Monkey Prince Vol. 1: Enter the Monkey | Review
Monkey Prince Vol. 1: Enter the Monkey
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Artist: Bernard Chang
DC Comics; $24.99
Introducing brand-new characters to the jaded, finicky readers who read superhero comics is a notoriously difficult thing to do, and it’s one of the reasons publishers DC and Marvel so often introduce new characters as “legacy” characters, new secret identities recycling older heroes’ names, costumes and/or powers.
Gene Luen Yang and Bernard Chang are doing something similar with their introduction of a brand-new hero into the DC Universe, but their Monkey Prince is based on a character that predates comics altogether. He’s the son of—and thus a kinda sorta legacy version of—the legendary Monkey King of the 16th century novel Journey to the West and Chinese myth.
When we first meet Marcus Sun, he doesn’t know of his extraordinary origins. He’s just a fairly normal high school kid whose adopted parents move around a lot, and who suffers from panic attacks based on a traumatic event in his childhood: One rainy night, he saw Batman threatening his parents in their Gotham apartment. Ever since, bats, water and thunderstorms have caused him to panic. (Adding Batman to your comic is a pretty good strategy for endearing a new character to DC fans.)
Marcus’ life takes a turn when he meets his new school’s janitor, who is actually Piggy from Journey to the West in disguise. Piggy becomes Marcus’ shifu or teacher, explaining how he can transform into his monkey form by shouting “Transform!” in Chinese, and thus gain access to the many of the powers of his missing father, including martial arts prowess and the ability to ride on a cloud.
As to the timing, it happens that demons from another dimension have set their sights on Earth again, and with the Monkey King himself missing, it’s up to his son to step up.
As for what any of this has to do with Batman, it so happens Marcus attends the same high school as Robin Damian Wayne, who is therefore there when the Monkey Prince makes his first appearance, and Damian summons his father to the scene. Meanwhile, The Penguin has become possessed by an ancient demon of Chinese myth, and it will take the combined forces of Batman, Robin, The Monkey Prince and Piggy to exorcise it and save Marcus’ parents, who are caught up in the affair because of their work—while Marcus believes they are freelance scientists, they are actually freelance mad scientists who serve as henchpeople to various villains. Like the Penguin. And, in the start of the second story arc included in this volume, Black Manta.
Yang, who has been writing on and off for DC for some time now, does some of his best work in mainstream super-comics to date here, finding a pretty perfect balance between the super-heroic and the mythic, blending the story of the Monkey King into the DC Universe fairly seamlessly.
Chang similarly has a pretty great design for the hero, who looks to belong to the world of superheroes and Chinese legend simultaneously. The artwork is fairly standard DC house style, though, and thus lacks some of the personality of Yang’s own art in his more literary graphic novels. This probably couldn’t be avoided, although Yang’s other DC comic of note, Superman Smashes the Klan, drawn by Gurihiru, stands in contrast and argues that highly stylized artwork can work in a DC Universe comic (although that was a graphic novel series and this is a regular, serial super-comic).
It’s a fine one though, and one that should appeal to fans of Yang’s work more so than any of his other super-comic writing for DC or Marvel . Introducing a new character is never easy, but The Monkey Prince has a lot going for him, including a rather impeccably told comic book series.
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About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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