Mr. Sulu Wants to Be Batman: The Rise of the Asian-American Superhero

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If the days of the 'Expendable Asian Crewmember' are over, John Cho knows what he wants his next role to be ...
If the days of the ‘Expendable Asian Crewmember’ are over, John Cho knows what he wants his next role to be …

A few months back, I wrote about the phenomenon of the “Expendable Asian Crewmember” in summer blockbuster films. Also known to Trekkies as the “Redshirt,” this being a reference to the red uniform worn by the security officer from the original “Star Trek” series, the EAC has the unhappy purpose of appearing onscreen just so he or she can be killed off in a spectacularly gruesome fashion.

But, starting last year, there were unmistakable signs that this pattern was about to change. In “The Wolverine,” the non-mutant precognitive Japanese female Ronin assassin Yukio didn’t die, but lived to fight another day. It is suggested that she will stick by Logan’s side on his further adventures, turning her into that other reliable if tired trope: the Asian Sidekick (Kato in “The Green Hornet,” Lucy Liu as Dr. Watson on “Elementary,” etc.) But if sidekick she must be, at least Yukio literally kicks serious ass.

Then there was 2009’s “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” which managed to have an Asian good guy and an Asian bad guy at the same time, which was practically like crossing the streams or putting anti-matter together with matter or time-traveling back to meet your younger self. It just isn’t done. But the producers not only went there — they let both of them survive to sally forth in the next installment, 2013’s “Retaliation.”

Curiously, all of these films cleaned up at the box office. Coincidence? Hmmm …

And now, at this year’s New York Comic Con, it was announced that a female Asian-American superhero will be getting her own series inside the Marvel universe. Cindy Moon hails from Queens, N.Y., has long black silky hair, is definitely Asian and, given her last name, probably Korean. She gets bitten by the same pesky arachnid that chomped on Peter Parker. The radioactive bite confers the same spiderrific powers on Cindy — plus, maybe, a few others — turning her into The Amazing Spider-Girl, Silk! Silk has a pretty good backstory and a female illustrator, Stacey Lee, drawing her. The only thing she doesn’t have yet is a rabid fan base.

As goes Marvel, so goes the summer blockbuster. With any luck, the creators of “Silk” will soon be in talks for a film franchise starring an actual Korean-American actress, like, say, Jennivere Song Lee, who also happens to hail from Queens.

Meanwhile, lest Marvel ends up with an unbreakable monopoly on the global film franchise, turning it into the SMERSH of the movie industry, DC Comics ought to rethink its casting for its three most bankable stars: Superman, Wonder Woman (who, with her long silky black hair, freckle-free skin and super-sleek invisible plane, is already is practically Asian anyway) and Batman. The actor who plays Mr. Sulu in the “Star Trek” reboot, John Cho, has already called dibs on the next installment of the Batman franchise. “After Ben [Affleck] retires, I call next,” Cho said during a recent “Ask Me Anything” interview on Reddit. “A serious Asian tech billionaire maybe? Who moonlights as a caped crusader? I’ll buy it!”

Given Cho’s remarkable appeal to a wide range of viewers, and his breakout role as an Asian-American romantic lead in the new fall sitcom, “Selfie,” I’m guessing that a lot of fans will buy it, too. Hoping to see you at the movies soon, Bruce Wei!

Paula Lee is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine. She is the author of the travel memoir “Deer Hunting in Paris,” which won the 2014 Travel Book Award of the Society of American Travel Writers, and the serial novel, “The Peepshow,” which was published under her pseudonym B.B. Young exclusively on TheBlot. 

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