Nineteen years ago, Comic Shop News touted the first issue of an offbeat Caliber Press series called Billy Nguyen, Private Eye, written by John Hartman and starring a Seattle-based Vietnamese gumshoe who, for some reason, was drawn with a Sub-Mariner-like face by artist Stan Shaw. The Namor resemblance was one of many in-jokes in a satirical P.I. title that broke the fourth wall Moonlighting style and had Nguyen acknowledge he was a character in a comic.
CSN's stills from Billy Nguyen looked interesting, but what was especially cool about the comic was that for once, the hero, even with the Namor hairdo and pointy ears, looked like many of the folks from my predominantly Vietnamese part of town. That's something you didn't--and still don't--see everyday.
So what do I do when I strut into the comic shop and leaf through a copy of the first issue of the first comic with an Asian American hero I ever came across?
Stupid me who at the time wasn't used to comics that didn't involve superheroes, Star Trek or Dick Tracy skims through Billy Nguyen #1, thinks, "This comic's too weird," and then closes it and puts it down.
I now regret putting that comic back in its rack. I don't even remember what I bought instead. It was probably some lame comic based on The Adventures of Ford Fairlane or Doogie Howser or something.
|Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology|
Billy Nguyen never took off and faded into obscurity (it's so obscure the Thrilling Detective entry about the character isn't even sure how long the Caliber incarnation lasted: "2 issues?"). Meanwhile, I grow up to become an angry Asian man, develop an Asian American consciousness and decide that one of my major goals in life is to create a tough, assertive and humorous Asian American hero like Nguyen, whether it'd be for comics, TV or film, so that I can help diminish the stench left by white writers(*) and their stereotypical creations, like that corny and effete assclown Charlie Chan. When Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology chose me to develop a new Asian American hero, I couldn't believe one of my goals was becoming a reality.
(*) Not all of them are clueless about the Asian American experience. The two most relatable Asian American male characters on the big screen in years, Harold and Kumar, were created by Jewish guys--Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg.
Once in a while, someone puts out a comic about a detective or cop of color like Angeltown or Gun Fu. Every time such a comic drops, I try not to pass up the opportunity to buy and support it, after I stupidly rejected Billy Nguyen #1 when I was a kid.
This post is essentially a plea for someone, anyone, to revive this character. There aren't enough Asian American protagonists in the detective genre. Does Hartman still own the rights to Nguyen? Because if nobody wants to try to revive him, then maybe I should do it.