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By the late 70's, both Marvel and DC Comics started producing their titles in different countries. Along with the growing diversity of their audience in America, the publishing companies now were catering to various citizens around the world (Daniels, 1991 & 1995). This is noteworthy in that they had to ensure that the content within their titles reflected the interests of a much larger consumer base. Back in the 1930's and 40's, the casual racism directed at Asians was to put it bluntly, reasonable in the public's eye. It drew in the predominantly white readership that comics targetted. However such portrayals by at least the early 90's if not the mid 80's were no longer acceptable.


Going through various issues of Sandman:Mystery Theatre, published by Vertigo (an imprint of DC Comics targetting a more mature audience), I found something very interesting in regards to this discussion on race in comics. Sandman: Mystery Theatre was a retelling of the early years of the masked crimefighter Sandman. The stories (published in the 90's) took place in the 30's and early 40's. The series was notable in that it attempted to depict the Great Depression and early war years in a very grim, realistic light. One of the story arcs dealt with gang violence in New York's China Town. The first issue of the arc, Sandman: Mystery Theatre #5 portrayed the Chinese American characters with overly yellow skin and very high cheekbones, reckoning back to the art of the original WWII comics. A number of readers complained and in issue 7, Karen Berger, the editor of the series, replied in the letters section:


"We received some concerned letters from a number of people regarding the depiction of Asian Americans in Sandman Mystery Theatre #5. We intended for the skin color of the Asian American characters to have a yellowish cast, which would be realistsic as the printing technology of the book permits, not the bright yellow that printed. It was not until we saw the printed book that we realized that the yellows had printed too brightly, and that we would need to change the color coding for the ensuing issues. We have corrected this problem for issue #6 and are very sorry that some people were offended..."


She goes on to write that the high cheekbones of the some of the characters were not meant to reflect any particular stereotypes, but were just the result of the artist's film noir drawing style. Interestingly, the "concerned letters" were never printed in the section. But the idea was clear; with a larger, more diverse readership, comic book companies could no longer so easily give into simplified stereotypes. The unabashed, distorted portrayal of the "yellow terror" was no longer an appropriate means of accumulating sales.
Cover to Issue 7

It would be very difficult (an entire project on its own) to get into the details of every recent Asian character. Some that I found notable are: Jubilee (Marvel), Amadeus Cho (Marvel), and Hiro Okamura also known as Toyman (DC Comics).

Jubilee was introduced in Uncanny X-men in 1989. She was a carefree Californian teenager who faced tragedy when her parents were murdered. She later discovered her mutant energy powers and after a series of adventures, joined the X-men. This character is interesting in that her Asian ethnicity does not play a role in the conflicts she finds herself in. Chris Claremont, the writer and creator of the character (Sanderson, 1996), did not write her in a way that screamed, "I'm an ASIAN AMERICAN teenage hero," but rather portrayed her as an everyday teenager who discovers superpowers. Jubilee was also not bound to any archetypes previously associated with Asians whether in comics or in the media. She was not a foreign evil, kung-fu master, or even math wizard (recent issues have her diagnosed with dyscalculia). Her presence in comics reflects the reasonable number of Asian American readers; no longer was Asian something that could be categorized as strange and limited to only certain plotlines.

Amadeus Cho, also referred to as Mastermind Excello (at the left) and Toyman (at the right) are very recent examples of Asians in comic books. Both were introduced after the beginning of the 21st century. Both have a rebellious streak against authority and are boy geniuses. It is interesting comparing Cho and Toyman to the early Fu-Manchu characters, who were also masterminds in their own right. Whereas the Fu-Manchu clones used their intelligence for evil, these two kids play around with the idea of the "model minority." Yes they are intelligent, but they also don't always go along with the rules. Toyman has often been at odds with the Teen Titans as well as Batman, Superman, and the rest of the Justic League with his pranks. In the end, he does not present much malice to the heroes; however he is no pushover, refusing to bend to their commands. Cho (created by Greg Pak) plays a similar role; he is a brilliant inventor who helps (anti)heroes such as the Hulk and the renegade Hercules escape authority figures, such as Iron Man and the government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. Both characters' Asian heritage does not really play a role into how their characters develop so far as, it does not present them with a reason for tension; perhaps their presence might imply a correlation between academic excellence and being Asian. However, again, this archetype is modified in that their intelligence is combined with a youthful, rebellious streak, making for very entertaining characters.

In addition to this new dimension of Asian characters and a larger percent of Asian comic book readers, the American comic book industry also began including more Asian Americans as writers and artists. I have included some video interviews and blogs in the additional media section that highlights some relatively famous Asian American mainstream comic book creators.
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1. Daniels, Les. Marvel : Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.


2. Sanderson, Peter. Marvel Universe. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1996.


3. "The Outsiders:: Asian/Asian-American Characters in Comics." 16 Apr. 2008 <www.reappropriate.com...>.


4. "The Outsiders:: Asian/Asian-American Characters in Comics." 16 Apr. 2008 <www.reappropriate.com>.


5. 2 May 2008 <www.marvel.com...>.


6. Daniels, Les. DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes. 1st ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1995.


Special thanks to Brown University's John Hay Library staff for letting me look through various issues (specifically Sandman Mystery Theatre # 5-12) in the Michael J. Ciaraldi collection


Additional Reading

World War Hulk# 1-5 by Greg Pak

Current Incredible Hercules title by Greg Pak

Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Face & The Brute TPB by Matt Wagner

Superman/Batman (title run by Jeph Loeb, features Toyman)


DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.