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Asian-Pacific American Week

Tuesday Q&A: Greg Pak/Jeff Parker/Fred Van Lente

The writing trio talks about guiding two of Marvel's most popular Asian-American characters

By Kevin Mahadeo

One currently leads a group of aliens, robots and monkey men as super heroes out to clean up their self-sullied name. The other currently holds the title "Prince of Power," serving as the self-proclaimed champion to fallen hero Hercules. One resides in the luxurious Hidden City located underneath San Francisco, former headquarters to the warriors of Genghis Khan. The other spends his days in New York City as the head of the Olympus Group, a corporation staffed by mythological gods.

One goes by Jimmy Woo; the other, Amadeus Cho.

Both kick major ass and represent two of the most awesome Asian-American characters in the Marvel Universe.

Woo first appeared in the pages of YELLOW CLAW from Atlas Comics, the precursor to Marvel. Decades later, writer Jeff Parker revitalized the character with his AGENTS OF ATLAS limited series and has since brought him to prominence as leader of the Atlas group.

Created by writer Greg Pak and artist Takeshi Miyazawa, Cho went from starring in a short story in AMAZING FANTASY #15 to current protagonist of the newly-launched HEROIC AGE: PRINCE OF POWER limited series written by Pak and Fred Van Lente.

In celebration of Asian-Pacific American Week, Marvel.com spoke with Parker, Pak and Van Lente about the writing their respective characters and more.


Jimmy Woo

Marvel.com: Jimmy Woo is a character who's been around for quite some time in the Marvel Universe. When were you first introduced to the character and what were your thoughts on him?

Jeff Parker: Well, when I very first read him, he was helping Dum Dum Dugan chase Godzilla in the [S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier], and I thought he was pretty dang cool. But when I began thinking of how the Agents of Atlas would come together and read him in the early Atlas stories, I realized he was even cooler than that. Jimmy was suave with his 50's vibe, all taking time out from fighting [The Yellow Claw] to put the moves on [the villain's] niece Suwan.

Marvel.com: How does Jimmy's Asian heritage play into his character? It holds ties to The Yellow Claw, but how do you think it shapes him as a person?

Jeff Parker: It's important; his parents came to America and pushed him to excel, like many Chinese-American families, and he rose up quickly in the FBI as a result. Of course, he didn't know that Master Plan Chu-Yellow Claw's real name-had even grander plans for him, like running the Eternal Empire of Genghis Khan. But in many ways, Jimmy is a real citizen of the world. He identifies as an American, but fits in well in the East too. He's very pragmatic in an Eastern tradition. He will do whatever gets the job done. He treats everybody very fairly, and doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve. Jimmy keeps cool under pressure in that way a team likes to see from a leader.

Marvel.com: What's it like writing one of the more prominent Asian characters in comics? Is writing Jimmy any different than writing any other character?

Jeff Parker: No, because I don't think of him as different, really. He's a very average guy who takes everything as it comes, and responds with all he's got.

ATLAS #2 cover by Carlos Pacheco
Marvel.com: What can you say about what's coming up for Jimmy and the Agents in the new ATLAS series? What can readers expect to see?

Jeff Parker: The 3-D Man enters the world of ATLAS, and he gets a good view at how good a leader Jimmy is. And it puts Jimmy back in FBI investigative mode, which he's very comfortable with.

Marvel.com: What does the Heroic Age mean for the Agents? What is their place and mission statement in this new Marvel U?

Jeff Parker: They don't need to pretend to be criminal to infiltrate Osborn's crooked organization now, but they are still associated with hundreds of villainous operations and have to reform them or shut them down.

Marvel.com: As a final question, I'm also talking with Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente about Amadeus Cho. Trash talking time: who is cooler--Jimmy or Amadeus?

Jeff Parker: Oh I don't think even Amadeus would claim to be cooler than Jimmy, who is just as hip as he was in the 50's. But Cho has the Geek-Cool aspect all wrapped up and owned. Together they dominate both ends of the cool spectrum.



Marvel.com: Greg, what went into creating the character of Amadeus Cho? How did you come up with him?

Greg Pak: Back in 2005, editor Mark Paniccia challenged a bunch of us relatively new Marvel writers to re-imagine characters based on old Golden Age names that Marvel owned.  I picked "Mastermind Excello" from the list, mainly because it was the most ridiculously over-the-top. And for some reason, I'd had a hankering to go a little nuts with dialogue by

HEROIC AGE: PRINCE OF POWER #2 cover by Khoi Pham
writing a very talky character. Someone with a brain as big as that name implies seemed likely to fit the bill. I'd also been thinking a lot about that crazy time we sometimes hit as teenagers when anything seems possible, when we're immortal and brilliant and know exactly who we are and what's wrong with the world. That's a kind of deeply human cockiness that seemed very appealing and sympathetic to me, since it's so clearly headed for a fall. Finally, as I began to brainstorm, I realized I'd stumbled across a fun way to undermine the so-called model minority stereotype of brilliant and hyper-efficient but emotionless, obedient, and inscrutable Asian-Americans. With Amadeus, I went for brilliant but eminently scrutable, if that's a word. He's a kid who wears his emotions on his sleeve, who almost always says exactly what he's thinking, who has so much cockiness and so little impulse control that he feels right at home with folks like The Hulk and Hercules. And yet he's vulnerable enough to immediately identify with and protect an orphaned coyote pup he finds on the road. Add in the insanely great character design by Takeshi Miyazawa and we were on our way.

Marvel.com: What were your thoughts when you were first introduced to the character, Fred?

Fred Van Lente: He struck me as a great character to build a story around because for all his genius and power, he definitely had a snarkier-than-thou attitude that begged to be taken down a peg. And of course hubris is such an important theme in ancient Greek literature [that] he was a perfectly apt character to set along a path to be tutored by Hercules. Really, that's what the first INCREDIBLE HERCULES arc was: Amadeus' comeuppance and really understanding maybe his smarts weren't everything; that he also had to listen to somebody like Hercules, who has literally thousands of years of this adventuring stuff under his belt.

Marvel.com: What do you like about Amadeus, both in terms of his character in general and in writing him?

Fred Van Lente: He certainly has fierce loyalty to his friends, like Hercules and Hulk, which borders on obsessive mania. And check out that new suit. He is a snazzy dresser, accessorized with mace. I oftentimes teasingly denounce Greg because he created a character smarter than I am. I have spent many long hours hunched over Wikipedia looking up various things-and straining to understand them-that makes it sound like I, and

HEROIC AGE: PRINCE OF POWER #3 cover by Carlo Pagulayan
therefore Amadeus, know what I'm talking about when it comes to quantum mechanics multiverse theory, retro open-source operating systems, and, in just the latest script we just turned in, the correct application of chlorination in the pharmacological synthesis of sedatives. So, once more: Thanks, Greg. Thanks a lot.

Greg Pak: Anything for you, buddy.

Marvel.com: How would you say Amadeus' Asian heritage plays into his character?

Fred Van Lente: Though some say it takes chocolate and junk food to fuel Amadeus' super-smarts, his mother, Helen, whom we met in INCREDIBLE HERCULES #131, knows it's really mandoo dumplings and miyeok guk soup.

Greg Pak: We've never addressed it directly, but I'd hazard a guess that Amadeus's sympathy for the underdog has something to do with an identification with outsiders that a Korean kid growing up in very non-Korean parts of Arizona might have developed. There are also subtle moments throughout when Amadeus's specific Korean-American experience comes to the fore. Amadeus has a huge amount of unspoken dedication to and guilt associated with his parents, which isn't uncommon among Americanized children of immigrants of all backgrounds. Of course, Amadeus's guilt is considerably amped up by the fact that his parents were murdered by people chasing Amadeus himself.

Marvel.com: What's it like for you writing one of the more prominent Asian characters in comics? Do you think it's any different than writing any other character?

Fred Van Lente: Not really. I'm one of these Pollyanna types who think we're all basically the same under the skin. Amadeus also came to me as a fully-formed, fully-fleshed out unique person thanks to Mr. Pak, so I've never had a chance to think of him as "that Korean-American kid I write." To me, he's always been Amadeus Cho. He's no one but himself, and while his Korean heritage is certainly a huge part of that, it's still only one part. We're very lucky to live in a time where we have an opportunity to work with such diverse characters in comics. One of the best new villains to come along at Marvel in a dog's age is Dan Slott's Mister Negative, who's Chinese-Fujian Province, specifically-and I got to explore his origin and deal with the Chinese-American immigrant experience in last year's DARK Mister Negative REIGN: MISTER NEGATIVE [limited series]. And Black-One, the Spartan squad leader from my recently wrapped HALO: BLOOD LINE [series], is Filipino. So Amadeus isn't even the only Asian-American character I write at Marvel.

Greg Pak: I agree with Fred that people are people and if you're willing to do the work and open yourself up as a writer and a human being, you can write anyone from any background. That being said, there are aspects of Amadeus that I don't even have to think about because we share some of the same background. I immediately knew that Amadeus's favorite food is mi yuk guk, for example. And I kind of knew instinctively how the nuances should play in the way Amadeus reacted to seeing his parents in the "Underworld" arc. That stuff's right there under my skin. In a strange way, I felt the same instinctive connection with the young Magneto character and his German-Jewish family in MAGNETO TESTAMENT.  Maybe I've internalized some cultural nuances from the German side of my family. Or maybe the immigrant Korean experiences of the Korean side of my family resonate in a surprising way with the Old World mentality and manners of Magneto's family. Probably all of the above. Which again goes to Fred's point: people are people. I think the challenge is being willing to embrace a character's specific background and behavior and trust that the truth of that depiction will let that universality shine through.

Marvel.com: As the creator of the character, what are your thoughts on how popular Amadeus has become, Greg? Did you know this would always happen? Did you see the quantum possibilities when creating him? Wait, are you really Amadeus Cho?

Greg Pak: Ray Bradbury once wrote about the feeling he had the first time he wrote a story that he knew was good. He felt it in his bones; he realized he'd finally pulled it together. I had no idea how far the character would go or whether comics fans would like him or any of that. But when I saw that first finished Amadeus story with Tak's gorgeous art, Christina Strain's beautiful colors, Artmonkey's awesome arrow captions, I felt good.

HEROIC AGE: PRINCE OF POWER #4 cover by Salva Espin
Very good.

Then Amadeus won a fan poll that Marvel.com ran, which filled me with warm feelings and much love for all of his fans and supporters, who have continued blogging and talking about him ever since.  And with the unflagging support of editors Mark Paniccia and Nate Cosby, I wrote him into World War Hulk as a key supporting character, a role that wasn't planned from the beginning, but was perfectly set up by his close-encounter with the Hulk in his first appearance. In a similarly serendipitous way, Amadeus's immersion into the world of the Olympians was by no means planned from the beginning, but somehow made perfect sense, down to his very name, which means "loves God" or "beloved by God," depending on whose interpretation you go with. And of course having the brilliant and attractive Fred Van Lente come on board as a co-writer with INCREDIBLE HERCULES opened up a whole new world of possibilities for the character that I'd never have come up with all by my lonesome.  

Huge credit is also due to David Gabriel, who was the first to suggest that Hercules and Amadeus pair up in a team book; Marvel promotion king Arune Singh, who's been an unflagging supporter; Dan Slott and Jeff Parker, who have had fun writing the character in their own books; Nate Cosby and Jordan White, whose recap pages and sound effect contributions have entered the realm of legend; all of the art teams and letterers who have gone above and beyond to make every issue something special; and most importantly, the retailers, reviewers, and readers who have given the character so much love and support.  Pardon me while I wipe a manly tear of gratitude from the corner of my eye. Oh, and now all y'all go buy the book, please, so we can keep writing more. Hugs!

Marvel.com: I'm also talking with Jeff Parker about Jimmy Woo. That said, who is cooler, Jimmy or Amadeus?

Fred Van Lente: Well, before PRINCE OF POWER, I would have said super-spy Jimmy, because Amadeus is many things, but he's too much of a know-it-all to be "cool". But now that the gods themselves have prophesized he's going to be the greatest hero of the Heroic Age-after rejecting Captain America, Thor and Iron Man-now it's definitely Amadeus. I mean, they're the gods. I'm not going to argue with them. That, and I really love the suit.


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Amadaus does indeed rock, and Woo too, but all I want to know is when will they bring back Hercules. I loved that book while it was going on.