Race, Comics, and the Evolution of the Superhero
A thorough examination of Blaxploitation and Kung Fu comics
Shaolin Brew: Race, Comics, and the Evolution of the Superhero looks at how the comic book industry developed from a white perspective and how minority characters were and are viewed through a stereotypical white gaze. Further, the book explores how voices of color have launched a shift in the industry, taking nonwhite characters who were originally viewed through a white lens and situating them outside the framework of whiteness. The financial success of Blaxploitation and Kung Fu films in the early 1970s led to major comics publishers creating, for the first time, Black and Asian superhero characters who headlined their own comics. The introduction of Black and Asian main characters, who previously only served as guest stars or sidekicks, launched a new kind of engagement between comics companies and minority characters and readers. However, scripted as they were by white writers, these characters were mired in stereotypes.
Author Troy D. Smith focuses on Asian, Black, and Latinx representation in the comic industry and how it has evolved over the years. Smith explores topics that include Orientalism, whitewashing, Black respectability politics, the model minority myth, and political controversies facing fandoms. In particular, Smith examines how fans take the superheroes they grew up with—such as Luke Cage, Black Lightning, and Shang Chi—and turn them into the characters they wished they had as children. Shaolin Brew delves into the efforts of fans of color who urged creators to make these characters more realistic. This refining process increased as more writers and artists of color broke into the industry, bringing their own perspectives to the characters. As many of these characters transitioned from page to screen, a new generation of writers, artists, and readers have cooperated to evolve one-dimensional stereotypes into multifaceted, dynamic heroes.