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COLUMN: Why can't I be a superhero, too?


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During my childhood, I envied the cunningness of Batman, the elusiveness of Spiderman, and the strength of Superman. I idolized plenty of superheroes. Heroes who did not look like me, written mostly by men who did not look like me.

It wasn’t until I read Gene Luen Yang’s recent take on the Man of Steel in “New Super-Man” that I realized how important it was to have a superhero with which I shared the same likeness.

In a diverse society, it is vital for children to have role models who share similar life experiences. Representation across all types of media is necessary. That includes comic books.

The story of Superman at its core is not only one that mirrors that of an immigrant’s tale, but that of a refugee. A strange being from a foreign land at war finds his place in a new society, using his abilities for good while coming to terms with humanity.

Yang turns all of the tropes on their sides for this retelling of a new Superman character, who is an Asian male protagonist and the member of a Chinese Justice League that exists in the same universe as an American Justice League. Unlike Superman – at least the version we all know well – this version is an aggressive, hyper-masculine underdog who lashes out against adversity for all of the wrong reasons – at first.

As an Asian-American, growing up without visible representation of Asians in most forms of media had a profound effect on me. Why weren’t there Asian-American actors on TV, in films I watched or the books I read? Are we not good enough? Not interesting enough? Does anyone other than us care? I started to believe that Asians weren’t cut out for protagonists in modern media, and I should accept that as a sad fact.

With Yang’s “New Super-Man,” that’s different. His story doesn’t have to completely resonate with me to be impactful. He wrote the story he wanted to tell while still representing the culture well. If you want change, enable yourself to do something about it and take risks. That’s what Yang does in his Superman take. If you try to wait for the majority to offer you a seat at the table, you’ll get waitlisted.

Superheroes are an ideal. Why can’t people who look like me be the ideal, too?

“New Super-Man” and other stories with similarly diverse characters tell a different story. They tell children with diverse backgrounds that we too, can be super.

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