Introducing new characters into an established universe is never easy, making Monkey Prince #1 by Writer Gene Luen Yang and artist Bernard Chang a breath of fresh air. The issue isn’t without its foibles, but Yang infuses the Monkey Prince with enough backstory and interesting plot points to keep a hold on the reader’s interest. With themes steeped in fear, self-confidence, and parental connections, Monkey Prince manages to balance humor and drama while bringing a new character to the world derived from Chinese mythology.
SPOILERS AHEAD for Monkey Prince #1!
Marcus Sun moves around a lot, jumping from city to city across the DC universe. While this may seem familiar to some, the X-factor is Marcus’s parents, freelance-henchmen to DC’s underworld. In addition, Marcus battles a crippling fear stemming from a childhood incident featuring Batman. But Marcus’s bad fortunes don’t end there, with local bullies nearly drowning him in the school swimming pool. After the school custodian, Mr. Schu, burps in Marcus’s face, Marcus’s transition to the Monkey Prince begins.
Writer Gene Luen Yang wears his obvious inspiration on his sleeve. For the uninitiated, The Monkey King (Sun Wukong) is the trickster God, a legendary creature of Chinese myth that plays a central role in Wu Cheng’en’s adventure novel Journey to the West. The opening chapter, “Enter the Monkey”, doesn’t delve into the specifics of what the Monkey Prince can do. Still, if solicitations and mythology are accurate, Marcus/Sun Wukong possesses superhuman strength and the ability to transform into 72 different animals and objects. His hairs have transformative powers, and he can magically manipulate the elements. As a modernization of classic Chinese mythology, it’s hopeful to see Asian artists working on a title.
It remains to be seen if the character can fit organically into the rest of the DCU, but the first issue incorporates Batman, for better or worse. It seems like the bulk of books coming out of DC involves Batman in some capacity. Granted, Batman is DC’s most popular and beloved character, but the mass of titles surrounding Batman have inundated fans far too much recently. Even Monkey Prince couldn’t escape the pull of the Bat. Thankfully, Yang manages to tie Batman to Marcus in an intriguing way. Using the theme of fear Batman is known for and making a basis for the Monkey Prince’s origin, Yang manages to bring Batman’s appearance in the title together with connective thematic tissue.
An exciting plot point is having Mr. and Ms. Shugel-Shen serve as henchmen. Nearly everything ties back to the Shen’s connections to the criminal underworld. The constant moving around? A result of his parent’s “freelance” activities. Marcus’ inherent anxiety? PTSD from a childhood incident. Batman broke into the Shen’s apartment looking for answers. Unfortunately, Marcus walked in on Batman beating his father for information. This one incident set Marcus down a path of fear: fear of the dark, water, bats, and people as a whole. Finally, Marcus’s abilities may connect to a technology his parents are working on: a machine that can release demons from their prison vessels. It’s unclear whether Marcus’s parents are connected to his abilities, but their machine’s purpose and the Monkey Prince’s arrival don’t seem coincidental.
Marcus seems completely oblivious to what his parents do throughout the opening chapter. It’s a deep cut narratively, as both Marcus and the Monkey Prince will be at odds with the Shugel-shens. As opposing sides of the law, it’s only a matter of time before the Monkey Prince meets the Shugel-shens, or whatever criminal they are working for. Marcus will find out about his parents one way or another on a more personal level, and the inevitable fallout will be dramatic and ripe with conflict when he does. Yang has already begun setting up the dominoes, and each new issue brings up closer to the final push.
The Monkey Prince himself makes his debut deeper into “Enter the Monkey” than expected, but his eventual appearance is built up with narrative anticipation. Within a few short pages/panels, readers get a glimpse of the Monkey Prince and his personality. The juxtaposition of characters between Marcus and the Monkey Prince immediately stands out. Marcus is timid, shy, and non-violent. On the other hand, the Monkey Prince (much like his character from Mythology) is brash, witty in the face of danger, and seems to relish conflict. For now, Marcus is clearly in control, but the transformation brings out a side of him utterly foreign to the boy we’ve seen in the opening pages.
Thankfully, Artist Bernard Chang’s work complements writer Gene Luen Yang’s story well. The panels are laid out in unique ways, the line work is terrific, and Chang’s ability to convey emotions is superb. The sudden shock on young Marcus’s face when he first sees Batman, the onset of anxiety in Marcus when he sees bats, and the adrenaline rush in the eyes of the Monkey King all perfectly capture the emotion of the scene. Even the little “burp clouds” Mr. Shifu lets out are similar to classical Chinese artwork, symbolizing the celestial realm and mobility. If nothing else, this is a beautiful book to look at, making future titles something to look forward to based on visuals alone.
The Monkey Prince may fall victim to origin story tropes and what feels like a forced cameo/crossover, but Yang and Chang are taking strides in the right direction. The character is unique, and I’m looking forward to seeing plenty of interesting plot points play out as the series continues. It may not be for everybody, but Monkey Prince #1 is a solid start to what ideally will be a robust new addition to the DC mythos.
Join the AIPT Patreon
Want to take our relationship to the next level? Become a patron today to gain access to exclusive perks, such as:
- ❌ Remove all ads on the website
- 💬 Join our Discord community, where we chat about the latest news and releases from everything we cover on AIPT
- 📗 Access to our monthly book club
- 📦 Get a physical trade paperback shipped to you every month
- 💥 And more!