DC Comics has put together a 100-page anthology special this week, filled with great creative teams in celebration of Asian Heritage Month. Each story features a character of Asian descent and ranges from three pages to eleven pages in length. From familiar faces to new ones, this collection has a lot of content and a lot of great stories. It’s also a great reminder there are many Asian characters well worth celebrating, which makes DC Festival of Heroes #1: The Asian Superhero Celebration a huge success.
This book opens with a story about Cassie Cain by Mariko Tamaki and Marcus To. It’s one of the longer stories in the anthology and focuses on Cassie’s inability to speak. Tamaki does well to probe why she doesn’t speak and it has ties to deep pain from her past with her father. It’s an action-packed story — To does a great job playing around with layouts to enhance the energy in the fights — that ends in a rather cute and hopeful conclusion. It’s a nice opener for the book with some nods to Asian culture. Sebastian Cheng’s colors capture skin tone and the glow of the night and lighting exceptionally well. It’s a slick-looking tale.
One of the strongest stories in the book comes at the end and it’s also the longest. By Gene Luen Yang and Bernard Chang, the story opens with a bit of a twist I won’t spoil, but ends up being about a new character who we’ll get more of later this year. SyFy had the full scoop on The Monkey Prince last week, and it’s an instantly enjoyable character. Not only does he have a distaste for superheroes, but he’s got an energy that’s youthful and a bit erratic which suits the powers of a god-like character. In fact, Yang draws in some interesting roots in Asian myth that makes something quite old new again. The fact is, this story couldn’t be a better opener for an ongoing as it introduces villains, a whole new kind of hero, and a curious high school protagonist who’s well worth learning more about.
There really isn’t a bad story to speak of in this collection, though your tastes may vary. One of the more important stories is by Amy Chu and Marcio Takara with Rain Beredo on colors, revealing a hate group that Cyborg, Blue Beetle, and Katana must take out. The group is attacking the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage festival and they want the “job stealers” to go back to where they came from. It hits hard knowing groups like this exist. Not only does this story steer directly into a story that feels real, but there are some nice nods to cultural foods and a warmth that’s hard to resist. It’s also nice to see a few mainline heroes pop in. The fact that this is the only political story of the bunch is a bit of a bummer, but it’s good to see at least one touch on the racism prevalent in America.
Another favorite is a story by Minh Lê and Trung Trung Le Nguyen, which features Tai Pham facing off against an Orange Lantern. Co-created by Lê, the story is short, but Nguyen’s art elevates every panel to a level where you tend to linger and soak it in. The story has a positive message about how fitting in isn’t necessarily the ideal. Aditya Bidikar’s letters also stand out in an appealing way that suits the younger hero story.
Greg Pak and Sumit Kumar with Rumolo Fajarado Jr. on colors get to tackle Connor Hawke who teams up, more or less, with New Super-Man. This story is a reminder you can save the day in many ways. Not only does it have a warm, family-friendly ending, but the action looks great and is fun to follow along with. Kumar draws an awesome kaiju-sized monster and New Super-Man’s youthful positivity shines through quite well.
In a Catwoman adjacent story, Ram V and Audrey Mok with Jordie Bellaire on colors tell one of the more meaningful continuity stories in the collection. The story focuses on a young girl who wants to be a hero and even makes her own costume. Avoiding spoilers, but the character seems to be a new riff on an old DC Comics character. Most importantly, she can kick butt and appears to be a major new player in Ram V’s Catwoman ongoing.
There are even more stories that kick butt, like a dinner gone wrong in Alyssa Wong and Sean Chen’s (with colors by Rain Beredo) story involving Grace Choi meeting Thunder’s dad Black Lightning for the first time. This is fight comics stuff for sure, but the tension between Choi and Black Lightning is understandable from an overprotective parent, but respect is earned here. In another tale, Damian Wayne spends his off-duties hours kicking butt and in another Dustin Nguyen draws a whistful but meaningful short tale.
The DC Festival of Heroes #1: The Asian Superhero Celebration is truly a celebration of the many Asian characters that populate DC Comics, but also the cultures they come from and share with others. It’s a great success for that reason alone, but there are also tales that tie into ongoing stories and hopeful new starts to look forward to as well. This anthology is filled with unforgettable moments, great action, and richly rendered culture.
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