The Asian American Relationship with Comic Book Representation

Secret Identities_001Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology 

by Jeff Yang, Parry Shen, Keith Chow, and Jerry Ma

This collection of Asian American comics directly addresses Asian American representation in comic books: essentially  it’s been abysmal. The first short comic “Preface: In the Beginning” by Jeff Yang narrates the tropes and stereotypes of Asian Americans and how it’s affected him personally. This author is concerned with why there are so many Asian Americans behind comics, but not within them. He also explores how those stereotypes, such as the Coolie–a term for unskilled Chinese workers, mostly railroad–the Dragon Lady, and the Math Genius, can be reversed into something positive.

The cover page for this comic has a lot to discuss, as it is a parody of X-Men with trope caricatures fighting the Model Minority, a Clark Kent look-alike, representing Asian Americans. This analysis of Superman as Asian American, with his true alien identity and bookish assimilating alter-ego, comes from Cathy J. Schlund-Vials and her article in the Amerasia Journal “Drawing From Resistance,” as well as the creators of this anthology themselves. Quoted within Schlund-Vials’ article, Yang says “the parallels between those stories help explain why Asian Americans have become such a driving force in the contemporary comics renaissance as artists, writers, and fans.” Such behind the scenes representation seems to be a theme in the media and for Asian Americans.

Secret Identities_003 croppedIn this comic, stereotypes are thrust upon Jeff Yang as a child, for while Superman’s story parallels the Asian American experience, his friends force him into those narrow stereotypes. After deciding to create this anthology, Yang narrates, they turn to embrace those stereotypes, specifically the kung-fu and karate kid ones, presumably because they scare away some racist guys trying to start a fight with them. By using what typically oppresses them, they empower themselves. It becomes a sense of racial pride.

Secret Identities_007Racist caricatures of Asian Americans comes from a history of colorism, which in turn inspires a need for Asian Americans to hide their ethnic identities. In response to this, As Schlund-Vials says, there is “the need for ‘Yellow Power,’ a new ‘way of life’ built on anti-racist revision, progressive re-imagining, and unapologetic racial pride.”

The characters in the rest of this archive represent this conflict and attempts for that “anti-racist revision.” In Chop Chop and Ah Choo, we can clearly see the racist caricaturing Asian Americans have dealt with in comic books, as well as many other facets of media. In Cindy Moon and Amadeus Cho, we can see Asian American creators put forth this revision. In navigating through this archive, considers these few questions. How do these Asian American superheroes reinvent and reclaim space within an already established story? For the sidekicks, how have they enforced a narrow perspective onto Asian Americans? How have contemporaries tried to reconcile these caricatures? And for the villains, how is their American identity shrouded by their “forever foreignness?”


Schlund-Vials, Cathy. “Drawing from Resistance: Folklore, Race, and Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology.” Amerasia Journal: 2013, Vol. 39, No. 2, pp. 1-24.

Yang, Jeff, Parry Shen, Keith Chow, Jerry Ma, and Jef Castro. “Preface: In the Beginning.” Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology. The New Press, 2009. Print.



Superheroes as Imitations



The Amazing Spider-Man and Silk, “The Spider(fly) Effect” Page 5

In this post, I look at two of Marvel’s leading Asian American superheroes, Amadeus Cho and Cindy Moon. Both of these characters exist as versions or imitations of famous superheroes, Hulk and Spider-Man.


The Amazing Spider-Man and Silk “The Spider(fly) Effect” #1

Written by Robbie Thompson and illustrated by Todd Nauck.


The Amazing Spider-Man and Silk, “The Spider(fly) Effect” Page 25

Cindy Moon first appears in The Amazing Spider-Man Vol 3 #1 in 2014 but does not appear as Silk until issue 4 of the same volume. I chose these two sources specifically because of their convenience and availability, so I will be focusing less on her origins than how she interacts with Spider-Man and how she leads her own series.

From what the reader can gather from this comic, Silk has allied herself with a villain for information, thus functioning as a double agent. In this specific volume, Silk and Spider-Man banter, in my opinion, excessively whilst being thrust into a conflict with a Hydra traitor, who accidently transports them all to the past. While the plot of this volume is complicated in the sense that it requires background knowledge, I will focus on how these two heroes interact and how Thompson portrays Cindy Moon.

Thompson writes Cindy Moon as intelligent and tough, which Spider-Man comments on several times in this issue, claiming she has gotten stronger and smarter since they last met. The narrative is focused on their dialogue and their relationship, and in many senses they’re equals. The training that Silk went through seems to have just elevated her to Spider-Man’s level of strength rather than above him. However, since they are staging this fight, we never get a clear idea of their strength levels. 

Overall, each superhero gets equal screen time, and the only moment of concern is when Cindy Moon suddenly is in her underwear. By going back into the past, they slowly lose their superpowers, and since Silk uses her own webs to make her outfit (somehow) when their powers wane, so does her clothing. Thompson does not focus on this moment too much, and her underwear is not particularly “sexy,” though one could argue it’s inappropriate either way. Overall, this Silk seems to be more of a contrast to Spider-Man and since her background is not focused on, the reader can easily forget she’s Asian American. 

Silk Volume 2 #1

Written by Robbie Thompson and illustrated by Stan Lee and Ian Herring.

Silk 1 #1_8

Silk 2 #1 Pages 10-11

Since this is Cindy Moon’s own series, we get a better idea of her values and her personality. Overall, she’s a badass with a tragic past, a requirement for most superheroes, but still exists within the influence of Superman and Spider-Man. Apparently she’s been in a bunker for a certain amount of time and escaped to find out her parents went missing; all that remained was her brother who is recovering from drug abuse and has no memory of what happened while Silk was gone. Cindy Moon’s similarities with Superman are with her occupation, where she is a reporter who writes articles on her superhero alter ego, and for Spider-Man, well, she’s sort of a prototype of him. Without Spider-Man as a character in this comic, Silk shines as an independent superhero with her own interesting backstory. 

Silk’s identity as an Asian American retains stronger in this series because of the art. The facial structure of her and her brother In the other series, Cindy Moon does not look distinctly Asian and could be mistaken for Caucasian, especially since her backstory is absent. Visual representation is paramount for better representation of Asian Americans as superheroes exactly because it’s the first thing you see.

Cindy Moon also plays into the concept of secret identity, since she disconnects her “normal” life from her “abnormal life.” Another way to see her split identities is in terms of her status as an Asian American. Marc Singer, from his article, “‘Black Skins’ and White Masks,” in the African American Review, explains that “The idea of the split identity…is also one of the most powerful and omnipresent figures used to illustrate the dilemmas and experiences of minority identity.” In this sense, we can see it as double consciousness, where colored people must have a separate “mask,” or consciousness, to navigate the majority white world.

The Totally Awesome Hulk Vol 1 #1

Written by Grek Pak and illustrated by Frank Cho.


The Totally Amazing Hulk Vol 1 #1 010


The Totally Amazing Hulk Vol 1 #1 029

“The Totally Awesome Hulk,” written by Greg Pak, and illustrated by Frank Cho and Sonia Oback, introduces Amadeus Cho as a sort of replacement for Banner, who is implied to have gone berserk by intaking too many gamma rays. He first appeared in Amazing Fantasy in 2006, but this series stands as Cho’s real debut, delving more into how this Hulk differs from Banner. Grek Pak presents Cho to us as a funnier, flirtier Hulk variation, with the first page showing him stuffing his face until the last possible moment, apparently to fuel his “monster.” Much of Cho’s relatability is transferred through his habit of flirting with any attractive woman, essentially seeming to judge every woman he sees in terms of their beauty.

In terms of appearance, Frank Cho portrays Cho as childish at times and strong at others, but even when he transforms into the Hulk his racial identity remains through his facial features. Considering the trope of superheroes having a split between their “hero” self and their “real” self, Cho seems rather unconcerned with separating the two, which becomes a minor, though perhaps in future volumes an overarching, conflict. However, Cho is insistent that he differs from Banner in that he has control over his monster, and this paints this debut volume as an attempt to illustrate these differences between the two Hulks, more than just their race.


Both Amadeus Cho and Cindy Moon exist as prototypes, translations of the foreign into a more recognizable American. Because I bought volume 1 of The Totally Awesome Hulk but volume 2 of Silk, we can’t compare these two equally since Hulk is more concerned with differentiating himself from Banner, while Silk presumably already has. Either way, these two heroes need to justify themselves due to their overwriting of well-established superheroes.

Those famous superheroes can’t truly be translated into the Asian American experience and attempting to translate them loses the meaning for both ends of translation; by dissociating Silk from her Asian heritage in The Amazing Spider-Man and Silk, she loses part of her identity. These characters also explore the concept of Asian being a modifier of American and also consider how to best narrate an “ethnic” narrative. In terms of the archive, the history Asian American characters in comic books, specifically Marvel and DC Comics, is not hard to track since the wikis categorize each character by their race. However, generally, that category is Asian, rather than Asian American, which complicates the label. Generally, we’re considering an Asian perspective of America, but without sufficient backstory, it can be hard to identify older Asian characters as such or as Asian American. With Ah Choo and Chop Chop, their foreignness is comedic to the point that their American-ness is not even considered.


Alonso, Axel, Pak, Greg and Cho, Frank. “Cho Time: Part One.” The Totally Awesome Hulk Vol 1 #1. Marvel Comics. February, 2016.

Singer, Marc. “”Black Skins” and White Masks: Comic Books and the Secret of Race”. African American Review 36.1 (2002): 107–119.

Thompson, Robbi, Nauck, Todd, and Gandini, Veronica. “Chapter One.” The Amazing Spider-Man and Silk. Marvel Comics. March, 2016.

Thompson, Robbie, Lee, Stan and Herring, Ian. “Silk.” Silk Vol 2 #1. Marvel Comics. April 2015.

Sidekicks, Villains

Ah Choo–It Could be Worse


Hit Comics #18 Page 1

“Introducing Stormy Foster” Hit Comics Vol 1 #18

Edited by Jerry Iger and illustrated by Max Elkan.

The sidekick Ah Choo comes from Quality Comics’ series Hit Comics, which ran from 1940-1950. His first appearance is in issue 18, “Introducing Stormy Foster,” as an unidentified delivery boy, but by issue 21 he is named and stars as the Great Defender’s sidekick in fighting the Germans.

In his introduction, he switches his Rs and Ls, as the stereotype dictates, and speaks non-standard English. In issue 18, Ah Choo plays an extremely minor role and is not fully fleshed out as an archetypal sidekick until issue 21. Because of this, there’s little to comment on his appearance, other than his slanted eyes and foreign clothing. His only distinguishing characteristic is that he’s not the enemy–because he’s Chinese.

In issue 18, where Ah Choo and the Great Defender first appear, the main enemy is Oshinto Karu, “notorious Asiatic spy who has been hunted for months by the F.B.I.” Karu is Japanese, the nation’s enemy, but his group falls under the nondescript “Asiatic” group. While Karu’s name clearly marks him as Japanese, his allies are an unknown and vague Asian–only someone with knowledge of Asian cultures in the 1940s would be able to wager their ethnicity. Of course, that’s not the point of the comic. Other moments of concern come when the narrator refers to the “Oriental” enemies as  “yellow assassins” and when they run from the Great Defender, “like a pack of terrified rats, the Oriental spies scamper to the roof.” Hilarious! These enemies also call their mission a suicidal mission for the great emperor. Classic.

“Introducing Stormy Foster” is very representative of 1940s American attitudes towards Asians, symbolizing just how general but lethal popular media fostered with Asian stereotypes. Ah Choo’s first appearance also reveals this othering of Asians in his speech patterns, which both are drastically changed in issue 21 as he is given more substance as a character.


Hit Comics # 18 Page 9


Hit Comics #21 Page 9

“King Korman’s Castle” Hit Comics Vol 1 #21

Edited by Jerry Iger and illustrated Max Elkan

As a sidekick in issue 21, he actually helps the Great Defender with his slingshot, but obviously is not on the same level as the main superhero. While the artist Max Elkan portrays Ah Choo more positively than in the previous issue, he still is seen as the “good” Asian or the “model minority.” Moreover, the only positive change in his character is his absence of the Asian Accent. Similar to Chop Chop, Ah Choo’s appearance is heavily racially coded, with slanted eyes, buck teeth, and what might be a vague reference to “Oriental” clothing.

So, we’ve witnessed Ah Choo as a racial caricature, what now?

First, let’s talk about the effect and implications of these comics. Basically, what’s the point of bringing this up 70 years later? Theoretically, it’s in the past. We’ve changed now! Haha no! Racial caricatures have only changed in the last 70 years, as yellowface has just transformed into whitewashing. Whitewashing can be seen in the casting of white actors for established Asian characters, such as in Aloha, Exodus, Prince of Persia, Pan, Avatar: The Last Airbender…and the list goes on. This also applies for animated characters, in terms of literal whitening of their skin, such as Aladdin, or if you know anime, Robin Nico from One Piece. Asian stereotypes have survived the modern age, and they still reduce people to caricatures. While Ah Choo’s personality is similar to Robin’s regarding the sidekick archetype, his appearance is incredibly othering. Culturally he has assimilated, but he will always be foreign.

Superhero comics is not a cultural product to be taken lightly. Consumable by many, comic books pervade the popular conscious and the private conscious. Ah Choo’s inability to fully assimilate parallels the experiences of Asian Americans today and our obsession with mocking Asians only continues to belittle their existence.

“We have always worn masks. Forced to wear them by others who feared us, hated by us…Since we first set foot on these shores, made to play the part of the “forever foreigner,” the “yellow peril,” the invading, unassimilable hored…Hidden behind identical slanted eyes and geisha makeup by others’ ignorance…exotic, other, not quite human… Those old masks–imposed by others, reinforced by the weight of historical repetition–have, over time, obscured and distorted our identity.” -Jason Sperber

Jason Sperber is part of the Secret Identities crew and writes for Nerds of Color. This quote comes from Cathy J.Schlund-Vials’ article, “Drawing from Resistance,” in the Amerasia Journal. In Ah Choo, we can see its relevance, for he represents this “forever foreigner,” and considering the Asian caricatured face as a mask, we can understand its obscuring nature.

Crandall, Reed, Elkan, Max and Iger, Jerry. “Introducing Stormy Foster.” Hit Comics Vol 1 #18. Quality Comics. December 1941.

Elkan, Max and Iger, Jerry. “King Korman’s Castle.” Hit Comics Vol 1 #21. Quality Comics. April 1942.


Mandarin: The “Oriental Menace”

During the mid 1960s, the Cold War was in full swing, and the United States feared an expansionist, aggressive “Red China.” in 1964, Marvel Comics played off of these fears by introducing a new adversary for Iron Man: The Mandarin.

The first page of Tales of Suspense #50, Mandarin's first appearance. Published in 1964.

The first page of Tales of Suspense #50, Mandarin’s first appearance. Published in 1964.

In Mandarin’s first appearance, from Tales of Suspense #50, he is portrayed as an egotistical and secretive Asian villain, with slanted eyes, claw-like fingers, and a Fu Manchu mustache. He is a master of martial arts, and wears a different ring on each finger, each with the power to manifest mystical energy beams. Soldiers from the “Red Chinese Army” approach Mandarin in his secret castle deep within China with a request from the Chinese government: join forces with them, and they can take over the world together. But the Mandarin refuses, and sends the soldiers away. Meanwhile, Iron Man is given a mission from the Pentagon to go to China and do reconnaissance on the Mandarin, who has been sabotaging and stealing U.S. missiles and spy planes manufactured by Tony Stark. He enters Mandarin’s castle, and the two do battle, Iron Man’s Western technology vs. Mandarin’s Oriental mysticism.

The Mandarin displays his superhuman martial arts prowess in Tales of Suspense #50.

The Mandarin displays his superhuman martial arts prowess in Tales of Suspense #50.

Iron Man beats the Mandarin in Tales of Suspense #50.

Iron Man’s brains beat Mandarin’s brawn in Tales of Suspense #50.

Iron Man’s logic ends up defeating Mandarin’s karate, but the Mandarin proves to be a formidable adversary. The issue ends with Tony Stark “wondering when and where the powerful Oriental menace will strike again.” Indeed, the character continues to challenge Iron Man to this day. While his current design isn’t the “Fu Manchu clone” of the 1960s, he is still very much an “Asian” villain, with visual parallels to both Japanese samurai and Genghis Khan (whom the Mandarin claims as an ancestor).

The Manadarin's modern design, from Iron Man v3 #9.

The Mandarin’s modern design, from Iron Man v3 #9.

Unlike other caricatures of Asians in comics, The Mandarin is not a bumbling villain — he has always been portrayed as a very real threat, able to match the genius, technological abilities, and physical prowess of Tony Stark. And although he is a visual representation of the “mystical orient,” he is not a two-dimensional character. In Tales of Suspense #62, published in 1965, Marvel provides us with Mandarin’s backstory, some of which is re-imagined in the 2007 comic Iron Man — Enter: The Mandarin.

According to his origin stories, Mandarin is biracial. His mother was an English noblewoman and his father was a descendant of Genghis Khan, and one of the richest businessmen in China. His parents died when he was very young, leaving the young Mandarin to be raised by a bitter aunt. When he grew older, Mandarin spent every penny of the inherited family fortune on training in the sciences and martial arts. Penniless and unable to pay his taxes, the Communist Chinese government evicts Mandarin from his ancestral home. He chooses to blame the entire human race for his plight, and sullenly walks through the forbidden Valley of Spirits, where he comes across a crashed spaceship from a technologically-advanced race of aliens. Mandarin studies their technology and science and takes the ten power rings for his own use. The alien technology gives him god-like powers, allowing him to subjugate entire villages in his quest for world domination.

In analyzing the Mandarin as a character, we can see him as a visual representation of the “Asian” ethnicity as a whole. He’s a blended Asian villain:  born in China, of Mongolian ancestry, and a master of Japanese martial arts. The first page of the Mandarin’s debut story, referring to his “Asian” traits of martial arts prowess and scientific genius, exclaims, “Some claim he is far more than human!”  What makes the Mandarin a threat isn’t just his mysteriousness, but the fact that he is the equal of Tony Stark in intelligence and technology. The fact that an Asian villain might be able to match, or even exceed, the capabilities of an American superhero is unsettling. And although the American fear of “Red China” was at its peak in the decades which saw the creation of Mandarin, current political tensions between West and East, as explored in other posts in our class archive, seem to ensure that the “oriental menace” remains relevant today.

In a 2006 interview for CHUD.com, Jon Favreau, who directed the films Iron Man and Iron Man 2, discussed the Mandarin’s place in the modern world:

“There are certain fears and certain strengths the character evokes that are applicable, but of course you have to completely remove any of that short sighted cultural ignorance that leads to any sort of bigotry in the storytelling. That isn’t to say those fears and shortcomings of Iron Man as relating to that character aren’t relevant… [Mandarin] was intelligent, he was powerful, he was mysterious. He was always one step ahead. Despite his suit and technology, Iron Man was always the underdog. Mandarin always had this Machiavellian web he would fall into. He was based in China which was then mysterious because it was Red China. Today China is mysterious in other ways because it’s Global China. China is the economic powerhouse that is quickly catching up and will eventually surpass us.”

The Mandarin is, essentially, a visual representation of the Western fears surrounding the mysterious Asian continent, making the character  a perfect example of how comics reflect the cultural, social, and political attitudes of the society that creates them. The Mandarin’s continued popularity likely owes itself to the United States’ modern fears of Chinese domination, and the enduring sense of “mystery” surrounding the Asian continent.

This cover art for the 2008 comic Invincible Iron Man #525 illustrates Western fears of an Eastern global takeover.

This cover art for the 2008 comic Invincible Iron Man #525 illustrates Western fears of an Eastern global takeover.


Blackhawk: The Evolution of Chop-Chop

In 1941, publisher Quality Comics introduced a new team of military heroes to the American comics scene: the Blackhawks.

The team, introduced in August 1941 in the pages of Military Comics #1, consisted of seven ace pilots who fought against tyranny and oppression from their base on Blackhawk Island. The leader, Blackhawk, was American, while most of the other Blackhawks hailed from different European nations that had been captured by the Axis Powers. And then there was Chop Chop, the only Asian member of the team.

Chop-Chop's first appearance, in Military Comics #3. Circa 1941.

Chop-Chop’s first appearance, in Military Comics #3.

Chop Chop was a Chinese man who made his first appearance in Military Comics #3, published in October 1941. In his debut issue, the tiny, buck-toothed “Chinaman” crash-lands on Blackhawk Island in a self-repaired Nazi airplane, spouting speech bubbles filled with pseudo-Asian scribbles mimicking Chinese characters. After being extracted from the wreckage, the character animatedly warns the Blackhawks about a “Red Closs Nurse in much danger!” The Blackhawks rush off to rescue the damsel, but not before tricking Chop-Chop (who admitted that he didn’t know how to fly a plane) into tying himself up so that he wouldn’t interfere with the mission.

Although officially a Blackhawk by name, Chop Chop spent the first few decades of his existence clearly set apart from the rest of his team. In a universe of realistically-drawn human characters, he was depicted as a colorful, buck-toothed caricature. This jarring contrast is easily seen in the Blackhawks “roster”, published in May 1948 in Military Comics #18.

The Blackhawks roster, from Military Comics #18, published in May 1948.

Initially, Chop Chop’s role on the team was essentially to be the “team pet”, a sidekick to Blackhawk, and a source of comic relief. He did fight enemies, but with a cleaver, brought from the Blackhawks’ kitchen where he worked as a cook.

Chop-Chop the sidekick, from Blackhawk #10. Circa 1944.

Chop-Chop the sidekick, from Blackhawk #10. Published 1944.

Although Chop-Chop was certainly a racial stereotype, he was designed to be a lighthearted, humorous character (unlike other wartime comics, which often depicted characters of Asian descent as slant-eyed, sinister enemies). From 1946 to 1945, Chop-Chop starred in his own solo stories, which typically featured the Chinaman humorously bumbling his way through problems while the other Blackhawks are away on missions. The first of these stories was published in the summer of 1946 in Blackhawk #11. In this story, Chop-Chop flies to a “Chinese garden” in Burma on a contraption made of fireworks. There, he accidentally saves an ambiguously Asian woman and receives his first kiss in return, perpetrating the stereotype of the “sexually inferior Asian man” that we discussed in class.

By 1950, Chop-Chop was still very much a caricature. But he was slowly starting to gain normal human proportions, shed a little bit of his racist “accent”, and was taking more active roles in Blackhawk missions. In Modern Comics #98, published in June 1950, Blackhawk himself introduces Chop Chop as the “smartest of all the Blackhawks,” praise which is confirmed after the character suggests using a special explosive to complete a tunnel through a mountain. But, after making his suggestion, Chop-Chop takes no role in the rest of the story, only reappearing on the last page to unmask the villain.

By 1952, things had gotten a little bit better for Chop-Chop, as Blackhawk #50 explicitly stated that Chop-Chop “is now a first-class pilot and a full-fledged member of the Blackhawks team.” But despite his official status, Chop-Chop still lacked the uniform worn by the other Blackhawks, and was still portrayed as a caricature. It wasn’t until DC Comics bought the rights to Blackhawk in the 1960s that Chop-Chop’s evolution really took off.

Blackhawk #197, published in 1964, updated the look of the entire series, and radically redesigned Chop-Chop in the process. He lost his ponytail and cartoony proportions, and traded his colorful coolie garb for the new uniforms sported by the other Blackhawks. He also became a master of martial arts.

Chop-Chop's new look for 1964. From Blackhawk #197.

Chop-Chop’s new look for 1964. From Blackhawk #197.

Not everyone was pleased with Chop-Chop’s redesign. In 1983, an anonymous staff member of Virginia’s Richmond Times-Dispatch published an editorial in which he lamented the new, politically-correct Chop-Chop and defended the 1940’s depiction as “accurate.” Blackhawk writer Mark Evenir summarized the editorial as follows:

“He (let’s assume it’s a He) complains, “No longer does the Oriental Blackhawk bang no-goodniks on the head with manhole covers, exclaiming: ‘Chop-Chop fixee so face look difflunt!'” The writer loves this kind of stuff and then goes on to explain that to not depict Chop-Chop in this manner is the real insult. He writes, “Since Chop-Chop turned up full-grown in 1941, he might well have been born into a village in which the customs of Imperial China still lingered.” Referring to the fact that Chop-Chop no longer sports the ponytail: “Dequeueing him demonstrates not ‘tolerance’ but cultural imperialism…to the extent that a working class Chinese spoke English, it would be pidgin, not the queen’s…” Translation: The fat, stupid version was historically accurate.”

Evenier was aghast, and devoted much of the letter section of Blackhawk #283 to rebutting this editorial, expressing his amazement that “anyone could believe that Chinese folks were really obese and stupid in the forties.” The controversy that surrounded the Chop-Chop character for decades had finally boiled over, and it was time that the comic address it. Two months after Evenier’s rebuttal, Blackhawk finally confronts their treatment of the character in a fantastic story, What’s The Matter with Chop-Chop?

In this story, which concludes the Chop-Chop saga, the character is back in World War 2, wearing his “Asian clothes” (the Blackhawk universe had been “reset” in the 1970s). Although he is now largely free of the stereotypy that defined him in the earlier decades, the other Blackhawks notice that Chop-Chop seems upset. He is suddenly refusing to do the team’s domestic chores, insisting that he “came here to fight.” The change in Chop-Chop’s demeanor is baffling to the Blackhawks, until, on page 8, a young civilian girl finally asks Blackhawk, “Why does one Blackhawk wear different clothes from the rest?” Blackhawk is unable to answer, and genuinely wonders why Chop-Chop has never been given a Blackhawks uniform.

He then has a flashback to a party that the team had recently attended, where an artist had offered to create portraits for each member of the team. All of the portraits were flattering, until Chop-Chop’s. For him, the in-universe artist decided to have “fun”, and drew a picture resembling Chop-Chop’s racialized 1940s design. To top it off, the artist commented that he has “great respect for you Chinamen. No one does laundry the way you do. And I simply love that fried rice — or as you call it, “flied lice”. The scene ends with Blackhawk angrily throwing the offensive artist through a window.

After the flashback, Blackhawk confronts Chop-Chop, who angrily suggests that the other team members don’t consider him a full-fledged pilot. When Chop-Chop later suggests that he fly a dangerous mission alone, Blackhawk initially refuses, but, in order to quell Chop-Chop’s feelings of inferiority, decides to give him a chance. Chop-Chop pulls off the mission flawlessly, and when he returns, he apologizes for his terse behavior, explaining that he feels as though he “shouldn’t be here”. He tells Blackhawk that he wants to defend his homeland from the Japanese invasion, and is requesting a leave of absence to defend his homeland. But Blackhawk won’t approve his request… …until it is made by someone in uniform. He presents Chop-Chop with a Blackhawks uniform, which transforms the character from a stereotype into a person: Special Retail Officer Wu Cheng. The request for leave is granted, and as Cheng flies off into the sunset, the narrator ends the story:

“Soldiers are all created equal. And yet… and yet, six men are right now feeling that the seventh is maybe a little more equal. At least, today.”


Chop-Chop is a character worthy of our archive because we can use the evolution of his design to trace the gradual evolution of Western sensibilities regarding racial stereotyping. The comic book genre itself provides a good medium for examining these stereotypes, because, as a visual medium, “comics rely upon visually codified representations in which characters are continually reduced to their appearances (Singer, 1).” The design of a character in the world of comics can have wide-ranging effects in “the real world”. In the curator’s note for “This Side of Now” in REVN, Vo Hong Chuong-Dai notes that “the aesthetic is never seperate from the political and the social (Chuong-Dai, 60).” In Blackhawk, the characters serve as representatives of their respective nations of origin. The blatant visual differences initially existing between Chop-Chop and his European/American teammates deliberately “othered” the Asian character to the point that he was “equal” in name only — a predicament that far too many minorities experienced, and continue to experience, in real life.


Four Favorites #9: A Conflicted View of Japanese-Americans in Wartime

In the early 1940s, now-defunct publisher Ace Magazines published Four Favorites, a series of comic books containing tales of four different superheroes. In February of 1943, the series featured a unique story centered around the internment of Japanese-American citizens. While other comics of this time period, such as a Green Hornet story from 1944 , chose to portray internment camps as places of containment for “Jap prisoners of war,” Four Favorites took a much more nuanced view, emphasizing that the interned were full American citizens.

Little Niki defends his nationality.

The plot of the story focuses on little Niki Fuji, an American-born nisei boy whose family has been relocated to the Santa Anita racetrack (which aesthetically represents a typical suburb). The old fishing village where they had lived is now the haunt of the faceless Captain Nippo, who has convinced a handful of Japanese followers, including Niki’s uncle, to undermine the United States and fight against the “enemies of the Emperor.” Nippo brags that his terror cell is operating from “under the noses” of “fool Americans”, before Captain Courageous, the superhero of the story, drives him off in a “cloud of American fists.”

Meanwhile, Niki is upset at the loss of his dog, Butch, who had to be left behind, and questions why, as an American, he has to be interned. Niki’s parents attempt to reassure him that part of being “a good American” is staying in the camp so that he can be protected from the “bad Japanese.”


Niki’s parents explain the purpose of internment.

Niki decides to return to the village in search of his dog, only to be kidnapped by his Uncle Saki and Captain Nippo. They take the boy to a hidden submarine which is scheduled to attack an American munitions ship. When Niki threatens to tell the Navy, Captain Nippo (who sees the boy as a “Japanese”) ties him up as a “traitor” and threatens to kill him. Suddenly, Captain Courageous, along with the dog, burst into the submarine, free Niki, and beat up Captain Nippo. Uncle Saki also escapes, but explains that he has to take his punishment for turning against “the country which fed me and sheltered me and gave me my freedom.” He chooses to commit “Hari-kari the American way” by using his own body to block the torpedo tube of Captain Nippo’s sub, which is destroyed in the ensuing explosion. At the end of the story, Captain Courageous congratulates Nikki for his bravery, and reminds readers that “being a real American is a state of mind, not a color of skin.

This comic is an interesting item for our archive because it’s one of the only known American comic books of the time period to portray Japanese-Americans in a positive light, even if that viewpoint is somewhat complicated by the presence of “bad” Japanese within the same story. As Mine Okubo notes in Citizen 13660, the early 1940s was a period when “the people looked at all of us, both citizens and aliens, with suspicion and mistrust“(12). But, unlike other mass-media publications of the time, Four Favorites doesn’t portray Japanese-Americans as racialized caricatures or sneering villains. In fact, it had the audacity to place a Japanese-American boy on the side of Captain Courageous, the representation of American patriotism — a very unusual act that defied these stereotypes and questioned what it meant to be a true “American.” In many ways, this book was ahead of its time in its more realistic and sensitive portrayals of the trials that Japanese-American citizens faced during wartime.