The Monkey Prince Comic Features Shapeshifting Cultural Influences
Western comics do not entirely ignore Asian-American heroes. But Asian-American creators of Asian superheroes have been few and far between. For example, take the DC Comics superheroine Katana. The Brave and the Bold #200 (1983) was the first publication to feature the crime-fighting samurai warrior. Tatsu Yamashiro, however, was created by two white creators. Katana was given her own New 52 series in 2013. However, it was written and illustrated again without the involvement of any Asian-American creators. Yes, Ann Nocenti is a comics writer of great talent and beauty. Did any Asian creators ever consider writing about an Asian hero?
Furthermore, some of the “representation” of Asian characters and stories has been interpreted by white creators. All of the creators did not create these stories as mentioned above with negative or problematic intentions. But this dangerous precipice, this threshold where the crux between “misguided” and “racist” proves far too easy to cross, is exactly why comics can avoid controversy altogether by simply handing over the reins to Asian creators for primarily Asian-centric storytelling/representation.
Enter Gene Luen Yang. Gene Yang, a Chinese-American cartoonist/writer, is one of my favourite comic creators. His 2006 graphic novel American-Born Chinese and his humorous Superman Smashes The Klan, which he illustrated, use his Asian-American perspective to tell stories that are both relatable and easy to understand about race, heroism and individuality. Yang writes with a natural style that is both personable and covers relevant topics.
Marvel Comics and DC Comics noticed Yang’s talent and hired him to write for their ongoing titles Batman/Superman (2121), and Shang Chi (2021),. Marvel and DC have taken steps to rectify their long history of minimizing or avoiding problems with Asian-American comics. Marvel Comics’ Marvel’s Voices Identity #1 (2021), was released last year to commemorate AAPI Month. The anthology collection featured an all-Asian lineup of creators, including Yang. Yang contributed his talents to the DC anthology comic, DC Festival of Heroes – The Asian Superhero Celebration (21st Century).. Yang introduced The Monkey Prince, an Asian-American superhero, at this event.
Monkey Prince, a 12-issue comic maxiseries by an all-Asian team of comic book authors, comes at a crucial time in the current social environment. Positive Asian representation in fiction is not a requirement, but a necessity, in the wake of the rise in racially motivated violence, fatal murders and hate rhetoric against Asian Americans. Gene Yang, a writer, jumps into the first issue based on the characters’ short origin stories from the DC Asian Superhero Celebration and the Monkey Prince #10 short comic. Monkey Prince #1 features Bernard Chang, Sebastian Cheng, Janice Chiang, and Janice Chiang, who bring Asian mythology into the American comics book world.
Marcus Sun is an original character in the DC Comic Universe. The Monkey Prince story combines Western superhero comic aesthetics with narrative elements from Wu Cheng’en’s 16th-century Chinese novel Journey To The West. Journey to the West is considered one of the most important pieces of East Asia’s classic literature. It featured the mythical Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey Kings. Legendary Monkey King has the power to shape-shift into 72 different forms, speed and strength and can even create miniature copies of himself from his hair. Sun Wukong’s Journey to the West story inspired many adaptations and iterations. So, The Monkey Prince takes inspiration from the novel’s canon, and adapts it into a new version through a comic book series.
These two influences, Chinese mythology and Western superhero comics, combine to create a new, exciting story that promotes an Asian superhero character. Monkey Prince #1 explores what it would be like if the Monkey Prince had a son who could inherit his superpowers and his mantle. Marcus Sun is introduced to Batman, the DC comic vigilante in the first issue.
The comic immediately feels like a flashy modern superhero story, complete with cameos. It is a beautiful blend of cultures, where none overshadows the others. Monkey Prince #1 is accessible to all readers, regardless of whether they are familiar with Batman or Journey to the West. The main character is taken on a journey to understand his new identity.
Marcus is afraid of superheroes because his adoptive parents are criminal freelance henchmen. He doesn’t know much about his father or his monkey persona in the comics’ opening. His burgeoning powers, which threaten to overwhelm his body, take precedence over any circumspection. Marcus cannot make friends with other children because his parents constantly move. Marcus finally learns the identity of his father from Mr Zhu, the campus’s quippy and pig-faced maintenance guy, as he continues to endure more bullying at his new school.
Monkey Prince #1 feels like a welcome first issue, slowly bringing life to its story. The comic is a steady-paced story where dialogue informs the characters’ backstories while creating the world in the present. Readers will gain a greater appreciation for the Journey to the West allusions if they research. Characters like Mr Zhu are derived from the Chinese novel’s degenerate Pigsy. Monkey Prince, however, offers Pigsy charm and leadership qualities that are different from the evil he endorses in the story.
Yang and his team present the comic at a crossroads between familiar Journey to the West folklore and revitalized superhero comic images. Marcus experiences his transformation from an Asian American with low self-esteem and a monkey-shaped body to becoming a superhero. Chang and Cheng fully express this transformation through vivid splash pages and vibrant colours. The Monkey Prince’s supplemental aesthetic levels stand out from other superhero comic artists who use a more realistic style.
The Monkey Prince #1 is an illustrated comic in which kinetic synergy flows between panels. In this funny, old and new, Chinese literature and American comics, a freewheeling synthesis combine styles that are both fervently passionate about the craft. The creators’ passion for the ship is a joy to behold. It is a real pleasure to feel it on the pages. Although The Monkey Prince’s story is only the beginning, it will draw people to the right from the first page.