Years ago, one thing you could count on while reading comic books was that the superhero wouldn’t die. Oh, it might get close. He might be shot at, but he’d dodge the bullet at the last second. Or he would’ve been blasted to bits… if someone hadn’t come to the rescue just in time. Superman, Batman and Robin, and Spider-Man always lived to fight another day.
So it shocked readers when, once in a while, the creators of these books broke the rules and allowed a good guy to die. It happened in 1966 in the seventh issue of the Tower Comics series “Thunder Agents” when Menthor, one of the members of that group, had to warn his fellow heroes that if they passed through an electric eye in the secret lair of their enemy, the Warlords, they’d be incinerated by laser beams. So he sacrificed himself, running toward the mechanism as henchmen shot him, not stopping until he tripped the beams before his friends got there. And he died.
In 1968, when sales of DC Comics’ “The Doom Patrol” warranted its cancellation, the editor decided to go out with a bang. The team’s enemies subdued them on an island and told them they had a choice: The Brotherhood of Evil would set them free but they’d kill the 14 fishermen who live nearby instead. Or they’d leave the people alone but blow up the island the heroes were on. It was a no-brainer. They told the villains: “Blast away!” And they went up in smoke.
Since then, comic books have taken a darker turn. The major companies, DC and Marvel, routinely create mini-series that spin off stories in ongoing multiple titles (in the hope that you’ll buy them all) with the warning that after these mind-blowing events, “nothing will be the same again!” You may’ve heard that major characters like Superman, Captain America, and the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch have died (though the first two have since been resurrected, naturally). If you grew up reading comic books like I did in the early ’70s, you may be surprised to learn that lesser characters like Supergirl, the Elongated Man, Captain Marvel (Marvel’s space hero), the Vision, and the New Gods have also been killed off.
What really affected me was how one of the few Asian American superheroes — the new Atom — was murdered last year. Last month, the story and its multiple issue aftermath were compiled in a trade paperback called “Titans: Villains For Hire” ($14.99).
In 2006, Ryan Choi emigrated from Hong Kong to become a physics professor at Ivy Town University, where he took the place of the missing Atom, Ray Palmer, who’d been around since 1961. Like his predecessor, he could shrink to microscopic size. Choi’s title lasted only 25 issues before being cancelled two years later.
Last year, in the double-sized one-shot “Titans: Villains for Hire Special,” one of the new Atom’s enemies, Dwarfstar, paid Deathstroke, the Terminator (Slade Wilson), to assassinate his foe. Wilson, who’s always been a heartless mercenary killer, took the assignment and assembled a team of villains and former heroes to do the job. One of his recruits was Cheshire, an Asian assassin who had a romantic relationship with an original member of the Teen Titans, Speedy, and a child with him. Wilson named his new team Titans as a “f*ck you” to his main enemies.
First Wilson showed up at Choi’s home and startled him. “Sorry, kid,” he explained. “It’s not personal. It’s business.” Then Cheshire started tearing into him with her claws. Then the Tattooed Man joined in. Although Choi managed to subdue them, Cinder, a woman who can transform into molten lava, appeared.
In the middle of it, Choi’s white girlfriend Amanda knocked on his door, and Wilson told his partners to cool it. Choi pretended everything was fine and that he’d see her tomorrow. She left, and Choi thanked Slade for not attacking her as well. Then they continued with a former good guy, Osiris, pulling the Atom down through the floor (Slade told him if he wanted help in reviving his sister and Black Adam from being statues, he had to join him).
It was chilling seeing Cheshire, an Asian woman, slicing an Asian man with her sword. It felt like a particular betrayal. Then Osiris snapped his ankles. When Choi was defeated, Wilson delivered the killing blow, stabbing him in the stomach with his sword. Our hero’s last thoughts were of his girlfriend. The next morning, Wilson delivered Choi’s shrunken body in a matchbox to Dwarfstar.
It was one of the most disgusting murders ever depicted in comic books. And many were upset because they felt it was racially motivated to make way for the previous Atom (Ray Palmer) — who, like 99 percent of superheroes, is white — to return to his own book. It didn’t help that each of the people Wilson approached to join his team didn’t trust him because of his sleazy reputation, but he convinced them that they needed him either to regain their own self-respect or because he’d help them with their own personal issues. So each of these costumed heroes/villains had no problem murdering an innocent person just because the boss told them to? Really scary.
Titans #24 though #27, which followed the “Titans: Villains For Hire Special,” are also compiled in this paperback edition. The current issue at comic book shops is #33, so a lot has happened since then. More on that in a future column.
The Jig Is Up! Department: Last week, Simon Lee, the special agent played by Ian Anthony Dale on NBC’s “The Event,” was revealed to the President as being one of the aliens the administration is at war with. President Martinez (Blair Underwood) was all set to release them from their Alaskan prison after 64 years, but Thomas, who’d been living amongst humans since the group’s 1946 capture, had used aggressive methods to threaten the President. His mother, Sophia, the leader of the imprisoned aliens, had always believed in protecting human beings but because of several misunderstandings, the President eventually believed she was lying to him. When his forces were about to take the building in which they were meeting, she got them off their backs by having one of their people destroy the Washington Monument.
This pissed off Martinez, who then ordered two of the three buses carrying the escaping aliens blown up, including Thomas. The aliens managed to transport the third bus with Sophia safely away. This week, we learned that because their planet’s two weeks away from a supernova, Sophia wants to bring all two billion of them to Earth even if she has to kill off a lot of humans to make room for them. Simon Lee, who managed to escape from the White House once they were onto him, rejoined the aliens. He went to Michael — another alien who’s had children with a human — and convinced him to escape with him to warn the government. Michael agreed, but the next morning when they’re set to take off, it turned out Michael betrayed him. Simon is taken away as Sophia coldly tells him, “Today I’ve lost a second son.”
Singing the Blues Department: Last week, Thia Megia, the 16-year-old Filipino American contestant on “American Idol,” was one of two singers sent home after she and Naima Adedapo got the lowest number of votes from the viewing audience. Megia made the mistake of usually singing ballads and not showing her ability to take on more upbeat, funkier material. Last week, the Top 11 had to sing Elton John songs and she chose yet another ballad, “Daniel,” because it reminded her of her older brother. When he went away after graduating from high school, she cried for days as he was her best friend. It was touching because she said she was going to channel those feelings into her performance and toward the end of it, it looked like she was going to cry. But all it meant to everyone else was “another nice ballad; so what else is new?”
Despite being the youngest singer in the competition, she appeared to be one of the most grounded, never getting really excited, just looking serene with her sweet smile. In the past nine seasons of the show, no contestant has become successful unless they at least reached the Top 6 or found a niche recording country music. Because Megia does pop/R&B like so many others, I don’t have any hope that she’ll emerge with a significant recording deal or hit.
My twice-a-week blog breaking down the performances of the contestants and predictions on who’s going to be eliminated continues at www.theonlyrealcritic.blogspot.com.
Not Joking Department: Jimmy Wong, who recorded his satirical song “Ching Chong (It Means I Love You)” in response to fellow former UCLA-er Alexandra Wallace’s rants against Asian students, sold 2,000 downloads, enough to make Billboard Magazine’s Comedy Digital Songs chart at #7. Above it are five Lonely Island tracks that were featured on “Saturday Night Live.”
Till 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 by e-mail. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.