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Sunday, January 03, 2016 

A Malaysian commentator isn't impressed with Marvel's forced diversity

A radio host of a Hindu background from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia wrote about Marvel's contrived diversity for the New York Times, and while he have a dhimmified position on the Muslim Ms. Marvel book, he does not seem impressed with how Marvel's been going out of their way to cater to an audience that's no more interested than anybody else:
But it doesn’t take long — three issues or so — for Kamala to realize that her brown Muslim self is as potent as can be. All she needed to become super, besides a costume and a mask, was a strong sense of individualism, righteousness, a can-do spirit and a purpose. The superhero comic is an inherently egalitarian genre, even though its lead characters are exceptional: After a bout with a radioactive spider or some Terrigen Mist, it could be you or it could be me.

Which is why the recent push by Marvel and DC for greater diversity in comics doesn’t make much sense. Or maybe it does in the United States, where real-life anxieties about race, gender and identity politics are often played out in popular culture. Captain America is black. Thor is a woman. Iceman is gay.

But for some of us non-Americans, the genre doesn’t need to apologize for itself, no matter how quintessentially American it is. The superhero comic is the American dream illustrated, and by definition the American dream must be accessible to all. However monochromatic its characters, the superhero comic’s message has always seemed universal.
Not always does a superhero comic represent the American dream. Storytelling comes in many forms, including contrived steps that only represent a selfish, apathetic and unaltruistic goal. And that's what has been in the past decade or so, ever since "progressives" hijacked the medium.

It's pretty surprising that the NYT was willing to run an article by somebody who, while he sides with Islamism, was willing to admit that forcibly replacing established characters with "diverse" ones in the same costumes, or forcibly changing their sexual orientation, is ridiculous, not to mention insulting to the past writers and artists who worked hard to realize their own creations in the first place. Unfortunately, that's about all this writer's work is worth, as he's still quite a dhimmi unto Islam, doesn't consider its opposition to individualism, and he goes on to say the following:
The current Ms. Marvel is the most successful rendition of an Asian superhero. But Kamala is Asian-American, and her struggles to balance her duties as both a superhero and a good Muslim girl are merely another retelling of the classic American immigrant experience.
Sigh. I'm afraid not. It's just a whitewashing of a serious issue that remains vehemently dishonest about its components, and earlier issues went out of their way to imply that anybody concerned about "honor murders" was stupid, while simultaneously painting an ugly picture of rank-and-file Americans. Although, at the end, he says:
Try to adapt the superhero comic’s conventions to an Asian context and the genre collapses under the weight of traditional Asian values: humility, self-effacement, respect for elders and communal harmony. American comic book heroes also act in the service of the collective good, but they do so, unabashedly, out of a heightened sense of self. How can an Asian superhero take down the bad guy without embarrassing both the bad guy’s family and his own? How do you save the world and save face at the same time? The Asian comic superhero is a contradiction in terms.

We geeks out here in the Asian hinterlands have always readily bought into American ideals because the American comic book makes us believe we can be special, too. The Asian superhero, steeped in our cultural baggage, would only undermine the fantasy.
Taken with a grain of salt, that makes sense. If anything, the obsession with making the numero uno stars of a book "diverse" instead of creating separate characters, and making little or no attempt to try the same with co-stars, hurts the books. Of course, there's still the question of what Asians this guy's talking about. Even in the far reaches of the continent, "Asian" comes in many different races and cultures, and some follow better values than others. I can't say Malaysia, with its increasing Islamism, is a place I'd cite as a great to look over to for good values.

The writer also got a response from a webmaster writing on NBC news, who wasn't so happy at what he said:
In a New York Times op-ed over the weekend, Malaysian talk radio host Umapagan Ampikaipakan called into question the entire concept of an "Asian superhero." As an Asian person who has invested quite a lot in the idea of Asian superheroes, you can imagine seeing such a piece in the paper of record left me a bit bewildered — especially because this was the year that comics featuring Asian and Asian-American heroes had finally broken through.

Marvel Comics famously published "Ms. Marvel" starring Pakistani American Kamala Khan and "Silk" with Korean American Cindy Moon, and just this month, longtime sidekick Amadeus Cho graduated to lead hero status as the new Totally Awesome Hulk. Moreover, two of Image Comics' highest profile titles in 2015 were "RunLoveKill" by Jon Tsuei and Eric Canete and "Monstress" by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda — both books featuring all-Asian lead characters and all-Asian creative teams.

And, for the last year and a half, I've been advocating for Marvel Studios to cast an Asian American actor as the lead for its upcoming Iron Fist series on Netflix, a cause that has been gaining steam in recent weeks. Perhaps Ampikaipakan's editorial is the beginning of the backlash?
Oh good grief. So this other guy's basically advocating for something that's become far too commonplace of recent, all at the expense of the prior protagonists, some of whom aren't even given respectable exits? On the positive side, Image's offerings are perfectly fine, if they were created as their own agencies and not cases of established white protagonists forcibly shoved out in favor of "diverse" casts. And if Silk is a new creation, that in itself is okay too, but doesn't equal good writing (and neither would the Image products if all that matters is the racial background). But the Muslim Ms. Marvel and "Totally Awesome" Hulk are examples of forced diversity written at the original heroes' expenses, and his failure to acknowledge this is sad. Likewise, if he's unconcerned about whitewashing a noxious religion, that's no good either.
The main thrust of Ampikaipakan's op-ed is that the comic book superhero is a wholly American invention that upholds ideals and values like truth, justice, and the American way. This is not untrue. Characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman have transcended their pulpy roots to become the closest thing Americans have to homegrown mythology. I mean, there's a reason why these heroes all wear spandex in the primary colors of red, white, and blue.
There's just one little problem: has the guy writing for NBC taken a look at DC's heroes lately? In the comics, some of their colors have been removed (Superman's red tights, to name one example), or their costumes have been made to look absurdly like plastic armor. This is even more noticeable in the movies, where Man of Steel muted the costume's colors, and in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, it looks like Wonder Woman's wearing a grayish-black outfit with no red, white or blue. That's hardly paying tribute to what the superheroes stood for, or how. But, he's right about something the first writer missed:
Ampikaipakan also asserts that any time other cultures have tried to mimic American superheroes, they ultimately fail. More than that, he specifically calls out the failure of Asian superheroes, pointing to Japanese manga as being nothing more than derivative and, in the process, completely dismissing the work and influence of legends like Go Nagai and Osamu Tezuka.

But it's telling that "Astro Boy" and "Devilman," the examples of American comic book "rip-offs" Ampikaipakan cites, are 60-plus and 40-plus years old, respectively. I'm assuming he has also never seen "Sailor Moon" or "Gatchaman" or "Super Sentai" — known in the U.S. as "Power Rangers" — or "Dragonball Z" — which itself is an adaptation of one of the most "Asian-y" superheroes of all time: the Monkey King.
Yes, some of these examples were successes in their time, although I'll have to note that Tezuka did once write political attacks against the US in Astro Boy during the Vietnam war. The rest is worthy enough for citing though, as products that were successful with their own local audiences for starters, and Sailor Moon was a success overseas too. I guess Malaysia's got restrictions on a lot of these anime products, so that could suggest why the first writer may not be so familiar with them, and thus wouldn't understand much about what success manga's had anywhere else.
The idea that straight white males are the center of the universe not only permeates comics; it's an idea that drives most of pop culture and it's why a push for diversity is necessary in the first place.
If that's what the Malaysian was saying, of course that's ridiculous in itself, though I don't see why "straight or gay" has to be dragged into this whole mess. But if the other guy's saying it really does permeat comics, then he's missing the boat. There have been Asian creations before, such as Sunfire. The only problem is that they were never given the promotion they could've used, or no good writing accompanied them before.

And I think the guy doesn't realize that there have been white females before, with Sheena, Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl some of the earliest heroines or adventuresses in comicdom. I also think he's missing something with the following:
Here's the thing: superheroes aren't the sole domain of white people. And they haven't been for quite some time, despite what some might think. Take the "original superhero," born in 1938 from the minds and pencils of Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster, who happened to be sons of Jewish immigrants: Superman's adventures in Action Comics was the source code for all superheroes to follow.
Is he saying Jews aren't white?!? Well then, he's lost me right there. So I guess I'm not white either, huh? And alien or not, I guess Kryptonian Kal-El's not white either. Some of the most famous superhero creations were products of white Jews, who either wrote, drew or edited them. And these various heroes were white too. Maybe he doesn't think so, but he's taken the risk of degrading many Jewish creators who went to such pains to develop their ideas, and might even be risking making them out to be bad guys. Of all the cheap nerve. As somebody coming from a Jewish background, I obviously take special issue with this assertion, and emerge feeling quite indignant. The writer on NBC has only made things worse.
With his flowing red cape and perfectly coiffed spit curl, Superman is the embodiment of the American ideal. But if you take a closer look, Clark Kent's origin story parallels the experiences of many immigrants to the United States. And as an Asian American, those parallels are too powerful to ignore.
Ahem. Superman was hardly an immigrant in the same sense. He was rocketed to Earth from a destroyed planet (Krypton), and needed a home and moral compass badly, which he got in the form of Jon and Martha Kent (and I've read some of the Golden Age material which gives these origins). He certainly wasn't a refugee from a country ravaged by war as many Chinese immigrants were at the time of the Rape of Nanking. An otherworldly infant's sojourn to a different planet that doesn't involve the exact same politics as real life immigrants on Earth cannot be described the same way.

And later on in the op-ed, he says:
Which brings me back to the idea of an Asian American Iron Fist: maybe all of the arguments we've made for why an Asian-American character can and should exhibit all of the traits of a traditional (read: white) superhero touched a nerve. Maybe somebody will point to this op-ed and say, "See, Asians can't be superheroes."
Oh for heaven's sake. OF COURSE they can, and there have been some that never got the push or talented writing they deserved. But what can be said is that it's insulting to many writers all the way back to Siegel and Shuster to say that a Clark Kent or a Peter Parker can't work in the roles of Superman and Spider-Man anymore, because racial background is suddenly more important, and if I were of Asian background, I'd be embarrassed at how Marvel and DC's staff, otherwise dominated by white liberals, are going out of their way to cater to PC advocates in the name of folks who never asked that white protagonists be thrown out of their respective costumes in the worst ways possible for the sake of casts who're only being emphasized based on their racial background. I once said before, and will say again, that if a Jewish protagonist were put into the costume of an established hero who got ejected in a terrible way, I'd be very angry, because I don't believe a character's coming from a simple white background makes them illegitimate.

Those of us who really respect past creators do not try to tamper with their work for the sake of directions that aren't developed with a true emphasis on talented writing. If we're serious, we create new roles for new characters, and don't try to hijack old roles to suit agendas. Besides, what may be considered brilliant by today's "progressives" has become very old hat mighty fast.

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