Superhero stories are fun, escapist adventures — or at least they’re supposed to be. This is what the genre looks like in 2016: Daredevil explores vigilantism in rotten Hell’s Kitchen, Captain America: Civil War uses superhuman regulation as a Second Amendment parable, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a rain-drenched, dimly-lit showdown of xenophobia.
The genre is full of characters acting out metaphors to socio-political conversations or deconstructing the genre itself. And thanks to Alan Moore, that means writers inflict their superheroes with flaws and guilt. Even the fun, family-friendly The Flash has some moping.
But one guy isn’t dragging his feet: Amadeus Cho, teenage genius and now Hulk in the Marvel Universe. The Totally Awesome Hulk, from writer Greg Pak, follows Amadeus’s adventures after the original Hulk, Bruce Banner, mysteriously disappears. In the few issues released so far, Amadeus has been out on a joy ride: There are other titles at Marvel and DC with protagonists having fun, but nobody is living it up quite like Amadeus.
The image above is from Totally Awesome Hulk #1, the first time readers saw Amadeus turn on his beast. In just two pages, Amadeus showed more attitude than the guilt-ridden and reserved Banner about his gamma radiation. Right on the cover, Banner’s first Hulk issue asked: “Is he a man, or a monster?”
Banner’s Hulk has been, for decades, a dramatic tragedy. He is Marvel’s Jekyll and Hyde, a mild-mannered smarty whose emotions make him a monster. It’s poetic and kind of dark. No matter what cause he smashes for, Banner is always going to become a beast, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies play this angle to primal levels. Hulk’s transformation in 2012’s The Avengers was tonally portrayed like a horror movie in the middle of a summer action movie.
Totally Awesome Hulk isn’t immune to darkness. Amadeus has shown bits of scariness and rage, and there’s an ominous foreshadowing in issue #1 that Amadeus’s Hulk will have problem down the road.
But that’s later. For now, Amadeus, with spiky hair and stretchable board shorts, is a super-powered Asian bro, a personality that’s very real (and very rare) in pop culture. That archetype is finally being recognized, thanks to comedies like Fresh Off the Boat and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Amadeus Cho stands, worthy, right beside them.
Marvel shows cultural prescience through Amadeus, who is so unlike many other superheroes out on comic book shelves, or in the cineplex. The Totally Awesome Hulk lives up to its title, and for fans of the genre who want something different — really different — they don’t have to look far. After Batman v Superman bums you out, peep the comic book fans actually enjoying themselves. They’ll help out.