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‘The Good Asian #1:’ Advance Comic Book Review

The ambitious, new Chinatown noir from writer Pornsak Pichetshote and artist Alexandre Tefenkgi takes a measured first step, but leaves a lasting impression. The Good Asian #1 is more than just a gripping mystery and meticulously researched historical fiction, it's a thoughtful examination of identity and timely reflection of modern anxieties in the Asian-American community.

It's 1936 and Hawaii is the only place a Chinese-American like Edison Hark can become a police detective. Now, Detective Hark has arrived in San Francisco, and he doesn't feel welcome. He comes face to face with the effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act, a real law that barred Chinese immigration to the United States for over half a century. Chinatown is brimming with crime, exploitation, and police brutality. But Hark is there to help the ailing patriarch of a wealthy family, his adopted father, find the missing Chinese-American maid that he fell in love with. As his investigation begins, Hark gets entangled in a murder and comes into direct conflict with a racist San Fransisco cop.

The first installment of the nine-issue series acts as a character study for the protagonist and seemingly stops short of the story's first inciting incident. Hark possesses all the familiar traits of a self-loathing and flawed noir anti-hero and displays the unique hallmarks of an Asian-American identity crisis. Hard-boiled detective characters are supposed to operate in the gray area between criminal and police, but Hark also walks between the adversarial worlds of white Americans and Asian-Americans.

Pichetshote does an excellent job establishing his main character’s inner conflict. Hark was raised in a white family, but always felt like an outsider. He's kind to a young Chinese migrant he meets in an immigrant detention center, but brutish and severe with a Chinese criminal he encounters on the street. He's surrounded by enmity and violence against Chinese-Americans, but he's only in town to help a rich, old white man. You can see that he is struggling with all of it, and as a person of mixed race myself (Chinese and Italian), I understand this dichotomy.

Tantamount to his admirable reverence for noir storytelling is Pichetshote's dedication to historical accuracy. He strategically uses these details to show the reader how the Chinese Exclusion Act shaped a generation of Americans and still impacts us today. It sounds cliche, but Pichetshote and Tefenkgi both work hard to erect Chinatown as a character in the narrative. Despite the thick lines and pervasive shadows, the neighborhood teems with activity, and danger lurks around every corner. Layouts are lively and tight with four rows on almost every page, but the illustrations are subtle and cool like classic noir cinema. Black surrounds every panel, and Lee Loughridge’s colors set a beautiful, but melancholy, mood.

As thorough as I tried to be in this review, I've only covered a portion of the challenging questions raised in The Good Asian #1. The mystery is just starting to unfold for Hark, and the book has barely scratched the surface of the intriguing themes it presents.


Creative Team: Pornsak Pichetshote (writer), Alexandre Tefenkgi (artist), Lee Loughridge (colors), Jeff Powell (letters), Dave Johnson (cover)
Publisher: Image Comics
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