Dying is easy. Comedy is hard. Well-done satire may be hardest of all. White Savior #1 combines elements of all three to hilarious effect in the stellar debut of this four-issue limited series from Dark Horse.
Writers Scott Burman and Eric Nguyen — who also illustrates and provides cover art — waste no time in setting the tone, kicking off the story with one of Hollywood’s most arrogant, yet enduring tropes. “The prophecy foretold of an outsider, with snow-colored skin, who would lead us from the darkness into the light.”
In this case, “us” refers to the people of Inoki in feudal Japan. That said, the same pithy opening line could just as easily serve as the elevator pitch for Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Dances with Wolves (1990), The Last Samurai (2003), or The Great Wall (2017) starring Matt Damon, which Nguyen has specifically referenced as a key inspiration.
Whereas the four films above — not to mention countless others — wrongheadedly approach the classic White Savior trope from a perspective of credulity or even reverence, Burman and Nguyen flip the script. Nathan Garin, their titular White Savior, is a pompous, bigoted moron who will get all the villagers killed unless he is stopped.
Enter Todd Parker, a self-effacing Japanese-American film history professor who freely admits he has “more in common with McDonald’s and Domino’s Pizza” than he does with any of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.
Breaking the fourth wall to dispense with certain ingrained stereotypes right away, Parker says, “Yes, I’m Asian. No, I don’t know karate, I can’t magically heal you with my hands, and I suck at math. Get over it.” Parker strikes first to define himself on his own terms before the reader applies their own preconceived notions of what an Asian protagonist looks and sounds like.
It’s all a brilliant setup for a wildly entertaining sendup. In the hands of lesser creators, the schtick might quickly devolve into a series of flat, one-note gags. Here, the opposite happens. Todd Parker’s ironic, joke-filled interior monologue only gets better and better as it unfolds.
In a recent interview, Nguyen said that he and Burman used the Marvel Method to complete their script. If their work is any indication, Stan Lee is no doubt rolling in his grave—with sidesplitting laughter, that is.
The comedic timing is brilliant, taking full advantage Nguyen’s energetic, action-filled spreads. The individual panels are seamless and the page turns are spot-on. All of which combines to create a dazzling first installment as packed with twists and turns as it is with laughs.
White Savior #1 explodes one of Hollywood’s most insidious and insulting tropes rooted in the glorification of the colonial past. Working to decolonize The Hero’s Journey isn’t only the right thing to do – in the hands of Eric Nguyen and Scott Burman, it’s absurdly fun.
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