The late Dwayne McDuffie (Justice League of America) called Secret Identities a “criminally overdue treasure trove …as rousing, uplifting, tragic and funny as our deepest secret fantasies.” Walt Simonson (Thor) called it “a window into truths you never thought of before.” And DC Comics’ co-publisher Jim Lee said of the groundbreaking first anthology, “Fabulous!…I am more than a little in awe.”
Now, three years later, the team behind Secret Identities is back with a new volume — bigger, bolder and more breathtaking in scope. Like the groundbreaking original, the next incarnation of Secret Identities unfurls an ingenious “shadow narrative” of the Asian American experience, set against the larger-than-life canvas of the comic book cosmos.
But while the first collection focused on the conventions of superhero comics, its sequel expands its horizon to include edgier genres, from hard-boiled pulp to horror, adventure, fantasy and science fiction. Using this darker range of hues, Shattered seeks to subvert — to shatter — the hidebound stereotypes that have obscured the Asian image since the earliest days of immigration: the stoic brute, the prodigious brain, the exotic temptress, the inscrutable alien, the devious manipulator.
Creators included in the eclectic and impressive lineup include leading Asian American comics creators such as Gene Yang (National Book Award finalist for American Born Chinese), GB Tran (Vietnamerica), Christine Norrie (Hopeless Savages), Sonny Liew (Malinky Robot), Larry Hama (G.I. Joe), Cliff Chiang (Wonder Woman), Bernard Chang (Supergirl), Sean Chen (Iron Man), Greg Pak (The Hulk), and Takeshi Miyazawa (Runaways), as well as film and literary standouts such as Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet), Michael Kang (The Motel) and Tanuj Chopra (Punching at the Sun). The original graphic short stories they’ve crafted cover topics from ethnic kiddie shows to China’s AIDS policy to air flight security procedures; from the untold backstory of Flash Gordon’s nemesis Ming the Merciless, to the gritty reality of a day in the life of a young Koreatown gangster.
The first book has become a must-read book for fans of graphic storytelling — Graphic Novel Reporter called it “entertaining, provocative and powerful,” while Eclipse magazine gave it an “A” grade and called it “tremendously rewarding.” But it’s also been widely adopted as course material in ethnic and cultural studies programs as a unique lens on the frequently overlooked history of Asian America.
Shattered is poised to join its predecessor as a contemporary classic of the graphic novel form, incorporating thrills, chills and delight while exposing the hidden issues and vital truths of the nation’s fastest growing and most dynamic community.
Jeff Yang, the founder of the pioneering Asian American periodical aMagazine, writes the Tao Jones column for the Wall Street Journal and is a frequent contributor on NPR. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Parry Shen, best known for his lead role in the hit MTV Films movie Better Luck Tomorrow, lives in Southern California. Keith Chow, an educator and writer, lives in Maryland. Jerry Ma, the founder of the design studio Epic Proportions, lives in New York City.
Walking With Master Hare — Behind the Scenes With Shattered
Originally posted at Yellow Peril
by Jamie Noguchi
I inherited my love of comics from my dad. He was a huge Marvel fan and when my brother and I found his old collection of Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Thor comics, we were hooked. It never really occurred to me as I was growing up, but as I was about college age, I noticed that my favorite comics lacked heroes that looked like me. Though many of my favorite titles were drawn by Asian artists, there were hardly any Asian heroes in the pages. I was pretty disappointed, but the revelation didn’t put me off comics. In fact, I expanded the types of comics I collected because the super hero genre just wasn’t holding up.
I figured that this was going to the be the state of things. Then a few years ago, I heard about an anthology that would feature Asian American super heroes, Secret Identities: The Asian American Super Hero Anthology.
Be Careful What You Wish For
I ordered a copy of Secret Identities and waited with great anticipation. Would this be the Asian American equivalent of the Milestone Universe, a super hero universe featuring Black super heroes created in the early 90s. Would this anthology encourage the big two to feature more Asian American heroes? I conjured all sorts of hopeful maybes.
It arrived at my doorstep and I tore into the packaging like a mad wolverine to get to its contents. I couldn’t wait to read about super heroes that looked like me. But as I turned the pages, I felt my brow furrow. These weren’t hopeful stories of heroes doing super human deeds. These were angry stories that sought to punish the White Man for years of oppression.
To be fair, not every story came from a place of anger. But the overall vibe of the collection was so angry and bitter that I hid the thing in a dark place on my shelf. I couldn’t recommend this to my non-Asian friends for fear that they’d feel like they were being attacked. I mean, I’m a pretty angry and bitter person in general, but even I felt put off by the overall tone.
These weren’t the heroes I was looking for. These weren’t the stories I had been waiting for.
A Second Glance
Needless to say, I was a bit hesitant when the Secret Identities crew contacted me earlier this year to contribute to their second anthology, Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology. I nearly declined, but I felt that maybe I’d have an opportunity to be part of the solution, to tell a story that featured Asian characters that wasn’t bitter or angry. After some soul searching, I agreed.
I was sent a few scripts to consider and already, my fears were put to rest. These were the kind of stories that I had been looking for. The one that spoke to me the most was Howard Wong’s Master Tortoise and Master Hare. As you might guess, it’s a retelling of the classic Tortoise and Hare fable set in ancient China.
One of my biggest concerns was creating a unique look for Master Hare. To me, the definitive long-eared action hero is Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. I was afraid that my love for Stan and Usagi would creep into my Master Hare. I hid all my Usagi books and my Stan Sakai sketchbooks and collected screen shots of Kung Fu villains and photos of hares.
With Master Hare somewhat settled, I went on to design Master Tortoise. Again, I had to push out childhood favorites out of my mind. I drew a lot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when it first hit the airwaves in the late 80′s. Their head shapes, body contours, hands are all second nature to my drawing hand. I can TMNT with the best of them. So I made a concerted effort to lean on my reference photos of actual tortoises. Even so, you can see the TMNT influence in Master Tortoise’s limbs.
I had an absolute blast drawing the story and playing with these characters. I was pretty pleased with the work and couldn’t wait to see how it fit into the rest of the anthology.
Shattered, A Triumph
I was absolutely elated when I read through the preview copy of Shattered that we creators were sent. This anthology is exactly what I had been looking for. Rather than spending time trying to shame the White Man for years of oppression, this collection concentrates on telling good stories that feature Asian leads. This is a comic I would be proud to share with absolutely everyone I know.
It’s a much more subtle statement than the first collection. It’s not trying to shame you for ignoring the plight of Asians in America. It’s telling good stories that are universal in relate-ability and proving that you can do so while featuring minority leads. It’s a powerful statement and one of the reasons I think this is such an important work.
Shattered is on shelves now. If you’re in the DC area and haven’t yet picked up a copy, you can come on down to Busboys and Poets on Monday from 6:30pm to 8:00pm for a signing. I suggest grabbing food at Chinatown Express before to stuff your face full of dumpling and noodle goodness.
And if you’d like to hear from some of the other contributors, here’s a list of us who have blogged about our experiences:
Tempest, the Child Assassin Featured in Shattered, The Asian American Comics Anthology, Out Now
The first vision that came to mind was the moon reflected in the sea and a chopped head fell into the water shattering the placid moment.
When Robin and I got together and she showed me the men, I immediately recognized who she modeled them after:
We went back and forth with Jeff on the story and hashed it out. When the story was finally approved, Robin penciled the 6 pages in less than a week. Then she inked them and it was done before I knew it.
I suppose I do this also to remind myself as well.
Has a story and/or character ever influenced your life?
If so, drop me a line. I’d love to hear what you have to say.
Wendy M. Xu (Angry Girl Comics)
Jenn Fang (Reappropriate) and Ace Continuado
Phil Yu (Angry Asian Man) and Jerry Ma (Epic Proportions)
Bao Phi and G.B. Tran
Amy Chu and Larry Hama