Our favorite things this week include the first Chinese-American superhero and your online home for hostile language.
Living in the Shadows: In 2006’s American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang uses the comic book form to explore myth, stereotype and identity as he depicts a teenager trying to come grips with his cultural heritage while trying to find his place in an American high school. It’s smart and beautifully drawn, modulating from Osama Tezuka-like cartoonishness to Jaime Hernandez’s clean, light-lined figures. Last year, Yang and Sonny Liew wrote The Shadow Hero, which also examines their Chinese-American roots, this time by telling the origin story of the first superhero drawn by a Chinese artist in America, Chu Hing.
The Green Turtle was a disposable superhero, more costume than character. He was the product of a cynical time in the comics business in the 1940s when the publishers threw hackwork on the market assuming that kids would buy anything. The Green Turtle had no obvious superpowers and only lasted for five issues, but Yang and Liew work from the rumor that Hing drew The Green Turtle with his face obscured to hide the Chinese ethnicity he imagined for the hero, one his publishers wouldn’t go with. That “what if” possibility is the starting point for The Shadow Hero, and like Will Eisner’s stories for “The Spirit,” the story walks a careful line—pulpy with broadly conceived characters that have just enough specificity to give their lives—if not the actual story—some reality. (Alex Rawls)
Word…I Mean, Hell Yeah!: Etymology is perhaps the most underrated -ology. Etymology is the study of word origins and of the changes in word meanings over time, but before the spawning of the Internet, anyone who wanted to know when “bastard” came into being had to wade through the OED or stumble upon the right manuscript. Enter Strong Language, a blog devoted to the lineages and grammatical complexities of your favorite swear words.
With explanations like “Shite is often but not always a direct variant of shit in the Hiberno-English profanilect,” the site is a treasure trove of random-but-practical info (check out the post “Merkin: A rags to itches story" for yet another reason why not to name your kid Maud). Reader beware, however. With knowledge comes power, and power corrupts like a motherfucker. My first visit to the site resulted in a two-hour Googling marathon of word origins that ended with me exclaiming to my dad, “Hey, the Samoan and French words for dawn are related!” (See? The Internet isn’t always a waste of time!) Once you learn how one word came about, you have to know more. You start to identify connections between how we speak and the way we view the world, and maybe the next time you mentally curse at that guy who never swiped right, it’s with a sense of kinship for the swearers before you. (Cara Lahr)