When I was a kid, I had to dig real deep for a comic book with an Asian face in it. There were no superheroes in my image from the big publishers, Marvel and DC. Instead I bought every copy I could find of this kung fu book Oriental Heroes. And when that wasn’t enough, I bought every copy of Usagi Yojimbo I could get my hands on. A samurai bunny was close enough.
Marvel’s The Totally Awesome Hulk isn’t just close enough, it’s perfect.
The book’s lead, Amadeus Cho, isn’t just a Asian face, he’s an Asian American character, inhabiting one of pop culture’s most iconic heroes. This is the comic I had dug through endless white boxes looking for as a kid. And that goes beyond the simple fact that Amadeus looks like I wish I did as a teenager. Marvel took the extra step of calling upon two of the industry’s top Asian American creators, writer Greg Pak and artist Frank Cho, to helm the project.
Why that matters to me is authenticity, an Asian American cultural real-ness portrayed here with a light touch that may sometimes go unnoticed by readers who have not been brought up Asian-American, but which conveys an instant sense of knowing to those who were. Give it up to Pak, Cho and everyone who contributed creatively to this book that those cultural touches exist without overwhelming the story. This isn’t Oriental Hulk, it’s not weird that the Hulk is Asian American in this book, it just happens to be, and that’s a great thing.
There is another theme that deserves a thought, and since it’s just the first issue of Totally Awesome Hulk, this might be more to introduce the idea as part of a more encompassing analysis.
Amadeus Cho is a horn-dog. In part because being the Hulk amplifies Cho’s impulses, but also because he is still a 19-year-old boy. But blessed be thy anointment of an Asian American creative team that Amadeus Cho doesn’t become Long Duk Dong here.
Pak’s great sense of comic banter and slapstick visual, along with Frank Cho’s pitch perfect renderings, also keeps Amadeus’s Hulk from becoming a sort of giant, green Pepe Le Pew. That’s to say, Pak is also able to keep Amadeus from being a compete asshole.
There’s a sense that young Amadeus will be flirting with a lot of very powerful women throughout the run of this book. I mean it’s a teenager’s dream. Amadeus Cho is a 19-year-old genius with the power (and body) of a rational and emotionally-stable Hulk.
On the surface, it might be easy to presume that this is a book from a bygone era in which comics were the vicinity of teenage boys alone. But that time is long gone, and it’s a credit to Pak that he appears to be very aware of that in the writing. The objects of Amadeus’ affections are hardly objects at all. And Frank Cho’s renderings of attractive men and women have sensuality without veering toward the lascivious.
Take the sequence below for example. Amadeus can’t help but hit on the lovely Jacqueline while he’s supposed to be fighting a turtle monster straight out of Toho Studios. She shuts him down. And rather than push the sort of fake masculinity that might have a less conscientious man pursue this woman beyond what she deems reasonable, Amadeus smiles, realizes his foolishness, and sheepishly (as sheepish as a Hulk can be) flees the scene, living to woo another day.
Meanwhile, his sister is having none of it. The first thing she does is give Amadeus a wollop when he returns to home base.
It’s just one more thoughtfully considered wrinkle in a book that has its fair share of well-constructed details and cultural nods that read clearly without overwhelming the principal story line, which is Hulk is here to kick ass and catch him some monsters.