American films

Marvel’s three biggest Asian superheroes during Stan Lee’s time

  • Comic master who’s died aged 95 always tried to give a platform to people on the margins of society, and in 1950s America that included Asians
  • Wong, Colleen Wing and Jimmy Woo live on today in Avengers and Ant-Man films, and on Netflix
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 12:25pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 3:51pm

The biggest difference between DC and Marvel superheroes has always been relatability.

DC’s roster of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are aliens, billionaires, and immortals, idealised version of people we wish we could be. Marvel’s characters, however, are outcasts (X-Men), nerds (Spider-Man). They suffer from alcoholism (Iron Man) and anger issues (Hulk). They are people we know – they could be us.

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That has always been Stan Lee’s strength as a creative mind. The former editor-in-chief of Marvel and co-creator of all the aforementioned characters on Marvel’s side understood what being an average person in the tough, real world is like.

And Lee, who has died at the age of 95 in Los Angeles, tried his best to give a platform to the marginalised, decades before “diversity” became a must for big brands.

Lee co-created the first mainstream African-American superhero (Black Panther), the first physically disabled superhero (the blind Daredevil) and, although Asian representation wasn’t much in demand in the United States during the 1960s and ’70s, Lee gave us a few memorable Asian heroes too.

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These were the three most notable Asian characters in the Marvel universe during Lee’s era with the comic company:

1. Wong

Created by Lee and Steve Ditko in 1963, Wong was introduced as a young, athletic sidekick to Doctor Strange before eventually being fleshed out as a character with a long mystical backstory and history. He even gained a love interest (something very rarely granted to Asian male characters in American media, and got a run as a member of the New Avengers in mid-2000s.

Marvel fans, of course, know him now from his on-screen appearance in Avengers: Infinity War, in which he held his own against the Children of Thanos and even saved Tony Stark’s life.

2. Colleen Wing

Having appeared in the Netflix series Iron Fist recently, Wing has been around since 1974, when she made her debut saving Iron Fist in a fight against a Japanese cult. A martial arts expert, Wing would go on to team up with Misty Knight, a woman of African-American descent, in an investigative team that took action when necessary. That would mark the first women-of-colour team-up in American comics.

3. Jimmy Woo

James “Jimmy” Woo made his debut way back in 1956 in the pages of Yellow Claw #1, which, as the name suggests, is a somewhat racially insensitive story starring a Chinese villain that is an insulting caricature. Woo’s role here as the hero is crucial, because it at least softened the “Yellow Peril” undertones of the book.

As time went on and the US became more politically correct and culturally sensitive, Woo earned a prominent role as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. under Nick Fury.

Most recently, Woo, portrayed by Randall Park, made his way to the big screen as a bumbling, but likeable and well-meaning cop playing opposite Scott Lang in Ant-Man and the Wasp.

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These characters began as either stereotypes or one-dimensional sidekicks. That was a reflection of what it meant to be Asian in America between the 1950s and the 1970s. Marvel, under Lee’s vision, at least attempted to flesh out the characters later.

Of course, Marvel has since introduced a whole bunch of Asian characters, including, in the past decade, a Korean-American Hulk, but these did not come under Lee’s watch. What’s more, introducing respectable, nuanced Asian characters today should not be applauded, but expected.