Returning Japanese


On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.

A few weeks ago we started a two-part story about some shapeshifting Japanese assassin trying to kill General Douglas MacArthur. Now let’s take a look at the stunning conclusion!

He’s basically the original Manimal.

He’s basically the original Manimal.

Wonder Woman #238, DC Comics, December 1977.

This issue is interesting right off the bat because there’s no particular tip-off on the cover that this story is set during World War II, which DC usually did during this period to avoid any confusion with readers who might have assumed that a Wonder Woman story in the late 1970s would take place in the 1970s.

One thing that’s interesting about that is that the story guest-stars the original Sandman of the Justice Society of America, and even a glimpse or mention of him on the cover would be an easy tip-off for any DC Comics fan at the time.

Ah, the wirepoon. Everybody loves the wirepoon.

Ah, the wirepoon. Everybody loves the wirepoon.

It does give us a good look at Kung, “assassin of a thousand claws,” with his weird mishmash costume combining the Japanese rising sun and the Chinese tajitu (yin-yang) symbol. We still don’t know what his deal is, exactly, but I guess we’ll find out!

Well, for one thing, he’s still saying things like “this humble one” and “honorable Amazon,” because that sort of thing is obligatory for an Asian character in a 1970s comic.  Writer Gerry Conway does let us peek in on Kung’s thoughts as well as Wonder Woman’s during their battle (she’s trying to keep him from killing MacArthur, naturally), in which Kung (currently in the form of a panther) speculates that if their nations weren’t enemies, they might have been friends. But of course hearing what he happens to be thinking in that moment doesn’t clear much up about who the heck he is besides a Japanese agent who can change into animals just through being that good at martial arts.

When soldiers shoot Kung and Wonder Woman tries to stop them from killing him, inadvertently letting him escape, both MacArthur and fellow jerk Colonel Belushi yell at her about what a disgrace and menace she is. Oh, and MacArthur manages to squeeze in an “I shall return,” because what’s the point of including General MacArthur if he doesn’t say that?

I can’t help but think he wouldn’t talk to Superman that way.

I can’t help but think he wouldn’t talk to Superman that way.

So okay, here’s the weird thing about Kung—I mean, besides the idea that if you become good enough at karate you can change into panthers and insect men. His whole thing is fighting Americans because he’s a faithful to Japan. But, we soon find out, he is an American!

Dunno what Frenchie’s deal is. I guess that’s a teaser for a future issue.

Dunno what Frenchie’s deal is. I guess that’s a teaser for a future issue.

Apparently he snapped after his father died, because Japanese Americans couldn’t find jobs during the Depression, and decided he hated the United States. “I wish we’d never come here!” he says, ignoring the fact that he didn’t come here; he was born here. His mother was so upset by his ranting that she had a heart attack and died too, sending him both off to deep end and to Japan to train as a samurai, which eventually leads him to getting those animal powers. His sister (who somehow lives in Chinatown and not in an internment camp, even though it’s 1942) tries to talk him down, but it’s no use. Naturally, his sister also plays a part in the dramatic conclusion of the story, which also involves Kung turning into a freaking rhino.

What bugs me about this story, besides the well-meaning but pervasive ethnic stereotypes, is that this whole idea that an American-born Japanese guy would go back to his parents’ home country to train to kill Americans. Because really, that’s the kind of thinking that led to the internment camps in the first place.

Like most Word War II-set characters, Kung later showed up in Roy Thomas’s All-Star Squadron series, but there he was used as an uncomplicated villain, a henchman of Prince Daka, a stereotypical Japanese baddie from the 1943 Batman movie serial. In fact, of all Daka’s assistants (which also included former Wonder Woman foe Sumo the Samurai), Kung was portrayed as the only one who had absolutely no problem with base treachery.

Meanwhile, the next issue of Wonder Woman features the return of an actual villain from 1940s Wonder Woman comics. You can bet we’ll be talking about that!

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