‘White Savior’ Comic Spoofs a Familiar Asian American Movie Problem

The new comic book series White Savior is an adventure story which parodies a certain kind of adventure story. Written by Eric Nguyen and Scott Burman, with art by Nguyen, the first and second issues of the limited series from Dark Horse are available now.

The time-hopping swords-and-arrows romp centers on Todd, an Asian American dude whose encounter with a mysterious woman named Maggie leads him to a battlefield in feudal Japan presided over by Nathan Garin, a hulking white guy in samurai garb.

While reading White Savior, it helps to be familiar with the titular trope, especially as it relates to stories told in an Asian or Asian American context. (The indispensable tvtropes.org puts the trope somewhere between “Mighty Whitey” and “White Man’s Burden.”) Typically, a white outsider-hero type enters a conflict primarily involving Asian people, whether it’s in Chinatown, the Mongolian conquest, a mystical city in Dragonland, and the “savior” becomes the central character while also proving their superiority at Asian stuff, be it language, martial arts, the mystic arts of Dragonland. The Asian characters end up as sidekicks in what is ostensibly their story, while some are elevated to sexual conquests or interesting villains in order for the savior to reach their destiny, yadda yadda.

Notable examples in film and TV would include The Last Samurai, The Great Wall, Iron Fist, and Showdown in Little Tokyo (not to be confused with Big Trouble in Little China, in which the trope is present while also cleverly subverted).

I asked Nguyen, a seasoned comics artist with Marvel and DC credentials, to elaborate on the premise of White Savior’s satire.

“[J]ust because something is a ‘white savior’ movie, doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. One that stood out for us was Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai, and it always surprises people when I tell them that my co-writer Scott and I actually love that movie,” he revealed. “When it came out, nobody talked about it being a ‘white savior’ movie. Most people said the same thing I did — that’s a bad-ass movie and Tom Cruise is awesome in it. The problem isn’t that it’s a white savior movie — the problem is that there were very few alternatives in which the outsider coming to save the town looked similar to me.”

“I’ve drawn Wolverine, Batman, Hulk, all kinds of great heroes — but rarely do comics get the respect and the broader fan base that movies do. You ask someone what their favorite movie is, they’ll say Avengers, and then you ask the same people ‘what’s your favorite comic,’ they’ll say ‘oh, I don’t read comics,’” Nguyen contributed. “So the moral of the story is, stop scrolling through this article and either get your butt to your local comic store or, if you don’t leave the house, order a digital copy now, sit down, and share a laugh with us.”

Hopefully, one may indeed acquire the book at your local comic shop, or you can check out the website. And, because we here at The Nerds of Color love you, here’s a whole sample page from White Savior issue #1.

A page from White Savior #1, with art by Eric Nguyen.