By Guest Contributor Sunny Kim
I first learned about Project Secret Identities over two years ago when a call for story submissions started to float around my corner of the interwebs. My excitement was limitless! No more waiting for some white guy to come save me! Now I could have my own superheroes. Secret Identities promised to fill the need for comics that cast us as the superheroes and I waited with bated breath for the release.
Here we are in 2009 and the book has been released to much fanfare. And yet, I feel disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I dig the nerd specs on the pleasing green cover (I rock my own pair everyday). There are some real gems in this anthology including the oft-cited “The Blue Scorpion and Chung” (Bruce Lee hated being Kato) and the true-to-life stories in the section From Headline to Hero (“Taking Back Troy” re-imagines Vincent Chin’s story in a way that doesn’t let us forget it). Despite the many great stories found within this anthology there are some glaring holes that I can’t seem to fly over.
The editors of the book tell us that Asian Americans have more in common with Clark Kent than just his geek chic appearance and as such present an opening for our superheroes. Yet the editors define Asian American by the stories they chose, and it seems like they define Asian as “East Asian with a sprinkling of Filipino and a drop of Indian.” In other words Secret Identities is more East Asian than Asian, and Shen and Yang have — I’m sure unintentionally — deleted most of the Asian continent in their selection process.
by Guest Contributor Jenn, originally published at Reappropriate
The first few pages of Secret Identities chronicle an exchange between Jeff Yang (writer of Asian Pop! at the San Francisco Chronicle) and Keith Chow (freelance writer) that originally inspired the Asian American superhero anthology released today. Yang, researching his now well-cited article on Asian American pop culture and comic books (Look… Up in the Sky! It’s Asian Man!), asks Chow about the appeal that comics have had for Asian American youth. Chow replies: “Comics have always been a refuge for kids who are shy or socially awkward. And I think for Asian Americans, the parallels are even stronger. You’re an outsider. You don’t fit in. But then you go to school and meet other people like yourself. You discover your secret heritage – the thing inside you that makes you special.”
Yet, it is frustrating that the comic book industry has failed to identify and acknowledge their loyal Asian American fan-base. While the number of Asian/Asian American superheroes has slowly increased over the last few decades, these heroes remain massively overshadowed by an overabundance of Caucasian protagonists (for a chronological listing of Asian/Asian American superheroes in comics, check out my site Outsiders). Those Asian/Asian American superheroes who do achieve the pinnacle of comic book success – their own ongoing title or mini-series – are frequently written in a one-dimensional (or even stereotypical) manner (often by non-Asian writers overwhelmed by the pressure to write a realistic portrayal of a person with a hyphenated racial and cultural identity). Instead, many contemporary Asian American superheroes end up as a tragic East-meets-West cliché, before they (or their title) meet an untimely (but ultimately predictable) end.
Enter Secret Identities, an anthology of comic short stories about Asian/Asian American superheroes written and illustrated by a superstar cast of Asian/Asian American comic fans, and edited by Yang, Chow, Jerry Ma (founder of Epic Proportions, an independent studio) and Parry Shen (Better Luck Tomorrow). A whopping 190 pages, Secret Identities runs the gamut from classic origin stories of a variety of Asian American superheroes (e.g. Sampler by Jimmy Aquino and art by Erwin Haya) to quirky commentaries on the roles Asian American characters play in today’s mainstream comics (e.g. The Blue Scorpion & Chung by Gene Yang and art by Sonny Liew). And what an amazing diversity of stories it is! Secret Identities is a spirited and gleeful act of protest against the invisibility of Asian Americans in the pages of mainstream comics: each story is a fresh reminder that we Asian Americans can be iconic superheroes, too. Continue reading