superhero can never lead a movie.” Well, “Wonder Woman” sure put an end to that. “No one will go see an all Asian-American cast.” “Better Luck Tomorrow” and “Crazy Rich Asians” proved that wrong too.
NS: What does the future look like for Asian American superhero anthologies in DC?
Jeff Yang: Superheroes who reflect our community, who look like us, and who deal with the kinds of problems we face, big and small, are now all across the DC Universe. It’s a show of strength and pride, much like May is our official time on the calendar to celebrate Asian American heritage.
But the fact is, these heroes are out there all 12 months of the year — and just like we’re not only Asian American during May, these kinds of stories shouldn’t be one and done either.
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