Strange musings on the “Asian Superhero”

by 27-Dec-15

There’s a strange op-ed article in the New Yorker.

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Pointless?

There’s a rather odd op-ed article published in The New Yorker in the past few days, written by Umapagan Ampikaipakan. Entitled “That Oxymoron, the Asian Superhero”, it argues that recent moves towards diversity in US superhero comics is a bit pointless, because it means nothing to anyone outside the US, and risks undermining the genre’s universal appeal across the world.

Umm, what?

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Art by Sonny Liew from The New Yorker

It seems very odd for a Malaysian Hindu to equate “universal” with “white male American”, but I’ll let that pass. It may be the case that there is something inherently American about the superhero genre, and that may be part of why superheroes based in Asia have never quite taken off in the same way – similar comments have been made about various attempts to create superheroes for Britain.

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Not just Asian, but Asian-American

But all this is to miss the point about diversity in the American superhero. As Ampikaipakan notes, Ms. Marvel, with whom he beings his piece, is not an Asian superhero, but an Asian-American superhero. If the superhero is an inherently American genre, then it needs to reflect the full breadth of the American experience, not just that of a single segment that has been culturally and politically dominant. So the genre needs diversity. It needs superheroes who are women. It needs superheroes who are African-American. It needs superheroes who are Muslim, or gay, or transgender. And publishing an article that says “no it doesn’t” in the New Yorker will only encourage the racists and misogynists and homophobes who cannot cope with the fact that currently Captain America is a black man, and Thor and Wolverine are women, and Iceman is gay. And that’s not a good idea.

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One response to “Strange musings on the “Asian Superhero””

  1. Strange article indeed (the one in the New Yorker, I mean). The authors keeps slipping between two definitions of what an Asian superhero can be, which means that he’s basically mixing two topics – diversity in American comic books and the possibility of making the superhero trope work in an Asian context. And he has to dismiss Japanese superheroes as mere “rip-offs”, to make his point about the second topic. I mean, it’s all pretty circular reasoning – only American superheroes are “real superheroes”, therefore Japanese superheroes cannot work because they are not American. Duh. Tell that to the millions of kids who’ve thrilled to the adventures of Astro Boy.

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