Secret Identities

About a year ago, a super hero anthology came out called “Secret Identities“, compiled by Jeff Yang, Parry Shen, Keith Chow, and Jerry Ma, and it’s chock-full-o-Asian American superheroes, turning injustices and racialization into strength. Here’s the first page, the “lamest stupor-zeroes of all!”. The tone it sets– satirical and funny, but not letting go of the serious issues at hand– is effective and my favorite pieces are the ones that take a similar attitude.

It draws some parallels between Asian American experiences (feeling unnoticed and alien) and classic super hero mythologies:

“Our home was on the verge of destruction, so just before the end… my parents sent me away, hoping that if I could escape , I could make something of myself; I could be someone special– I left my world behind, and traveled an enormous distance , only to crash on the soil of this new one– where I was taken in and raised by a kind and loving couple, who brought me up to believe in the American way. And yet I’m constantly reminded that I’m different– that I don’t belong– that I’m an “alien”… which is why I wear this: to preserve a special part of my heritage, but also to shield an important part of my identity, something I can’t share openly with the rest of the world. Sometimes it makes so so angry I just want to scream… deep inside, I often think “If they only knew who I really am… what I can really do… they’d be amazed”. (p 79)

The illustrations that go along with the text reference Clark Kent’s story, and his dual identity as an unassuming reporter and Superman. And they link Superman’s story to Asian American history– the fall of Saigon, undocumented immigration, transracial adoption, and racial profiling.

The anthology is heavy on Japanese characters and light on Southeast Asian characters. The pieces, written and illustrated by a lot of different people, range from sarcastic and funny at their best, to a little to serious for their own good. Still, I like that the anthology showcases a wide range of art styles, and has a special section dedicated to female superheroes. And it’s an engaging read that tackles issues deeper than “stereotypes are bad and untrue”. I’ve never seen something like the Secret Identities anthology, and I’m happy that I’ve found it.

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