Legendary Chinese figure Sun Wukong — more commonly known in English as the Monkey King — is one of the inspirations behind the newly-launched “DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration” from the home of Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman.
DC has unveiled a new character named Monkey Prince as part of a special “one-shot” anthology created to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May.
From DC’s official release: “Debuting in a story written by award-winning writer Gene Luen Yang (Superman Smashes the Klan, Batman/Superman, New Super-Man) with art by Bernard Chang (Teen Titans, Batman Beyond), Monkey Prince is inspired by the Monkey King, legendary hero of Chinese mythology and the classic tale Journey to the West. In Yang and Chang’s original 12-page story, ‘The Monkey Prince Hates Superheroes,’ Monkey Prince battles and teams up with Shazam to defeat both the evil Dr. Sivana and a Chinese deer demon spirit!”
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The 100-page “commemorative anthology” will also feature Master of None writer Aniz Ansari making his comic book debut and a group of characters “asked to safeguard an Asian American and Pacific Islander community celebration against potential violence from a white supremacist group.”
The Monkey King has been through many, many guises over the years. The story of Sun Wukong first appeared in the Song dynasty before it was popularized by the 16th century novel Journey to the West. Attributed to Wu Cheng’en, the tale of the Monkey King’s (mis)adventures and his trip towards enlightenment is one of China’s four great classic novels.
The Many Faces of the Monkey King: How the Legend of Sun Wukong Lives on in Popular Culture
It’s a tale that’s been retold countless times, with the Monkey King starring in animated movies and live-action TV shows, featuring on special themed aeroplanes and apparel, and having his story turned into an opera by Gorillaz creators Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlitt. Last year, Lego launched a range of toys based on the character entitled Monkey Kid.
The prevailing sentiment on Chinese microblogging site Weibo seemed to be largely negative in reaction to the news, judging by the most upvoted comments on posts about the forthcoming release. Similarly, comments on arts and entertainment-oriented user review platform Douban largely accused DC of messing with IP that they “don’t understand” or simply criticized the imagery as “ugly.”
Big Picture: Inside the World of China’s Forgotten, Republic-Era Comic Books
Meanwhile, an altogether different superhero-ification of the Monkey King is also riling up netizens — a feature film by John Woo based on Stan Lee’s “Monkey Master” has been criticized for being “stereotypical.”
Perhaps everyone should wait until the full story has been published before rushing to judgement. And if it helps continue the push toward sustained (rather than token) efforts for better representation of Asian figures on comic book pages, we’re all for it.
Cover image: nikkimeel on DepositPhotos
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