By: AC Recio
Superman is considered by most as the first superhero who heralded the “Golden Age of Comic Books”. Although an alien from a dead planet, he was raised by a humble family in a rural Kansas town and grew up following the values of “truth, justice and the American way”, which he took to heart into adulthood. As Superman, he fought against injustice using his powers and unwavering compassion. This simple premise was enough to regularly sell over a million comics in the 1940s, and became the prototype for future heroes to come.
Comic books these days might not sell nearly as much as they did in the “Golden Age”, but superheroes are now more entrenched in pop culture because of the success of multimedia franchises like the DC Extended Universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although superheroes have always followed the lead of Superman from the ‘40s, they aren’t as one dimensional to be easily defined by a simple motto or phrase. The “American way” has long been proven to not be the only way, as representation plays an important role in developing new characters and superheroes. In fact, having characters of color in a fictional work helps bring attention to the superhero genre by getting real-life buzz and support from people of the same race, as long as the representation is done respectfully.
In this SEA Wave High Five article, we look at Southeast Asian superheroes from DC Comics and Marvel and what makes them great.
OMAC (DC – Cambodia)
Kevin Kho was born in Cambodia, where his family was killed for speaking out against social injustice. Because of this, he sought order and meaning through gaining knowledge and compulsively developing his computer skills. Because of this, he drew the attention of artificial intelligence satellite Brother Eye, and on a random workday, Brother Eye transformed Kevin into OMAC, a hulking hero with blue skin, superhuman strength and durability, and the power to control technology at his will. This brought his normal life of order and meaning to a screeching halt and started his life as a reluctant superhero.
Kevin follows a long line of heroes who were forced to take the path due to the unfortunate circumstances that befell them, but this also shows his resolve and belief in his family’s sense of justice, using his own strength and the memories of his family to push on, choosing to become a hero in his own right.
Kevin is currently stuck in his OMAC form and has since become a full-time hero, even becoming a member of Justice League International.
Warriors of the Sky (Marvel – Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam)
Created as original characters for the video game Marvel Future Fight, the Warriors of the Sky are a team of mostly Southeast Asian superheroes (except for Taiwan, which geographically borders Southeast Asia in the north) who are on par with the Avengers, the X-Men and the Guardians of the Galaxy as Marvel’s next major super team. The team is made up of Blue Dragon from Vietnam, Sun Bird from Malaysia, War Tiger from Thailand and Shadow Shell from Taiwan. Each member is based on Southeast Asian myths and motifs, with each having their own unique mystical powers and backstories for players to explore. For more information about each of these characters, click here.
Jenny Quantum (DC – Singapore)
Jenny Quantum was born in Singapore as a “Century Baby,” a person born in the beginning of the century and destined to die as the century closes. As the Spirit of the 21st Century, Jenny Quantum was believed to have the ability to shape the next hundred years by coming into contact with and influencing many significant individuals who will come into prominence within the 21st century. Because of this, her birth mother was killed by super villains, and her biological father went missing. She was saved and later adopted by Apollo and Midnighter.
Jenny is a unique character owing to her Southeast Asian origins and being the daughter of one of the most prominent gay couples in superhero comics history. She became the leader of The Authority, a superhero team who “gets the job done by any means necessary.” With her reality warping, interdimensional traveling and superhuman abilities, Jenny is one of the most powerful heroes in the world.
These days, Jenny Quantum is in the DC Universe as a member of the latest incarnation of Stormwatch, an organization which has protected Earth from alien threats since the Dark Ages. Like all previous Century Babies, Jenny is on track to become the next leader of Stormwatch when she comes of age.
Tai Pham (DC – Vietnam)
Tai Pham was recently introduced in the original graphic novel “Green Lantern: Legacy” as the newest and youngest defender of Earth. Tai is a Vietnamese-American boy who inherited his grandmother’s jade ring, which turned out to be a Green Lantern Ring that granted him incredible powers. With an indomitable will and his limitless imagination at his disposal, Tai sets out to protect the community he holds dear.
Green Lantern: Legacy takes a look at immigrant communities in the United States and how they can foster a sense of belonging by being compassionate and working together. Tai’s grandmother was seen as a hero to the local community, and Tai inherited her will to not only protect their neighbors but the entire galaxy as well. As of today, Tai has not yet officially appeared in an ongoing DC comic book since his debut in Green Lantern: Legacy, but you can’t count this young hero out. If anything, the future looks bright for young Tai and we look forward to seeing his future adventures.
Wave (Marvel – Philippines)
Pearl Pangan is one of the newest Southeast Asian heroes to come to the scene. Born and raised in Mactan, Cebu, Pearl grew up by the beach and loved the water because of this. She became a prodigious swimmer with enormous potential, however her difficult life circumstances have prevented her from pursuing a career in swimming. She was then recruited by AlonTech to use her swimming expertise for experiments. Unbeknownst to Pearl, AlonTech were a villainous organization who wanted to use her abilities for evil. In an experiment gone wrong, Pearl was exposed to unknown energies and gained the power to control water, which she used to break free from AlonTech’s control and become a hero in her own right.
What makes Pearl unique is her backstory that is true to most Filipinos who live in poverty and are deprived of opportunities to improve their situation. Pearl eventually adopted the superhero identity “Wave” and became a member of the Agents of Atlas, a covert organization using advanced science and sorcery for humanity’s greater good.
Representation is important, not only in portraying different stories on screen or paper, but because it helps the audience, especially young children, to have someone to look up to. The portrayal of different countries, cultures and races not only affects how other people see them, but also how people from the same culture see themselves. It’s a powerful thing that allows us to embrace ourselves and work on improving ourselves while dreaming of a better world for everyone.
Did we miss your favorite Southeast Asian superheroes? Share it with us in the comments section below!