DC’s new Chinese Super-Man faces off against a 1930s Yellow Peril caricature in storyline written by Chinese-American artist
Ching Lung first appeared in 1937, a product of the fear some Americans felt for China and the East. Now he’s been revived by writer Gene Yang, in part to show how far the comic world has progressed since that time
When originally offered the chance to write a new, Chinese Superman for DC Comics, writer and MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Gene Yang turned down the opportunity because he felt the series could be a “cultural and political landmine”.
After changing his mind and becoming the writer on New Super-Man, Yang is now set to reintroduce one of DC Comics’ oldest bad guys, who some might say is the embodiment of political incorrectness.
Ching Lung, whose appearance on the cover of the very first issue of Detective Comics back in 1937 precedes the first appearance of Superman in 1938, appears on the final pages of New Super-Man No 8, released today in print and digitally.
Ching Lung will go up against Chinese Super-Man Kong Kenan and the Justice League of China, a group of young teen superheroes that also includes the Batman and Wonder Woman of China. The Chinese heroes were introduced to the series last year.
Ching Lung is considered now to be a “Yellow Peril villain,” a product of the fear some Americans felt about China and the East in the 1930s. . So he may be a surprising choice to bring into a series that has embraced diversity, taking famous superhero mantles and placing them on new characters of varying ethnicities – even if he’s coming in as an antagonist.
But Yang, who is Chinese-American, felt the character fits into DC’s Rebirth era, which has re-energised DC’s fanbase by going back to the characters’ basics, after the polarising “New 52” era of constant reinvention. Yang said the reset approach shouldn’t only apply to the publisher’s good aspects.
“If Rebirth is about embracing the history of the DC universe, then we do have to go back to the very beginning, right?” Yang asks. “If we really want to embrace who we are as Americans, we have to look at both the good and the bad and the pretty and the ugly of our history. If rebirth is about reclaiming a lot of DC’s past, we also have to examine some of the ugly stuff too. So that’s what we’re hoping to do.”
What’s also surprising is that the design of Ching Lung in New Super-Man almost mirrors his original 1930s design, which may seem offensive to modern eyes (and is very different from the typical style of New Super-Man artist Billy Tan). That is intentional. After trying out new, more modern designs, Yang thought it best to go back to the original one.
“I thought if we redesign Ching Lung we will actually be introducing a new form of Yellow Peril. And that is definitely something that I was not interested in doing,” Yang says. “The purpose is not necessarily to kick up old stereotypes as it is to comment on them. My hope is, at the end of all of the storyline, the entire long arc that deals with Ching Lung, that a reader will be able to see it as both a comment on the past and evidence of how far we’ve come.” (Ching Lung appears on the last page of No 8, and his storyline won’t be revealed until later issues.)
That’s not to say that Yang and his editors at DC Comics didn’t struggle with the decision to bring back Ching Lung.
“We were very thoughtful about [the return of Ching Lung],” says Yang. “I think that the two dominant emotions that I had going into the publication of issue No 8 is a little bit of fear, I’m worried about how the readers are going to take to it, and the second is, I feel proud. I feel proud of playing a small part in the history of DC Comics and the history of American comics in general.”
Yang also points out that the character shows how far DC Comics has come.
“DC began with this Yellow Peril image,” Yang says. “It’s basically a two-dimensional stereotype that was used to dehumanise an entire people. And now DC has taken its most important symbol, the Superman S, and stuck it on a Chinese character. Now we’re creating this three-dimensional Chinese hero.”