The Good Asian — Deluxe Edition Vol. 1: 1936 by Pornsak Pichetshote & Alexandre Tefengki

with colors by Lee Loughridge and letters by Jeff Powell.

Most forewords don’t do a whole lot to adequately contextualize the books they’re introducing, but David Choe absolutely hits it out of the park with his no-holds-barred examination of what it meant to be a Good Asian in the West in the 20th century. In short: when you have nothing, you keep your head down, work hard and accept whatever abuse you must take until you’re rich and powerful and can fuck up all those people who tried to hold you down. The opening scene of worldwide phenomenon Crazy Rich Asians tells you the exact same thing, but plunges forward into a beautiful present day where that wealth and power has been achieved, for some of the protagonists at least. This graphic novel, on the other hand, is squarely situated in an era where equality, never mind anything more, was still a distant dream.

Peppered with the historical anecdotes that inspired the series, this stylish noir comic follows the travails of the fictional Edison Hark, perhaps the only Chinese police detective in America as the story opens. In San Diego as a favor to the rich white family who brought him up after the death of his mother, Edison is on the trail of a missing maid whom the Carroway family patriarch has tender feelings for. Ivy Chen abruptly disappeared after going to meet her mother one evening, and Edison has been flown in from Hawai’i to help find her. Unfortunately for Mason Carroway, Edison’s investigations are revealing an Ivy who seems far from the innocent maidservant the older man knew and adored. As Edison delves deeper into Chinatown’s seedier side, aided by his appearance as a local instead of an “American” (and boy did that hurt to read every time this historically accurate if no less racist assumption that “American = a certain kind of white person” was brought up in the text,) he discovers that little is as it seems, and that the Carroways are even more deeply involved in what happened to Ivy than he’d ever thought possible.

As if the conflicting feelings Edison still has for the Carroways isn’t complicating matters enough, a serial killer who seems ready to set the political landscape ablaze by feeding racist fears has also begun to terrorize the community. When a climactic face-off results in a terrifying inferno, will anyone be left to bring the bad guys to justice?

The end of the book promises that Edison Hark will return in future comics, but honestly I want more Lucy Fan! Whether assisting Edison or investigating on her own, our intrepid amateur sleuth stole every darn scene she was in, and I adored her for it. Plus, I preferred her and Terence’s visions of the future to Edison’s nihilistic nonsense. I know that none of them can see into our modern world, but life does get better. That’s because of people like Lucy and Terence, and frankly in spite of self-hating naysayers like Edison. Maybe this just means character growth for Edison in future installments, which I’ll definitely be reading regardless of my ambivalence towards this series’ main character so far. The historical context and parallels with modern-day issues are too strong to resist, especially in Pornsak Pichetshote’s incredible storytelling hands.

I also have to give mad props to Alexandre Tefenkgi’s art here, which I thought was even better than his terrific work on Outpost Zero. The script here gives him so much more direction, even if there were parts where I had to backtrack to make sense of what was happening, particularly in the action sequences. I do not lay the blame for this entirely on the creative team, as Edelweiss and the publishers, in their wisdom, decided to distribute ARCs of this title via the trash fire that is Adobe Digital Editions. I’ve ranted about this garbage program before, and while its ongoing inability to support two page spreads was detrimental as always to my enjoyment of this graphic novel, even more egregious was its weird and arbitrary choice to skip over multiple pages when I hit the navigation controls for next page. I had to type in individual page numbers in order to advance through the story correctly. That was deeply irritating, and really took me out of enjoying the story.

Those of you lucky enough to experience this graphic novel through other mediums are in for a treat though, with a smart historical noir that reminds Asian Americans of how far we’ve come and how far we can still go as equal citizens without completely murdering our senses of self-worth. Highly recommended anti-racist reading.

The Good Asian — Deluxe Edition Vol. 1: 1936 by Pornsak Pichetshote & Alexandre Tefengki was published today June 6 2023 by Image Comics and is available from all good booksellers, including

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