Review – DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration #1 – A Triumphant Tribute

Comic Books DC This Week
Festival of Heroes #1 Cass variant cover, via DC Comics.

DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration – Mariko Tamaki, Minh Le, Greg Pak, Aniz Adan Ansari, Ram V, Dustin Nguyen, Alyssa Wong, Sarah Kuhn, Amy Chu, Pornsak Pichetshote, Gene Luen Yang, Writers; Marcus To, Trung Le Nguyen, Sumit Kumar, Sami Basri, Audrey Mok, Sean Chen/Norm Rapmund, Victoria Ying, Marcio Takara, Alexandre Tefenkgi, Bernard Chang, Artists; Sebastian Cheng, Romulo Fajardo Jr., Sunny Gho, Jordie Bellaire, Rain Beredo, Colorists

Ray – 9/10

Ray: DC’s anthologies have always been top-notch, but the sheer collection of talent they’ve assembled here may be the best one yet. A tribute to Asian-American heroes by a host of Asian writers and artists, this book is sorely needed right now—but how do the eleven stories within shake out quality-wise?

First up is a Cassandra Cain story by Mariko Tamaki and Marcus To. This is clearly a retro story, calling back to Cass’ original comic run. She’s in her classic Batgirl costume, Oracle uses a wheelchair, and Cass is still mostly non-verbal. It does a great job of covering Cass’ backstory and her struggle to learn to speak, and has a sweet ending as Cass gets a little taste of normalcy in her busy superhero life. More Tamaki writing Cass, please.

“Sounds” page one, via DC Comics.

Minh Le and Trung Le Nguyen’s story is only three pages, but it’s great to see Le’s creation Tai Pham make a return engagement after his all-ages graphic novel. This is a brief vignette about Arkillo making fun of Tai’s choice of Lantern wear—a traditional Vietnamese outfit that looks a little like a gown—leading Tai to flash back to what his late grandmother told him about their traditional clothes. The indie-style art is gorgeous as well, and the story has a great message.

I’m a little surprised that Gene Luen Yang isn’t writing Kenan Kong’s story, but Greg Pak and Sumit Kumar do a great job of teaming up the Superman of China with a long-gone hero—Connor Hawke. The blasian Green Arrow is a compelling street level hero, and he butts heads with the over-the-top media-savvy New Superman. This is a light, funny story with a nice finale as Kenan bumbles his way into finding a new friend in America.

Aniz Ansari and Sami Basri take the lead on another short vignette, this one focusing on Damian Wayne. Damian is investigating a string of murders targeting pizza delivery guys around Gotham and wants to intercept the attackers, but Batman wants him to take the night off. Damian naturally doesn’t listen, and gets caught up in a bizarre plot. It’s a brief and slightly rushed tale, but does a good job of capturing Damian’s personality and motivations.

Ram V and Audrey Mok have a story right out of V’s Catwoman run, focusing on the young thief Shoes. Except here she’s not Shoes—she’s the new vigilante Cheshire Cat. The young vigilante has some interesting links to the assassin Cheshire, and the flashback segments are gorgeous. Her first night out as a vigilante doesn’t go great, but we get an interesting look at Selina as a mentor. Maybe it’s time for her to get into the same business of adopting as her Bat-friend?

Dustin Nguyen, the fan-favorite co-creator of Lil Gotham, goes solo on the next story. It’s a sweet, one-sided conversation between Cassandra Cain and the obscure hero Abuse—aka Colin Wilkes, the street kid with a Hulk-like alter-ego who was Damian’s first friend. Here he tries to mediate things between Cass and her often-jerkish little brother, and while Cass doesn’t say much, there’s a nice gesture to end the story. Nguyen’s stunning art, as always, is the real draw.

Alyssa Wong and Sean Chen are the creative team on a Grace Choi story, where she faces every superheroine’s worst nightmare—dinner with the girlfriend’s parents. It’s great to see the entire Black Lightning family back together in a story that calls back to the Judd Winick Outsiders run, although Jeff is a little bit of a jerk here. The fast-paced battle that breaks out midway through dinner is a lot of fun, and seeing one of comics’ original LGBT power couples back in action is a big draw here.

The story I was most excited for in this book has to be “Kawaii Kalamity,” a surreal short story featuring Emiko Queen. Written by Shadow of the Batgirl writer Sarah Kuhn and drawn by Victoria Ying, it’s a bizarre tale that finds Emiko battling an army of cute cuddly dream creatures—which turns out to be a manifestation of her own conflicted feelings about liking cute things while not wanting to be seen as a Japanese girl stereotype. Can we have more of this Emiko? She’s really endearing and human here, while still being a badass kid heroine.

Amy Chu and Marcio Takara take on a Katana team-up with Blue Beetle and Cyborg, as this trio of heroes visit a multicultural festival paying tribute to a diverse group of heroes. But it quickly comes under assault from a group of superpowered bigots. This story means well, but the dialogue is a little too on the nose and jokey at times to be the only story in this issue actually addressing the topic of hate crimes. Still, the interaction between the three main heroes is strong and the setting is an inspiring melting pot that I wish cons looked a little more like.

DC is lucky enough to have a story here from what’s about to be one of the hottest creative teams in comics—The Good Asian pairing of Pornsak Pichetshote and Alexandre Tefenkgi. It’s another three-page short, this one focusing on Ryan Choi as he fights an alien menace that is trying to take root inside the brain of an unassuming immigrant worker. It’s a quick, exciting tale but also a great look at a type of Asian immigrant we don’t hear as much about in the media.

Meet the Monkey Prince, via DC Comics.

Finally, it’s the headline story, as Gene Luen Yang and Bernard Chang add a new Asian hero to DC’s stable. What starts out as a battle between Dr. Sivana and Shazam soon turns into something completely different with the debut of the Monkey Prince—a wisecracking, shapeshifting teenage hero straight out of Chinese mythology. Mentored by a talking pig with rabbit ears (it makes sense in context), he’s brash and clearly just starting out on his hero journey. This story has way more twists than you’d expect from a short in an anthology, but it’s only the beginning of the character’s time at DC—and hopefully he’ll continue to be penned by Yang in the future.

Overall, this is an exceptional connection of stories paying tribute to some of DC’s most underrated heroes. The only weak spot is that some are very short and leave you wanting more, but this is a must-buy.

To find reviews of all the DC issues, visit DC This Week.

GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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