Marvel Comics first introduced Chinese cartoon characters in the late 1940s when the US was trying to contain communism by backing the Nationalists in China’s civil war.
The characters were mostly villains and had connections to the Red Army. In 1963 Mao Zedong even appeared in the Earth-616 series with a dastardly plan to destroy Captain America. Fast forward 50 years and Marvel’s attitude to China is very different. Now it is a market to be courted and won. On May 8 Marvel released its first comic in the Three Star Warrior series – a new comic line featuring three new Chinese superheroes: Sword Master, Aero and A’cheng.
Sword Master is a university student in Shanghai who inherits a magic sword from his archaeologist father, and Aero is an architect who can summon up cyclones to destroy her enemies. As yet, little is known about A’cheng except he has a magic whip. Speaking to comic fans in the Philippines back in January, Marvel’s editor-in-chief said the new characters were “heavily based on Chinese culture and Chinese mythology”.
The comics were released three days before the new Avenger movie Infinity War hit cinemas in China and there were clues in the drawings that the new characters would eventually fight alongside other superheroes in the Marvel movie pantheon (28 heroes appear in Infinity War, according to website Screen Crush).
Marvel was acquired by Disney in 2009 and now counts for a big part of the company’s push into China.
Ahead of the Infinity War release, four members of the cast, including Robert Downey Jr, met with fans at the Shanghai Disney resort (though the PR event caused controversy for Disney, see WiC406). The film went on to gross more than Rmb1.27 billion ($200 million) in its opening weekend – the second largest opening ever in China – and could take Rmb3 billion over its run.
But the response to the new Chinese heroes in the Three Star Warrior series has so far been muted. Drawn in the Japanese manga style they have to compete against popular titles from Japan, such as One Piece and Naruto, that already have an established fanbase. After reading the first Sword Master comic – in which the central character Linlie still doesn’t know he is superhero – some complained the plot was confusing and lacking drama. Yet it has undeniably Chinese characteristics such as a kuadi or parcel delivery guy turning into a monster.
Aero seems to have been better received. Readers said the graphics were of higher quality and they liked the plot where Shanghai buildings turned into monsters that she has to fight. One reader described the two comics as a “visual feast” but other were disappointed they were drawn in manga style and not traditional Marvel style. However most readers seemed genuinely excited that Chinese characters may now appear alongside other Marvel heroes such as Captain America and Hulk in films “I can’t wait to see them fight together,” one fan enthused on Sina Weibo.
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