by Guest Contributor Jenn, originally published at Reappropriate
I have to preface this post by saying that I have not been collecting comics lately. Thankfully, a friend of mine, who still keeps his finger to the pulse of the comic world, tipped me off to a major development in the world of comic books that has ramifications for the Asian American community.
Four years ago, after the presumed death of Ray Palmer, DC Comics introduced a new Atom, remarkable because he quickly ascended to being one of the foremost Asian American superheroes in comic-dom. He was one of the few Asian American superheroes to receive their own comic book title — All-New Atom — which was penned by Gail Simone. Simone developed Atom, and his alter ego Ryan Choi, as an Asian-American in virtually every sense of the word; although he was born and raised in Hong Kong, Ryan lived and worked as a professor in an American university. Part of his personal evolution involved struggles between his more Americanized identity with the expectations of his strict, overbearing father.
Now, when Atom first launched, I heavily criticized the book for its persistent dependence on stereotypical Asian/Asian American tropes. Choi was still one-dimensional and his book contained inappropriate racially-charged jokes that seemed out-of-place in a book that should’ve been a landmark for Asian American comic fans. Despite being set in at an academic institution, the series suffered from a bizarre absence of Asian American female characters. To me, All-New Atom was jarring — Ryan Choi had none of the ease in his Asian-American identity that Asian American characters written by Asian American writers do. Unlike the characters of Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese, or even the writing of Greg Pak’s Amadeus Cho in World War Hulk, Gail Simone’s Ryan Choi felt like a character forced into an Asian American skin. His relationship with his Asian-ness seemed fake and inauthentic. All-New Atom felt like a book about Asian Americans written by a non-Asian. Continue reading