REVIEW: ‘DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration,’ Issue #1

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DC Festival of Heroes Asian Superhero Celebration #1

DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration #1 is a special anthology from DC Comics celebrating their most prominent Asian and Asian-American characters for AAPI Heritage Month. Writers of the stories include Mariko Tamaki, Minh Lê, Greg Pak, Aniz Adam Ansari, Ram V, Dustin Nguyen, Alyssa Wong, Sarah Kuhn, Amy Chu, Pornsak Pietshote, and Gene Luen Yang. Artists include Marcus To, Trung Le Nguyen Sumit Kumar, Sami Basri, Andrew Mok, Dustin Nguyen, Sean Chen, Victoria Ying, Marcio Takara, Alexandre Tefenkgi, and Bernard Chang. Colorists include Sebastian Cheng, Romulo Fajardo Jr., Sunny Gho, Jordie Bellaire, and Rain Beredo. The anthology has letters by Janice Chiang, Aditya Bidikar, Steve Wands, Gabriela Downie, Tom Napolitano, Steve Wands, Ariana Maher. One story has inks by Norm Rpmuno, with one of the stories edited by Jessica Chen.

This is an overall stunning anthology that incorporates the most famous and current Asian superheroes of the current DC canon, while introducing a new one in the form of the Monkey Prince in his ironically named story, “The Monkey Prince Hates Superheroes.” And it’s all by an amazing roster of Asian writers who clearly incorporate their own experiences into these iconic heroes. There are thrills, adventures, action, drama, comedic moments, and quiet and pensive moments showcasing the vast range of personalities from these heroes, including but not limited to Emiko Queen (Red Arrow), Grace Choi, Cassandra Cain (Batgirl/Orphan), Damian Wayne (Robin), Connor Hawke (Green Arrow), Ryan Choi (The Atom), Tatsu Yamashiro (Katana), Shoes (Cheshire Cat), Tai Pham (Green Lantern), and Kenan Kong (Superman). This anthology is also a superb introduction for readers who may not have encountered some of these characters before, and each story endears you to them in ways you might not expect if you’ve known of them before. Overall, the anthology does an amazing job at highlighting these characters and potentially gauging more interest in them from audiences.

The core theme of this anthology is identity, which is not limited to the heroes’ cultural backgrounds, even though that is (nearly) omnipresent throughout. Their identities as Asians and Asian-Americans are at the heart of this stunning anthology and are keenly about how their identities inform but do not define them. The writers do an overall heartwarming job at getting readers to connect to these heroes through this lens, and highlighting the struggles of the immigrant and second-generation experience, and just struggling to fit in generally as any person does.

Stories explore the personal struggles of characters like Cass and Shoes in their stories “Sounds” by Tamaki and “Masks” by Ram V, where they aim to make connections and feel a stronger sense of identity. “Hawke and Kong” by Pak is an action-packed team-up between the new Green Arrow and Superman that highlights Connor’s identity as a Black and Asian character, his insecurities, and his ability to grow and make friendships with people like Kenan. “Family Dinner” by Wong shows Grace awkwardly meeting her girlfriend Anissa’s (Thunder) father Jefferson (Black Lightning) and Jennifer (Lightning). There’s such a rich variety of storytelling for any reader to enjoy.

The introduction of the Monkey Prince by Yang is fantastic. Based on the legendary Chinese figure The Monkey King, this new hero is the brainchild of editor Jessica Chen and writer Gene Luen Yang. Marcus is a bold, charismatic, and dynamic character who is a new type of hero whose journey is set to continue in the DC canon. The Monkey King has been a fixture of Chinese and other Asian stories for centuries, and it’s so great to see a hero inspired directly by him in the DC universe that is keenly informed by the legend. Yang writes him with a diligent encapsulation of who the Monkey Prince is, exciting readers to see where Marcus goes next.

The only real pitfall of the book is that in attempting to be as inclusive as possible, it makes some missteps and highlights some pitfalls of the DC Universe regarding comprehensive AAPI inclusion. On the latter, the book makes clear that DC still has a long way to go with having a truly inclusive roster of Asian superheroes. The broad majority of the heroes featured are East Asian. There’s only one story, that of Tai Pham’s in”Dress Code” by Minh Lê that that explores an aspect of Southeast Asian culture with his Vietnamese áo dài that is part of his Green Lantern costume. To be sure, it’s a lovely and meaningful story to see on the page.

But the fact that it’s a single story showcases why there should be far more Southeast Asian heroes in DC. Similarly, there are no South or Central Asians in the book, which is most likely due to DC not having any prominent heroes of those backgrounds. It would have been great if they could have introduced another South or Central Asian hero along with the Monkey Prince. If anything, the anthology serves as a rallying call for why DC needs more Asian heroes of these backgrounds. If they want to be able to have a full AAPI roster, they need prominent Pacific Islander heroes in the comics. It’s certainly a net good that the book aimed to be inclusive of Asians of many backgrounds, but there’s more for the DC brand to do on this front.

While I was very glad to see a story for their one West Asian character, Damian Wayne, who is of Arab descent through his mother Talia Al-Ghul, it, unfortunately, left me wanting much more. There’s virtually no direct reference to his Arab or Middle Eastern heritage. Making veiled references to the Al-Ghuls does not suffice for a cultural reference. Of all the Asian heroes included, it felt like Damian was the only one who didn’t have a cultural distinction. It would have been preferable if they had commissioned a Middle Eastern writer, such as Nadia Shammas or Ibrahim Moustafa, who could speak to those cultural particularities of being West Asian and Arab. I hope that going forward DC does do this for Damian and the Al-Ghuls, as well as have many more Middle Eastern and West Asian heroes to follow.

But that doesn’t take away from the good that DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration does at presenting relatable Asian and Asian-American experiences, especially through the amazing art presented. The artwork for each story perfectly complements the stories being written. Marcus To does a great job at depicting an insecure Cassandra Cain as she both fights crime and struggles to make connections with others, complimented by Sebastien Cheng’s vivid colors. Trung Le Nguyen has a beautifully soft art style that perfectly compliments Tai Pham’s reflection on why he wears his áo dài. Audrey Mok and Jordie Bellair’s impressionistic style complements Shoes’ struggle to remember her past in “Masks.” The sheer amount of Asian foods depicted by Dustin Nguyen (Bao dumplings), Sean Chen (rice balls), Marcio Takara (curried roti), and Sumit Kumar and Romulo Fajardo Jr. (a traditional Korean meal with some Chinese Pao Cai) all look scrumptious on the page. 

The lettering in this issue is all fantastic. Every letterer has clearly worked closely with their artists and writers to ensure that the words are perfectly placed without disrupting the flow of these wonderful stories of self-discovery. You’ll be able to enjoy the stories and art with ease.

DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration Issue #1 is an amazing compilation of the Asian and Asian-American heroes of the DC Universe. Through the presentation of their more intimate moments and personal adventures, readers old and new are given a fantastic look at characters they may not have known much about before, and be excited to see where they go next. While it also showcases that DC still has a ways to go on AAPI representation, this feels like a promising start for where they might go next. Hopefully, a DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration Issue #2 has an even more diverse and comprehensive collection of AAPI superheroes of the DC Universe.

DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration Issue #1 is available where comics are sold.

DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration Issue #1
4.5

TL;DR

DC Festival of Heroes The Asian Superhero Celebration Issue #1 is an amazing compilation of the Asian and Asian-American heroes of the DC Universe. Through the presentation of their more intimate moments and personal adventures, readers old and new are given a fantastic look at characters they may not have known much about before, and be excited to see where they go next. While it also showcases that DC still has a ways to go on AAPI representation, this feels like a promising start for where they might go next. Hopefully a DC Festival of Heroes The Asian Superhero Celebration Issue #2 has an even more diverse and comprehensive collection of AAPI superheroes of the DC Universe.