We’re closing out Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by answering your burning questions about Asian “firsts” in American comics! The first question we must address:
Who Was the First Asian Superhero?
The first headlining Asian superhero debuted way back in 1944! Well, sort of. Chinese American writer/artist Chu F. Hing created The Green Turtle for Rural Home Publications’ Blazing Comics #1. The character was a costumed hero who led guerilla operations against the Imperial Japanese Army in occupied China. The character was never shown without his mask and, notably, even his masked face was only even seen on the cover. This has led modern readers to conclude that Hing wished to make the character Chinese but had to work around publisher restrictions.
Fan-favorite comic writer Gene Luen Yang revived the character in his 2014 graphic novel The Shadow Hero. It gave The Green Turtle a secret identity and origin story for the first time, making him definitively a second generation Chinese American.
Who Was the Marvel’s First Asian Superhero?
While he’s the most famous today, Shang-Chi was not Marvel’s first Asian American hero. That honors go to Atlas Comics era characters Agent Jimmy Woo and his headlining nemesis (sigh) The Yellow Claw. Both debuted in 1956’s Yellow Claw #1 from writer Al Feldstein and artist Joe Maneely. The title character was a yellow peril villain in the vein of Dr. Fu Manchu, even named after a Fu Manchu novel! He hasn’t aged well and is largely ignored today.
However, he was opposed by Chinese American FBI agent Jimmy Woo. Unlike Yellow Claw, Jimmy was drawn in realistic style. As was his love interest, Suwan. The series lasted only four issues but stands out from its contemporaries for its positive portrayal of a patriotic, competent Asian American hero. In the mid-50s, even heroic non-white characters were usually racial caricatures. Jimmy returned to Marvel’s spy titles in the late 60s, and joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe with 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp
Who Is Spider-Man: India?
Spider-Man: India is a four-issue mini-series released in 2004. It was written by Sharad Devarajan, Jeevan Kang, and Suresh Seetharaman, with Kang also penciling the series. The story adapted Marvel’s classic Spider-Man mythos to Indian culture, rooted in religious mysticism than science fiction.
Teenage orphan Pavitr Prabhakar moves with his Uncle Bhim and Aunt Maya to Mumbai so he can get a good education. His poor social standing gets him bullied and while fleeing those bullies he comes upon an old yogi. The yogi sees the good in the boy and gifts him with the mystical power of the spider. Reveling in his new abilities, Pavitr chooses to ignore a woman being menaced by a gang. A good man intervenes and dies in doing so – Pavitr’s Uncle Bhim. Learning the meaning of power and responsibility, Pavitr becomes the anonymous, heroic Spider-Man.
As Spider-Man comics have ventured deeper into the multiverse in the last decade, Pavitr’s profile has grown. He’s been a core member of the multiversal Web Warriors team since its inception in 2014. Moreover, Spider-Man: India will make his big screen debut in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, voiced by Deadpool alumnus Karan Soni.
Celebrating AAPI Super-Heroes!
The last 30 years have seen Asian and Pacific Islander representation explode in American comic books! Characters like Cindy “Silk” Moon, Conner “Green Arrow” Hawke, Raz “Giant-Man” Malhortra, Damian “Robin” Wayne, Kamala “Ms. Marvel” Khan, King Shark AKA Nanaue, and so many more have filled the ranks of the DC and Marvel universes with Asian and Pacific Islander heroes.
If you have a collection of comic books that you’re ready to sell, give Back to the Past a call! We’d love to put our knowledge of key issues, creator debuts, and more to work for you. And if we missed your favorite AAPI hero, tell us in the comments or hit us up on social media @b2pcollect!