INTO THE NEXT STAGE: JA Internee Inspires Comic Book Super Hero

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AOKI-GUY-color1By GUY AOKI

One of the most consistently well-produced comic books of the past 20 years is “Astro City” by writer Kurt Busiek and artist Brent Anderson (wow, a current comic book artist who actually knows how to draw!).

It follows in the footsteps of Busiek’s award-winning “Marvels” mini-series (1993-1994) in which the author revisited pivotal moments in Marvel Comics history from the viewpoint of the common man (in this case, a photographer), like the Fantastic Four fighting Galactus — who’s come to consume Earth — and the death of Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy.

Because Busiek created a whole new array of superheroes for “Astro City” — some of whom we saw only fleetingly and most of whom came without origin stories — it’s often been harder to get into these man-on-the-street perspectives. I mean, who’s heard of Samaritan or Altar Boy and why should we care (Anderson’s often beautiful artwork carries it through)?

However, the latest story arc focuses on an intriguing Wonder Woman-like character, Winged Victory, who’s being framed by some unknown super-villain.

Once a needy, insecure woman who clung to mentally abusive boyfriends, “Kristen” eventually found her dignity and was granted super powers (super strength, flight, and proficiency with old weaponry) and a Roman/Greek costume by an array of unknown women who made up the Council of Nike (nothing to do with shoes!). As Winged Victory, Kristen took in battered and wayward women, building their self-worth in many women’s centers and clinics.

Now, many of those women are turning against her. A couple of super villains “confessed” to the media they were paid to lose against her in battle in order to make Victory look good and to attract more women to her schools. Then others came forward claiming they’d been beaten and threatened.

AstroCity_#9 cover for webAs a safety precaution, the government shuts down the centers and releases the women.  Because the council begins to doubt her innocence, Winged Victory feels her strength weakening, and she worries if they will soon revoke her powers.

In the current issue (#9) she meets an 85-year-old Japanese American woman named Maisie Shimura, who tells her life story. She was born in Oakland, and during WWII, put in a concentration camp, where she was raped by a fellow internee then later a prison guard. After getting out of camp, she became a successful businesswoman who contributed to political causes that fought for the equality of women.

A few years ago, Shimura was invited to join “a group of women. Strong, successful women, who had faced difficulties and triumphed over them. Women with … the psychic potential to pool that strength, share it… and empower a champion… and we did.”

Winged Victory is mesmerized by Shimura’s story and feels that the Nisei has suffered so much more than her. Shimura says she just wanted to take Winged Victory aside to remind her of her strength. “And to tell you that I’m proud to have been part of all you’ve done. All the women you’ve helped stand, all these years, all of it … You’re my hero.  I wanted you to know that.”

After a moment of silence, Winged Victory smiles. How will she bounce back with that much-appreciated vote of confidence? Wait for next month’s issue!

I have to say, not bad for a male writer. Busiek’s made me empathize with the struggles of this woman who’s once again forced to face her self-doubts in light of her crumbling public reputation. It’s something many of us confront from time to time, but of course, there’s often an additional layer of difficulty for women.

Astro City #9 is in comic book stores now.

In a panel from "Astro City," Winged Victory meets Maisie Shimura, a former internee.

In a panel from “Astro City,” Winged Victory meets Maisie Shimura, a former internee. (DC Comics)

End of an Era Department: Those of you who caught The Association at “Live at the Aratani” in April don’t know how lucky you were. As I said in my second article on leader Larry Ramos at the time, this was the band’s strongest line-up since 1984 with four of the six surviving members re-creating hits like “Cherish,” “Windy,” “Everything That Touches You,” and “Along Comes Mary.”

Well, in December, Russ Giguere (he shared lead vocals with Ramos on “Windy” and “Time for Livin’”) retired from the group. And now, due to health issues, Ramos too is calling it quits (although he’ll continue to manage the group).

He’ll give his farewell performance at the Blue Fox Theatre in Grangeville, Idaho — his home base since the ’80s — this Monday, Feb. 24. The 6:00 show is already sold out, but there’s also an 8:30 show with a “meet and greet” from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $25. Call (208) 983-6392 or email [email protected] for more information.

Ramos, who also enjoyed hits with the New Christy Minstrels in the early ’60s, was one of the first Asian American singers to make it nationally. His lead vocal on “Never My Love” (along with Terry Kirkman) helped make it the second-most-performed BMI song on TV and radio of the century (only “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” was heard more). He’s been with the group since 1967 with just three years off between 1976 and 1979, so this is very sad news.

Autographed picture of The Association from the 2013 concert; Larry Ramos is middle right.

Autographed picture of The Association from the 2013 concert; Larry Ramos is middle right.

To learn more about his remarkable history, check out my past two columns about him here and here.

’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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