Shattering the stereotype



Edited by Jeff Yang, Parry Shen, Keith Chow, Jerry Ma (New York: The New Press, 2012, 208 pp., $21.95, paperback)

It has been more than three years since “Secret Identities” came out. At the time, the series touted itself as an innovative Asian American comic anthology centered on the archetype of superheroes. The realm of comic book superheroes certainly has not improved much since in terms of Asian representations, even with the recent reboot of the DC Comics universe.

Jeff Yang, movie star Parry Shen, Keith Chow and Jerry Ma, who all worked on the first installment of the independent comic anthology, reprise their roles. Many artists, such as “Secret Asian Man” author Tak Toyoshima and former G.I. Joe artist Larry Hama, make a return, along with several of the stories and plots from the inaugural volume. Shen said in an interview with the Nichi Bei Times in 2009 that he wanted to focus the next book on Asian American super villains, which he described as surprisingly “really difficult” to do.

Three years later, the anthology is out and features a variety of stories, including some interesting super villains. How about Mei, the alien, who is told at age 10 that she has an unnatural knack for math and science because all Asians are secretly from outer space. Then there is Ken Ming, middle-aged engineer and genius inventor, who is overshadowed by his white co-workers who get promoted before he does. There are also some nods to history’s great Asian super villains, such as a short comic on Ching Shih, a real Chinese pirate that brought the Qing dynasty’s navy to its knees and fought off both the Portuguese and British navies.

The anthology doesn’t limit itself to villains, however. “Shattered” provides both a new crop of heroes along with the reprisal of several heroes from the first anthology. The vast number of writers and artists that made the book lends to a variation of ethnicities, story styles, and art styles ranging from the serious to the cartoony.

Perhaps most impressive, however, is the editors’ ability to bring together a series of stories written among themselves and illustrated by a slew of different artists with their independent styles to form a cohesive and interconnected plot. The overarching story, self-contained in the book, even ends with an action packed battle reprising many of the characters introduced throughout the book — as what is a superhero comic without an epic battle between the forces of good and evil?

Between the main story’s segments, though, are also clever and entertaining stories: an allegorical story featuring the zombie apocalypse and HIV, a retelling of the Tortoise and the Hare fable and a story about friendship and giant robots.

“Shattered” destroys the Asian stereotypes and pits them in culturally believable, yet fantastic settings. At first, entertaining, and second, educational, the comics have potential to not only serve as a statement of empowerment for Asian Americans, but a genuinely entertaining read.

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