Over the past few years, Marvel has made some big strides in diversifying its humongous cast of superheroes. There have always been African-American characters but, over this past decade, the House of Ideas has massively expanded its number of Asian-Americans in prominent roles. The latest issue of Totally Awesome Hulk showcases these characters in a new story arc that brings together Marvel’s Asian-American heroes into one crime-fighting team.
Namely, that’s Kamala Khan AKA Miss Marvel, Cindy Moon alias Silk, Kung Fu master Shang-Chi, Atlas/S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Jimmy Woo and Jake Oh and, of course, the totally awesome Hulk himself, Amadeus Cho. A couple of these people date back decades, but most of the characters are only a few years old, so it’s great that things have now got to the stage that Marvel can form an all-Asian-American squad – the first one ever in the whole of American comics history, in fact.
While you might call this issue a team-up book, it’s definitely not an all-actioner. It’s bookended with appearances from an angry alien fleet, but mostly this is a simple tale of some friends going out for dinner and enjoying themselves. The core of the issue is how the group bond over their similar/differing experiences as Asian-Americans. If you are an Asian-American yourself, you’ll no doubt relate to the material, as writer Greg Pak is clearly writing from the heart and drawing from personal experience. But even non-Asian-Americans, like myself, can appreciate a lower-key, character-driven piece like this one. After all, not every issue needs to be a non-stop punch-up.
Without a high-concept plot to speak of, Pak’s writing excels in the gently funny banter and the occasional poignant moment between the characters. As it is his book, Amadeus nabs most of the best lines (“We’ll show up and people’ll be like ‘Ohmagod! Asian superheroes? What are they doing here? Is there a kaiju attack?'”) and the most touching scene – meeting with a sickly fan at an event for bone marrow donation. Yet, every one of the heroes gets a great moment of characterization, something to prove that they’re all interesting, distinctive individuals – be they an orphan, a vegetarian or gay – and not just a bunch of stereotypes.
The comic wouldn’t work, though, if it wasn’t for Mahmud Asrar’s artwork. Without any big action set pieces to wow us with, Asrar instead shows his considerable skills at conveying emotion through the character’s expressions. His standout scene is probably the fun superhero fight between Woo and Shang-Chi over who’s going to pay the bill. As well as getting to showcase a brief moment of action, Asrar pulls off the visual punchline of Cho having already paid perfectly. A shout-out to Nolan Woodward’s colors is in order too, as the palette is suitably grounded (yet still gorgeous) for such a down-to-earth issue.
Totally Awesome Hulk #15 won’t be to everyone’s tastes, and we wouldn’t want the series to be like this every issue, but you’d be hard-pressed not to be won over by such a good-hearted, inclusive book that promotes a culture not often spotlighted in the pages of a mainstream comic book. Sure, it might be a teaser for the main team-up event that’s slight on whizz-bang thrills, but the classic heroes vs. aliens action can wait until next issue. The point of this book is to remind us why we need an Asian-American superhero team in the first place, and it does its job well.
There's hardly any action, but this issue of Totally Awesome Hulk brings together Marvel's Asian-American heroes in a gently funny and endearing way.