Friday, September 30, 2022

The Good Asian, Vol. 1 by Pornsak Pichetshote and Alexandre Tefenkgi

Things have to be murky in noir: that's the point. If the world was clear and crisp and easily understandable...well, then, it wouldn't be a noir world, would it?

The Good Asian, Vol. 1 collects almost the first half (the series has ten issues; this book has four and the sequel has the remaining six - I have no idea what happened there, why it's not five and five) of the Image comics series of the same name, written by Pornsak Pichetshote and drawn by Alexandre Tefenkgi. Colors are by Lee Loughridge and lettering by Jeff Powell.

It is noir. That means the world will be both murky and bad - that we the audience won't understand everything at first, but we can assume that authorities are corrupt and scandals are rife and everyone with any power will abuse it. That crime definitely does pay, and has been paying very well. That people will do the worst things you can image, and then go beyond that. That you may be able to trust the one central tarnished hero, maybe, to do right - but no one else. And even he will probably only do right after he's tried doing everything else first.

That hero, this time, is Edison Hark. He's back in San Francisco, in 1936 - I'd say he's maybe thirty, not just out of youth but not middle-aged yet. He grew up there, adopted by a rich man after his cleaning-lady mother died when he was young. Before he was done growing, he was sent off to Hawaii, where he's since become a police detective.

Oh, and he's Chinese. That's important. 1936 is racist in much more obvious and casually cruel ways than the modern day, and the Chinese on the West Coast get that more than most.

Edison is back in SF because his foster father is ill, probably dying. Or, at least, that's the obvious reason: he hasn't come back in at least a decade, and the old man is lying in bed, unresponsive. His foster brother and sister - let me underline here that they, and the old man, are all white, but you should have understood that when I said "rich" - have complicated relationships with Edison.

The old man also had a complicated relationship with his upstairs maid, Ivy Chen. According to the kids, it was entirely aboveboard, but they had great feelings for each other - and, in a noir, that's only the finest weapons-grade bullshit. Ivy has disappeared recently - disappeared totally, without a trace, leaving the old man sad and bereft and possibly leading to his current nonresponsive state.

Edison is looking for Ivy, on behalf of that foster family. He's not a cop in SF - as a Chinese man, he's only intermittently considered a man - so he has no power and outdated mental maps of the people and places of the city.

And the disappearance of Ivy Chen intersects a whole bunch of other things, starting with the background police brutality against Chinese and rising to murders and possibly resurgent Chinese Tongs and all sorts of businessmen and authorities who have their own secrets and corruptions and lies.

Edison is in the middle of all that, trying to solve a mystery for the white people who gave him a home when he was a kid. But, along the way, he starts to wonder why they did that. And whether his mother had a "complicated relationship" with the old man, too...and what that means for him.

This is not the end: it's only just the beginning. This is the part of the noir where things are introduced, plots get knotty, and the bodies start to fall. Things look very dark at the end of this book; but that's what the middle of a noir is like.

The end, too, often. We'll have to see what Volume Two brings, but I know it's won't be White 1936 America embracing "the Chinaman," calling him brother, and all singing Kumbaya together.

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