Monday, August 31, 2009

Third Angry Asian Man Contest Winner: Wildstyle

Also posted at angry asian man.


And now, the third winning entry from the Secret Identities Superhero Contest, where readers were asked to submit their own original idea for an Asian American superhero. This one, WILDSTYLE by Tiffany Namwong, received a special honor as our first-day contest winner. Here it is, as rendered by artist A.L. Baroza.


We already commented on Tiffany Namwong's Wildstyle--and we were particularly delighted to meet her in person at San Diego Comic-Con, where she made good use of the free registration she won in our special first-day mini-contest. As we looked at the other entries, we thought that Tiffany's hero was certainly one of the top three entries overall--but for fairness's sake, we decided to add a fourth winner as well, since Tiffany already got her own copy of SI signed by a horde of contribs at SDCC.

Anyway, for those who missed the original synopsis of Tiffany's hero, which won her a free registration for SDCC, here it is again--as well as A.L. Baroza's awesome visualization of the young Thai tattoo artist. I had the privilege of working with Aldin on the SI story "A Day at CostumeCo," and he brings the same visual flair and painstaking attention to detail to Tiffany's character--even including Wildstyle's demonic nemesis Maya and a horde of uglies to complete the tableau. Thanks, Tiffany and A.L.!


Wildstyle by Tiffany Namwong

Ratana Nantakarn is a teenaged Thai American girl, born into a struggling immigrant family, raised by television and saved from drug addiction by the only adult who's been able to win over her trust: A Buddhist monk who encourages her nascent artistic skills, and helps her gain admission to a prestigious art academy. But after her mentor's work with at-risk youth leads to run-ins with the "connected" local drug syndicate, an anonymous tip leads INS to revoke the monk's visa and deport him back to Thailand. An enraged Ratana drops out of school, returning to the streets to try to find the thugs responsible for her mentor's plight. In doing so, she finds another outlet for her artistic sensibilities, becoming the queen of the Los Angeles tagging scene. Ratana with a spray can on a dimly lit street is like a tiger in the jungle; she uses her artistic skills to feed her ego, but to feed herself she turns to petty crime, and soon falls back into the rabbit-hole of addiction.

Meanwhile, realizing that Ratana is on their trail, the same gangsters who arranged for her mentor's disappearance decide to remove her from the equation as well. She escapes to Thailand after scamming an elderly man looking for a young escort for his summer vacation. She succeeds in locating her old teacher, too late to reconnect with him: He'd been working with a local charity continuing his work with troubled youth, but recently passed away of cancer.

Arjun Gautama, a young Indian American man who has spent the summer volunteering for the charity, tells her that the monk asked for her in his final moments, and gives her his ashes. Ratana takes them to the monk's ancestral village hoping to find a suitable resting place for his remains. Instead, she finds a wrecked and empty hamlet, destroyed by drug lords, whose only surviving structure is the old, abandoned temple in which the monk once served.

In a fit of self-hatred and a desire to vent her frustrations over the fact that her mentor died without anyone to care for him or provide for his final respects, she impulsively pulls out her spray can and desecrates the shrine.

But the temple is not entirely empty: The holy place's long-forgotten guardian spirit rises up out of its altar, calling forth a curse on the blaspheming human invader. Her life and soul are forfeit for her crime, and all seems lost - until the spirit of the old monk rises out of his ashes, and bids the guardian to hold.

The sin Ratana has committed cannot simply be forgiven. But the monk asks that she be given the opportunity - and the power - to earn that forgiveness, using her talent to redeem the crime she committed with that talent.

A great evil, the demon Maya, is attempting to build a dominion on Earth, having taken human form as a pop idol on the verge of superstardom, and enslaving youths with the addictive combination of her music and a devastating new drug.

To defeat Maya and her army of followers, Ratana is given the ability to bring her art to life...using human canvases: She must seek out and befriend a series of youths who are ripe to become "vessels" for Ratana's power. Once these men and women have willingly made the decision to accept the burden, Ratana tattoos their backs the image of a creature and a holy mantra that transforms them into that creature - irrevocably, until Maya is destroyed.

Ratana's mission takes her and Arjun - whose friendship she increasingly grows to depend on, until it evolves into something more - to Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, and finally back to Los Angeles, seeking out new allies, while pursuing Maya and battling her host of demons, hoping to simultaneously save the world and put her own personal demons to rest.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

SI Draw Off! The Optimus Prime Meme

So, for some odd reason, we your humble Secret Identities editors decided to each do a rendition of the iconic Autobot leader Optimus Prime. This all started because Jerry posted a quick sketch of Prime that Parry did and shared it with all of his Facebook friends.

Here's how Parry explains the drawing:
"I was looking over some of the sdcc photos that Marcy took of the iron fist you tattoed on my arm and noticed she called him a 'transformer' because you were originally supposed to draw an optimus prime for me.

Then I remembered you sketching him out on a napkin at Nobu and being amazed at you recalling all his little details.

So I too, starting sketching him out to see if I could rememeber as well (see attached) and [Parry's daughter] Avery came up and asked if I was drawing a robot - to which I proudly replied 'Yes, it is!'.

Avery: Are you practicing so you can draw me a robot someday?

Me: Yep.

Avery: I've never seen you draw a robot before But Jerry could probably draw me a better one.

Me: Muther #!@* "

Seeing that Parry had left out Prime's trademark horns, I started sketching out my own version and sent it to Jerry and Parry. Thus, challenging the rest of the crew to a draw-off. If you look closely, you can see that I sketched this on the back of another document. (I didn't have any blank paper on hand). I did this from memory, but needed help on the Autobot symbol. That thing is hard to draw!

Optimus used to be one of my go-to doodles whenever I was stuck in a boring meeting or class, so I had t o come correct. Only later did I realize that by challenging a group of people that included Jerry Ma, my Optimus was going to get served pretty handily. (More on Jerry's later.)

Up next in the Optimus Gauntlet was our Editor-In-Chief himself, Jeff! I think this is the first time I'd ever seen any of Jeff's doodling. (I've seen Parry sketch a few times. He even did our contribution to the "signing wall" at the Chicago comic shop Challenger's!). Jeff did his sketch freehand and in crayon. He claims his five-year-old son Hudson loves it though. Even if he did draw Optimus with lips (just like the Michael Bay movie). Personally, I think the blue crayon is a nice touch!

Rounding out the editorial team is our Art Director Jerry Ma. Of course he had to go and hand everyone their a**es with his "five-minute" sketch. I think he cheated. For one, well, Jerry's actually an artist, so that's not fair. And #2, okay, so there is no number two. But I guess Parry's daughter Avery was right after all. Jerry "could probably draw a better one."

Up next, artists Bernard Chang and Jef Castro throw down the gauntlet as they transform and roll out their own five-minute Primes.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Next Angry Asian Man Contest Winner: The Sneak

Also posted at angry asian man.


Here's the second installment of the winning entries from the Secret Identities Superhero Contest, where readers were asked to submit their own original idea for an Asian American superhero. This is THE SNEAK by Kevin Cheung, as envisioned b Jerry Ma. Here's are all the details...


And now, The Sneak. We really liked the idea of a B-boy hero, and thought Kevin did a good job of establishing the character; the main things that we felt needed tweaking here involved tightening up the origin story (originally Richie just finds his super-powered sneakers in an alley--gotta amp up the drama a little more than that!) and shaping the powers a little. In Kevin's submission, Richie's powers involved transmuting and manipulating surrounding objects based on his emotions; we changed them to blades that project Richie's emotions into similar kinds of energy (anger generates heat, etc.). The energy blades also tie back to Richie's B-boy name, SAM or Samurai.

Meanwhile, SECRET IDENTITIES art director Jerry volunteered to bring The Sneak to life as soon as he saw the outline. Here are his own thoughts on the hero:

"As a big fan of Planet B-Boy and America's Best Dance Crew, I really wanted to draw this character—especially since I'm actually working on my own B-Boy type of comic as well right now. Unfortunately I'm NOT a graffiti artist...which should be painfully obvious here. But I thought it was necessary for the character to have a 'street' type of logo. So whenever The Sneak becomes big time, he can get a real street artist to redo that for me. Maybe my boy John Franzese (artist for the story MEET JOE in SI) would like to take a stab at that, eh? Lastly, I thought after watching Planet B-Boy again to get into the mood for this drawing, that the 'big' hair was like...necessary. And since he's dubbed 'Sam,' I thought it'd be cool if he wore one of my samurai tshirts. Hope this sketch captures what Kevin had in mind when writing up this character!"


The Sneak by Kevin Cheung

It's the early Eighties, and while the suits and labels haven't discovered it, the underground hip-hop movement is going strong. Richie Leung, an incoming freshman at the University of New York, encounters this rich new culture by accident, when he -- literally -- runs into a B-boy in performing his moves for a small crowd on the sidewalk in front of his dorm; accepting the awestruck Richie's apology, the B-boy invites him to a jam in the South Bronx, where he watches a dominating crew known as The Fresh Ones crush the competition. After the battle, he asks to join the crew and learn their moves. They reluctantly agree, giving him the B-boy name "Samurai" -- or SAM for short.

A few years later, Richie has become one of the crew's leaders, having spent all of his spare time learning, practicing and creating innovative moves. His passion has made him a master, but it's also led to his flunking out of UNY.

When his perfectionist immigrant father discovers that Richie has been spending his time dancing rather than studying, he calls his son home for an epic confrontation. During the fight, his father takes the shoes Richie removed before coming into the apartment -- at least there's one Chinese tradition Richie has continued to follow -- and hurls them out the window, telling him he's ashamed of him, and disowning him from the family. Richie tells him he doesn't care; he has a new family anyway: his brothers in the crew.

But as Richie seeks out his fellow Fresh Ones at their respective homes and hangouts, hoping for somewhere to stay -- and to borrow a fresh pair of shoes -- he's horrified to find each of them dead... murdered, without a clue or explanation as to why. Is it jealousy? Revenge? Something else? All Richie knows is that he's the sole survivor of his brothers -- and he'll only stay that way if he can keep one step ahead of whoever's been hunting them down.

And then, Richie finds himself attacked by dark, faceless figures. Fighting them off with modified B-boy moves, he races through the city, using his skills to dodge and acrobatically avoid his pursuers. Then he makes one bad move -- running down a treacherous blind alley into a dead end. His feet are bloodied by the full speed chase; the alley is full of broken glass and jagged pieces of metal, and the sound of his hunters is growing louder. That's when he notices shadowy figure before him, standing in the buzzing glow of an overhead neon light. As Richie watches, his heart pounding, the figure kneels down on one knee and lays out a pair of sneakers -- a brand new pair of Jags, with emblems on the side that he's never seen before. And then the figure fades into the shadows. Just before his mysterious benefactor disappears, Richie catches a glimpse of his face. He could swear that he looks just like the B-boy who'd invited him to his first jam.

Richie pulls the kicks on, just as his attackers pour into the alley. As they swarm him from all directions, he feels fear in his heart -- and there's a flash as the emblems on his shoes glow with a sudden light, and a pair of dull green blades appear in his hands, which when he swings them against his attackers seems to paralyze them, sending them stumbling to the ground. His fear turns to excitement, and the emblems on his shoes and the blades in his hands turn yellow, and strike now with a shocking electrical charge. As his confidence grows, the excitement turns to anger -- and the blades glow red with searing heat.

The attackers flee before Richie's newfound ability to turn his emotions into energy. Now, as B-boy Sam turned superpowered street samurai The Sneak, Richie decides to turn the tables, tracking down his attackers, uncovering why they've targeted him and his brothers -- and getting his revenge.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Angry Asian Man Contest Winner: Tumbas

Also posted at angry asian man.


As promised, here's the first rendering of the winning entries from the Secret Identities Superhero Contest, where readers were asked to submit their own original idea for an Asian American superhero. This is TUMBAS by Rochell Reyes, as drawn by Jef Castro. And all the details...


We thought this was a well-conceived and nicely developed character, and liked the way the story was set up to establish two brothers as equal and opposite forces -- a classic face-off of nemeses. At first we were a bit put off because the concept does have quite a bit of similarity with the story "Trinity" in SECRET IDENTITIES (which, written and drawn by Greg LaRocque, features not two but three half-siblings who are the children of a super-soldier and have each inherited some of his powers -- and dog tags are central to that story as well!), but we ultimately decided that this character complemented rather than duplicated "Trinity" and gave the creator the benefit of the doubt (Tumbas/Trinity crossover, anyone?).

In tightening the character and editing this origin, we made some small changes -- increasing Tumbas's age slightly from 13 to 15 (would a 13 year old be able to wear his dad's military uniform?) and altered Tumbas's powers slightly. To make the half-brothers more clearly an equal match, Tumbas has super-strength and heightened vision, while his sibling has super-speed and the power of invisibility. Strength versus speed and sight versus camouflage are classic counters. We also gave him a limitation -- his powers are initially limited, requiring "recharge," and must be triggered by adrenaline and an act of will. It's always better to give a hero room to grow!

And now, here's Tumbas, as drawn by Jef Castro, SECRET IDENTITIES' senior artist; Jef chose to draw John as he imagined him immediately after he discovering his powers, rather than "in action" in his dad's military uniform -- so you see him in this pic in all his surfer-boy glory!


TUMBAS by Rochell Reyes

John Reyes is an ordinary 15-year-old Filipino American surfer kid from the San Diego coast. His name and complexion -- and the fact that he lives right next to the America's southern border -- often leads people to mistake him for Mexican. On the other, he's also often asked if he's Hawaiian, Samoan, Chinese, and at least one time, Egyptian. His ambiguous ethnic identity would be a source of irritation for many, but John has learned to take advantage of it, to fit in, or even disappear, as needed.

That skill at camouflage may be a legacy of his father, Marco Reyes, a 15-year veteran of Army military intelligence who recently was reported dead after a covert mission in Afghanistan; although the Army was unable to recover Marco's body, his unit's commanding officer has stated that the circumstances of Marco's death make it impossible that he might have survived.

When John's mother Jaya tearfully tells him the news, she expects him to be devastated; any other normal 13-year-old would be. But John tells her he feels nothing. His father's profession has made him an absentee for most of John's young life; how, he asks his mother, could he miss someone he'd never connected with at all?

A week after the news of Marco's death, John and Jaya receive a small package in the mail -- a box, containing a small metal rectangle bearing the name and rank of his father, LT. MARCO REYES, U.S. ARMY; his father's old dog tag from basic training. Jaya places the tag and its chain around John's neck, encouraging him to use it to remember his father, and to release whatever he has bottled up inside of him.

Later that day, sitting on the beach and holding the tag in one hand, John tries unsuccessfully to remember and mourn his father. In a fit of anger, he picks up a small rock and hurls it at the ocean. As he releases the stone, he feels a surge go through his body; when the rock hits the water, it doesn't skip -- it skates along at supersonic speed, raising a foot-high wake and sending mist and steam rising behind it as it disappears into the horizon.

John, shaken, tries to figure out what happened. He couldn't have thrown that stone that fast -- no human could. But somehow, he did. Piecing together what happened, he realizes that the sudden flash of strength came as he held Marco's tag and focused on his father's memory. But, try as he might, no amount of concentration can bring that power back.

Remembering that beneath his parents' bed is a foot locker of Marco's old memorabilia, John races home, hoping to discover some kind of clue. But the chest contains an old uniform, some snow globes collected from around the world, pictures of Marco's Army buddies. As John grits back tears of frustration and squeezes his father's dog tag in his fist, he feels another surge and the world goes white -- then refocuses with an entirely new perspective. He can now see with microscopic detail and perfect clarity, and even, as his eyes dart around the room, view the interiors of hollow objects. He blinks in surprise, and his hypervision fades, revealing the world in its ordinary state again...but not before he sees that the foot locker has a false bottom. John slides the bottom back. Beneath it is a yellowing notebook -- a diary going back to Marco's days before he'd met John's mother, recounting his days as a promising young high school grad who'd signed up with the Army to honor his late father, a Filipino veteran of the Second World War.

What they reveal is that Marco wasn't an ordinary member of military intelligence, but a recruit for a secret covert unit of super-soldiers, volunteers to undergo a series of experiments that gave them inhuman abilities. But then the diary stops, and John notices that a sheaf of pages have been torn from it. The only other thing left, tucked into the binding of the notebook, is an old black and white photograph -- a Polaroid of his father with his arm around a young Asian woman, who has a laughing baby in her arms. The woman, who looks East Asian, is not John's mother. The baby is not John.

In the days that follow, John learns more about his powers, activated by adrenaline and the memory of his father; the tag is a trigger, but the abilities seem inborn, a legacy of Marco's mutated genes. Unfortunately, the powers have limits; he can use either his strength or his vision, but not both simultaneously, and he can maintain them only for a short period of time. And after using either, he has to allow them to recharge; at first, he's unable to summon a "surge" more than once a day, though as he trains himself, using his father's old uniform and a souvenir mask his mother had brought back from a visit to the Philippines as his "costume," he quickly reduces the time lapse to an hour.

And then comes an encounter that will change John's life again forever. As he prepares to finish high school, San Diego is hit with a string of "silent robberies": Banks are being broken into and their contents stolen, without a trace of evidence -- except for a name graffiti spraypainted on the walls of every ransacked bank: "MARCO REYES."

The authorities question John and Jaya, investigating whether Lt. Reyes is in fact truly dead, and asking if they have any connection to the crimes. The combination of the harsh interrogation and the reminder of the loss sends Jaya into a state of depression, leading John to investigate the crimes himself, to clear his late father's name and raise his mother's broken spirits.

And that's when he encounters Marco Jr. -- the young boy in the secret photo, John's half-brother and elder by a year. Marco had met Marco Jr.'s mother, married her, and fathered Marco Jr. during his secret training overseas, at the USAG Humphreys base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. But when Marco Jr.'s mother passed away from an accident, his grandparents barred Marco from seeing him again, and ordered him to cut off all ties.

But upon Marco's death, each of his sons received one of his two dog tags -- activating the hidden secret within their chromosomes. John has inherited and is learning to use his father's superhuman strength and paranormal vision; Marco Jr., unnatural speed and the power to blend into the shadows. Fueled by rage at their deceased father (enhanced by the lies he's been told by his late mother's family), Marco Jr. has made it his goal to destroy Lt. Reyes's name; John, meanwhile, adopts the alias "Tumbas" (which means "equal" in Tagalog), John goes on a mission to stop his half-brother and clear his father's reputation -- while discovering the truth about the side of Marco Reyes that neither he nor his mother ever knew.

To learn more about Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology, visit the website here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Angry Asian Man Contest Winners

Cross posted at angry asian man


All right. Many thanks to all who entered last month's Secret Identities Superhero Contest. You were asked to submit your own ideas for an original Asian American superhero. I apologize it's taken so long to announce the winners, but the Secret Identities editors are busy guys. After much deliberation, we have our three superheroes:
TUMBAS by Rochell Reyes
THE SNEAK by Kevin Cheung
HUSH by Juli Martin
And a special honor to our first-day contest winner:
WILDSTYLE by Tiffany Namwong
Nice work to all of you. They each get a signed copy of Secret Identities, and get their hero rendered by a Secret Identities artist. We'll unveil the completed sketches of each winning hero, including their descriptions, later this week.

Thanks again to everyone who submitted a superhero. We had an awesome, overwhelming response from readers who came up with some fantastic ideas. To learn more about Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology, go here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Reviewing G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra

So Jeff requested I repost the G.I. Joe movie review I originally posted over here. I guess, since it is the #1 movie in America, and that S.I. contributor Larry Hama was a consultant on the film (though his onscreen cameo* was left on the cutting room floor! Unconscionable!), it is tangentially related enough to Secret Identities to be posted here. I guess.

*to check out footage of Larry's cameo, see this behind-the-scenes video in which Larry discusses how he came to the world of the Joes.

Anyway, on to the review.

Since I reviewed Transformers: ROTF LMAO back in June, I guess it's only fair that I talk about my thoughts on G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra as well. (Interesting/creepy side note: when I came home from seeing Transformers, I turned on the computer to find out Michael Jackson was hospitalized/dying. Last night, after watching G.I. Joe, Twitter tells me John Hughes had passed. It's true, the '80s are slowly disintegrating from existence.)

OK, first up, shocker of shockers, I actually kind of liked the movie. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't good (at all), but it was undeniably fun. (Full disclosure, I saw the move for free at a vintage-style drive-in with some cool friends, so these factors could have attributed to the enjoyment factor). I think I liked it on a visceral level (similar to why I was a fan of the cartoon, methinks--which also, when you really get down to it, weren't very good either). Of course, I would have preferred a movie that adhered a little closer to Larry Hama's epic comic stories (especially his version of the Snake Eyes-Storm Shadow relationship), but that's probably asking too much.

I'll say this, if you enjoyed the cartoons, you'll like the movie. My brother Raymond observed too that if you were a 12-year-old, the cinematic G.I. Joe experience would have been a revelation. And I can't disagree. There's just something geeky cool about seeing all the cool vehicles and weapons wreaking havoc and blowing up cities. And you can't leave out the badass katana fights--ninjas make everything better after all. The one thing the movie got right, unlike Transformers, is that each of the characters had a distinct personality. Even if they were all wearing black leather, X-Men suits, each character on the Joe team--Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Breaker, and Heavy Duty--had a unique role and function. I actually kind of wish the movie was more about them than the two leads we got--Channing Tatum's Duke and Marlon Wayans' Ripcord. Tatum takes the notion of "wooden acting" to a whole new level. Seriously, this dude makes Hayden Christensen seem like a dynamic thespian. And while Wayans' Ripcord was a likable character, I would have liked him more if he weren't channeling 1997-era Will Smith. I was also disappointed in Dennis Quaid's General Hawk. Hawk was one of my favorite Joes growing up, and Quiad just sleepwalks through the whole thing. And also, would it have been so bad to let him wear a brown bomber jacket and green camo pants for just one scene in the flick? Is that asking too much?

On the Cobra side of things, I thought Sienna Miller was okay as Baroness (though I would have preferred the vague, eastern European accent she had on the cartoon) and dug Christopher Eccleston's snively, conniving interpretation of Destro. I'm undecided about Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Cobra Commander. He was appropriately over the top, but I couldn't get passed the redesign of the character, especially during the supposedly iconic reveal of him as "The Commander." I think that scene would have worked better if JG-L was wearing a mask that actually evoked one of Cobra Commander's many looks and not the weird, clear skull-looking helmet they gave him. I guess my problem with Cobra Commander and the Neo-Vipers is the same problem I have with the robot model designs in Transformers, namely that they are over-designed. I mean, the Cobra Trooper look is pretty hard to mess up. They're wearing blue military uniforms and blue helmets with red or black scarves over their faces! Why make them look like Imperial Stormtroopers crossed with an armadillo? I figured the looks of the Joes and Cobras would not be so difficult to translate to live action, so I don't understand the need to redesign everything. Some designs are iconic enough to stay the same, no? I mean they got the looks of Baroness, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow (for the most part) right, so why not the others?

So what did I like? Honestly, I liked the little touches. The most geek-out moment for me was when Breaker asked for a piece of gum and blew a bubble while in the car. I thought that was awesome! A nice little touch for the fans. I thought Snake Eyes was pretty cool (despite the mouth on the mask and lack of UZI. Seriously, Snake Eyes packs a glock? WTF?). I do wish the backstory of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow wasn't as simplistic as the movie made it seem. But it was serviceable. I hope there's more focus on them in Part 2. Basically, I want a Snake Eyes movie. (Hey, if all the X-Men movies can be about Wolverine, than all the Joe movies can be about Snake Eyes!) And Snake Eyes looks absolutely badass in a hood and trenchcoat!

I liked that the Night Raven, the C.L.A.W., the S.H.A.R.C.s, and the U.S.S. Flagg all made appearances. And Baroness' tricked out HumVee was essentially a modern version of the Cobra Stinger. The Pit was pretty cool too. I also liked that the Joe's arctic gear resembled Snow Job's.

Bottom line: it was a bunch of dumb fun. I really wanted to dislike the movie, but I have to admit I was entertained for two hours. It was definitely better than both Transformers movies, and there's a (naive) part of me that hopes they fix what they got wrong for the sequel. What can I say? At heart, I'm a diehard Joe fan. Larry Hama practically defined my childhood. I was gonna like it no matter what.