Asians in Comics: Amazing Spider-Man Vs. Asian Captain Universe

Comic: Amazing Spider-Man
Issues: 627-629
Title: You Can’t Stop the Juggernaut
Collected in: Amazing Spider-Man: The Gauntlet 4: Juggernaut (Graphic novel)
Writer: Fred Van Lente  Penciler: Michael Gaydos

When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Incredible Hulk in 1962, the character appealed to an audience they didn’t originally anticipate: Asians. Originally, the premise of the Hulk and Bruce Banner was a reflection on the feelings of powerlessness that some Americans felt as the Vietnam War progressed. Bruce Banner, like many of Stan Lee’s characters, was outwardly a normal guy, but when things got out of hand, he went into a rage. This character then struck a chord with Asian readers who suffered from the passive-aggressive strain that runs in their culture. They could identify with a man who held everything in until it felt like he would explode, and when the Hulk entered into it, it became a fantasy about expelling all of the anger that was held within.

(spoilers ahead)

Decades later, in the issues of Amazing Spider-Man 627-629, in a story titled You Can’t Stop The Juggernaut, a premise similar to the Hulk’s was given to an actual Asian-American character by the name of William Nguyen. At first, he’s a perfectly ordinary guy. He is working at an office building were, all of a sudden, Juggernaut (Cain Marko) comes bashing through the wall in one of his famous rampages. Spider-man is close at his heels, trying to subdue the villian, but as the title states clearly, you can’t stop the juggernaut. From that chance encounter, William Nguyen’s life is ruined. In order to repair the wall of the building that Juggernaut destroyed, William’s manager has to fire him due to necessary downsizing. Shortly thereafter, his girlfriend leaves him, and he ends up finding work at a fast food joint. Unable to take it anymore, he jumps off a bridge over the East River when, out of the blue, in midair no less, he’s granted the ability to merge with the Uni-Power, a bizarre offshoot of the Enigma Force that allows ordinary people to merge with a benign cosmic being and become a superhero until the Uni-Power chooses someone else. When he accepts the power, he becomes the new Captain Universe, and has more superpowers than I can easily list.

Are you following me so far? Essentially, the transcendance of William Nguyen into Captain Universe greatly resembles the metamorphosis of Bruce Banner into The Hulk, where both were given powers by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When William receives his gift, instead of protecting the Earth, he vows revenge on Juggernaut, and even manages to knock him into a coma at the story’s start. Spider-Man then has to intercede to save Juggernaut’s life, and later has to stop Juggernaut from killing William.

The lack of Asians in comics has for a long time upset me, especially since the few Asian superheroes out there tend to be cliche, such as Psylocke, who’s essentially a ninja, to Toyman, a Japanese boy who builds robots. If Bruce Banner/ The Hulk resembled the passive-aggressiveness of some Asians, I always thought it’d be cool to see what it’d be like if an Asian were put in a similar position, but not enough happened with this premise here. By the end of #629, William has lost the Uni-Power after using it for personal ambition rather than for altruistic aims.

I noticed also the story involved a good many Asian stereotypes, such as how William works in an office, and that he describes himself as a “drone,” and how he can’t stand up to his boss when he’s fired for a completely unfair reason. Also, that he’d resort to attempting to commit suicide is again a stereotypical view of the culture.

The lamest part of the You Can’t Stop The Juggernaut story arc involves a subplot concerning tectonic plates that are on the verge of creating an earthquake that would surely decimate a chunk of New York. It’s implied William Nguyen was granted his powers specifically to stop the quake, but, due to his need for revenge, he wastes them battling Juggernaut for three issues. Eventually, fed up with his unresponsiveness, the Uni-Power leaves William and grafts onto Juggernaut, who then burrows into the Earth and straightens out the plates. If William had done something good with his powers at the last minute, I’d be happy, but then it plays out that an actual supervillain is more heroic than a passive-aggressive Asian.

Writer Fred Van Lente very likely had his heart in the right place when he wrote this tale, and it’s nice to see Asians in mainstream comics, even if there are dated stereotypes involved, but I wish more was done here. So many superheroes started out like William, that is, normal people who suddenly get superpowers, then proceed to misuse them for a time before accepting their roles as heroes (everyone from Spider-Man to Wolverine to The Hulk himself share this origin). They didn’t have their powers taken away. They grew into them. It would have been worlds better if William, after overcoming his urge for revenge, flew off to cultivate his new abilities, and maybe returned from time to time to play a better role.

While You Can’t Stop the Juggernaut wasn’t a great comic, it was more interesting than a lot of what’s out there, and the penciling by Michael Gaydos had a refreshingly vintage look. If you’re looking for a better superhero comic featuring an Asian hero, check out old issues of Xombi.

—If you’re looking for a book to read, why not check out my book, The Madness of Art: Short Stories? It contains 8 short stories revolving around the stranger side of the artistic process.

What was your opinion of the Amazing Spider-Man You Can’t Stop The Juggernaut storyline, and how do you feel about the representation of Asians in comics?

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