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The All-New Atom

I've been following DC's All New Atom series with a lot of curiosity. Writer Gail Simone has a lot to juggle with Ryan Choi, the young Chinese supergenius who has stepped in to fill the tiny but nonetheless very imposing shoes of Ray Palmer. So far, she has been doing an solid job, creating a non-stereotypical superhero and a very surreal environment for him to explore, ranging from intelligent fleas to giant talking heads and sewer gods.

Since the series started, Simone's been under a lot of scrutiny. As one of the few Chinese superheroes starring in his own series, Choi has garnered a lot of attention, especially since he's not a) a ninja, b) a geisha, c) a martial artist, or d) a member of a Tong, probably the four most pervasive Asian stereotypes in comics. The fact that he's being written by someone who is not herself Asian is getting even more attention, ranging from positive ( to negative (

Simone draws from her experiences in China and her Asian friends for references, jokes and so forth. This can create a strange cultural dissonance - is it wrong to use a joke told to you by people in China, one which intentionally parodies Confucian fortune-cookie broken English (“Cantonese eat everything that flies except airplane and everything with four legs except table.”), when writing a character from China? Is it okay if an Asian writer uses it, but not a white one? Some readers have been offended tremendously by both the language and joke. Others don't mind it; some like it and say they've heard it before. When I asked my husband, whose father's family is first-generation from Hong Kong by way of Taiwan, he grinned and said, "It's just like my dad says, if you want to be Chinese, you gotta eat the nasty stuff."

Personally, I think it partially depends on how much slang everyone else in the comic is slinging about. I probably would have included the joke, but not the broken language; accents too easily sound like insults in the mouth of someone from outside a culture.

But the best thing about this whole debate is that Gail Simone is actively taking part, and has invited folks who think she could do better to email her their criticisms and suggestions: "The offer is open to anyone here who has a complaint and is sincere about wanting to see an improvement in the book. My email is, and I guarantee I will read and respond to your notes."

This is a great opportunity. Change doesn't happen without active effort; and the only way to get your voice heard is to speak up.

Haven't read the new Atom

Haven't read the new Atom yet. I'm afraid I'm doing my bit to destroy the mainstream comics industry by being a wait-for-the-trades type of person. Add that to the fact that I'm in the UK and it means I've only just caught up with Identity Crisis, so I wasn't even aware Ray Palmer stepped down. Ah well ...

As for the crux of this post, however, I've never been a fan of the argument that "only writers of x persuasion can write characters who are x". Good luck to Gail on this one. And as for those who take offence at the humour ... I suspect they need to examine their own prejudices rather than hers.

There's a similar argument to be made with regard to the writers on DC's new "especially for girls" titles like Supergirl or the "campaign for a Stephanie Brown memorial" being run over at Girl Wonder. If the plotting is bad (and in both those cases it is!) then call attention to that. But don't say that it's because the writers aren't women or because the writers/editors are sexist. It's not. It's just because they haven't done a good job. Trying to attribute the fault to the writers' sex or beliefs really says far more about those who are complaining.

And the same applies here, I suspect. Using slang or broken English is not wrong per se. If it's used incorrectly then that's another matter. But to argue that the same lines would have been acceptable if written by an Asian is a far more prejudiced view than any I suspect Gail holds.

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids