In 1965, some twenty years after World War II and during the civil rights movement in the United States, DC Comics published Wonder Woman #157 featuring "the most startling villain ever devised" --- the Communist Chinese agent and mastermind Egg Fu - a supersized egg-shaped monstrosity with a Fu Manchu mustache as a weapon. I think most people would agree that this was a racist caricature, maybe not the hateful vitriol of neo-Nazism or the Klu Klux Klan but there's definitely malicious and spiteful aspect to the ridiculous of the character. It is a literal example of de-humanizing your enemy and Communist China was the enemy of this country at that time [and some people would argue they still are].
In 2006, DC Comics introduced a new version of Egg Fu called Chang Tzu in the pages of the popular weekly mini-series 52.
In subsequent interviews, a couple of the writers of 52 claimed the rehabilitation of the Egg Fu was one of their greater achievements in the series. Can someone please explain how the character is rehabilitated? At what one point does the re-imagined version stop being racist?
The fact is it wasn't the moustache or the bad English that made the original character racist. It was the intent. It was born of ignorance, insensitivity and a certain amount of cruelty. It is only barely tolerable in the historical context of the Cold War.
I understand that many comic book readers who read the original stories didn't see the racist elements and only saw the beguiling oddity of an egg-shaped villain, at least I hope that's the case. Maybe they're ignorant about the origins of theFu Manchu stereotype being "the yellow peril incarnate" or that the name probably came from a Chinese-American food dish as a joke.
So is it possible to only take only the "positive" elements of idea, symbol or character and discard the rest? Or are some things so tainted beyond repair or rehabilitation? For example, the Confederate flag -- Is it a symbol of slavery, oppression and racism or is it a symbol of states right and southern pride and history, or both? If there is legitimate feelings on both sides, whose side do you favor or is it possible to favor a side?
But it now seems to have gain acceptance within the comic book industry. Just google the term"Egg Fu" and "comic books" and 830 entries come up. I can't imagine that a couple of years ago.
I want to be clear, this isn't about political-correctness to me but acceptable social norms. In my opinion, this character is like a tasteless bad joke. An occasional tasteless bad joke at someone's expense is to be expected and tolerated --- an ongoing and persistent bad joke suggests an underlying problem, especially if there is no balancing positive influence.
Some many argue that I'm being too sensitive or that I can't take a joke, and you might be right. But the question I have is, why make the joke in the first place? Knowing the history of the character, why bring it back? Why the deep infatuation with the character? And what does that say about you?
Let me end this by saying that I don't think any of the writers of 52 are racist. I love Geoff Johns' work and I think Grant Morrison is one of the most creative forces in the industry. No one is perfect and I think this is one of their mistakes. Heck, I even made an egg joke in the blog post title, though it was more ironic commentary.