There have been a number of Monkey King adaptations in mainstream & indie Western comic books over the decades. I’ve sầu been aware of Marvel Comics’ Sun Wukong for a number of years now, but I feel compelled lớn finally write something after having reviewed DC Comics’ Monkey Prince. Sun’s tale is laid out in several publications, including four tie-ins from the “Fear Itself” (2011) crossover event, four issues of Avengers World (2014-2015), one tie-in from the “Secret Empire” (2017) crossover, và two tie-ins from the “War of the Realms” (2019) sự kiện. Sun’s story arc follows him from a greedy crime lord to lớn a heroic demigod who sacrifices his life in an attempt lớn help save the world. He is comparable khổng lồ Shazam (a.k.a. Captain Marvel) as he gains his abilities via divine empowerment.
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Sun appears as a minor character in several disparate storylines. It would take way too long khổng lồ summarize each narrative here, so I will only be discussing the events in which he appears. However, the linked articles and notes below should help the uninitiated get up to lớn tốc độ.
A more accurate, cartoonish version of Sun Wukong appears in two issues of Tarot: Avengers/Defenders (2020) (Davis, 2020a; 2020b). But I won’t be covering that depiction here as it is separate from the aforementioned supernhân vật.1. Character arc
1.1. Iron Man 2.0 #5-7 (2011)
Sun’s story opens in the Eighth City, a hellish dimension that serves as a prison for the evils of the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven. <1> He is first seen enjoying a meal meant for the winner of a demonic fighting tournament. When challenged by the intended recipient and his henchmen, Sun leaps from a tall rampart and soundly beats the monstrous gang, all while touting his superiority based on the pedigree of his magic staff (which can separate into lớn three sections) and past deeds as the historical Monkey King (fig. 1). But this triumphant moment is disturbed when one of the “Seven Hammers of the Worthy” punches through the heart of Beijing, Trung Quốc và breaches the dimensional barrier separating hell from earth, thus allowing demons lớn spill into lớn the human world. <2> Sun attempts khổng lồ retrieve the weapon but can’t lift it (similar to lớn the enchantment on Thor’s hammer) as he isn’t the intended wielder (Spencer, 2011a).
The third Worthy, “Skirn: Breaker of Men” (Titania), leads the Absorbing Man khổng lồ hell so he can become the next Worthy. But Sun greedily boasts that the hammer is his property, along with everything else he sees, much lớn her annoyance. Skirn then attacks the “little thief” and incapacitates hlặng with a blow of her hammer (Spencer, 2011b, p. 14). Moments later, the Immortal Weapons & War Machine happen upon the scene while attempting khổng lồ cthua thảm the dimensional rift. However, despite a brief struggle, they too fall to lớn Skirn’s mighty power, allowing the Absorbing Man khổng lồ become the sixth Worthy, “Greithoth: Breaker of Wills” (Spencer, 2011b).
When the earthly heroes recover from the attachồng, they awaken khổng lồ find Sun standing over them with his staff. The Monkey King bemoans the loss of his hammer & claims that the two Worthies have sầu run away from his martial might. But before turning lớn leave sầu, he acknowledges the Immortal Weapons as heroes, while also noting a dark aura surrounding one of them, the Immortal Iron Fist (Spencer, 2011c).
1.2. Fear Itself: The Monkey King (2011)
Sun’s eponymous tie-in issue opens on the story of the Buddha‘s wager that the historical Monkey King cannot leap clear of his palm. The imp takes up the challenge by flying a thousvà miles across the sky until he reaches a set of five stone pillars. But when Sun returns khổng lồ gloat, he soon realizes it was all an illusion and that he had never actually left the Enlightened One’s palm. The Buddha then clamps his hand shut, trapping Monkey inside (Fialkov, 2011, pp. 3-4).
Flashforward to lớn present day Beijing, the modern Monkey King reminisces about his origins while fighting his way through a villain’s army of henchmen and women. Fifteen years ago, our hero was a greedy crime lord who referred to lớn himself as and affected the persomãng cầu of the Monkey King. After a brief fight over poker, the rival crime lord “Lion” attempts to lớn appease Sun by bringing hyên ổn lớn a cave sầu in the Wudang Mountains. Sun initially shows no interest, but after his companion reveals it to lớn be the “final resting place of the REAL Monkey King” và his magic staff (Fialkov, 2011, p. 10), the crime lord immediately stakes his claim on the cavern lượt thích a selfish child. Lion then plays on his ego by saying that he’s probably not skilled enough khổng lồ bypass the booby traps protecting the weapon, which lies just inside the cave sầu mouth. Sun answers the challenge by leaping in headfirst, deftly avoiding projectiles with gymnastic grace, and taking possession of the polearm. But this was all a part of Lion’s plan; the rival crime lord activates a button hidden in the rochồng face, causing the ground beneath Sun lớn literally engulf hyên lượt thích an octopus attacking prey (Fialkov, 2011, pp. 4-14).
He falls inkhổng lồ a deep chasm where he’s confronted by a titanic apparition of the historical Monkey King. The simian god admonishes Sun for stealing the staff but grudgingly admits his abilities: “Only the greathử nghiệm thief who walks the earth could actually hold onkhổng lồ my dearest Ruyi Jingớ ngẩn Bang” (Fialkov, 2011, p. 14). So the Monkey King presents hyên with a wager: If he has a clean soul, he’ll receive freedom và the deity’s staff & powers to lớn vì with however he wishes; but if he has an unclean soul, he’ll be damned khổng lồ an eternity in the Eighth City. After agreeing khổng lồ the bet, the crime lord naturally finds himself banished to lớn the hellish realm, but (for some reason) he still gets the powers & staff, as well as (for some reason) a heroic costume. The narrative sầu then briefly recaps his confrontation with Skirn và the Absorbing Man and eventual escape via the dimensional rift, before circling bachồng to lớn present day (Fialkov, 2011, pp. 14-15).
Sun finally confronts the sought-after villain, who turns out khổng lồ be Lion. He magically transports him khổng lồ the same cave mouth và reveals how he survived by gaining the Monkey King’s powers and memories, as well as how his time in the Eighth City led hlặng lớn repent his criminal past. Sun ultimately punishes Lion lớn a similar fate by tossing hyên ổn into the hell realm (Fialkov, 2011, pp. 16-22). The issue ends with Sun standing in a heroic pose và exclaiming: “From this day forth, I will fight for good & truth & peace và honesty … và, uh … allthatstuff! With the powers of Sun Wukong, I will bring honor to my country và peace to my đô thị, for I am… the handsomeMonkey King!” (fig. 2) (Fialkov, 2011, p. 22).
1.3. Avengers World #7, 10, 13, & 14 (2014)
Sun next appears as a thành viên of the newly-minted Chinese supernhân vật team, the Ascendants, led by the Weather Witch. S.P..E.A.R. deploys the team to reinforce the Avengers as they fight to protect Hong Kong against the attaông chồng of an island-sized Long controlled by the villain Gorgon (Spencer, 2014/2019a). <3> Instead of being a lone wolf, Sun is shown working in tandem with the team (Spencer, 2014/2019a, pp. 156 & 159; 2014/2019b, p. 211; 2019c, pp. 277-278). During their battle, he single-handedly stops one of many vehicle-sized dragons, thrashes it to the left and right, và finally throws it inlớn a building (fig. 3) (Spencer, 2014/2019c, pp. 274-275). A flashbachồng reveals the Weather Witch had hand-picked Sun, who joined the supernhân vật team only on the promise of adventure (Spencer, 2014/2019c, p. 276). <4>
1.4. Captain America: Steve Rogers #18 (2017)
A flashbaông xã shows Sun (for some reason) crouching on a glowing hover disc while he và the Ascendants prepare themselves to repel an on-coming attack of their airborne base by Hydra ships in southern Đài Loan Trung Quốc (fig. 4) (Spencer và Cates, 2017, p. 15). This happens during a worldwide pushbaông xã against Hydra’s attempt at global domination (Spencer và Cates, 2017).
1.5. War Of The Realms: New Agents Of Atlas #3 & 4 (2019)
Sun appears as one of three Asian superheroes giving updates lớn AmadeusCho about their respective efforts in Tokyo, Manila, & Beijing to battle the armies of the fire giantess Sindr, who has claimed Asia as her new empire. He reports the Ascendants will protect Beijing, while he plans khổng lồ attachồng her fire soldiers in northern China (Pak, 2019a, pp. 5-6). But when Cho asks hyên khổng lồ wait for his team, the New Agents of Atlas, Sun snaps at hyên, noting the situation requires godly powers. Cho then assures hyên ổn that he has a plan involving their resident goddess Pele (Pak, 2019a, pp. 6).
Sun next appears (for some reason) on horsebaông xã in northern China where he meets with the New Agents of Atlas. The head of Atlas asks Shang Chi khổng lồ give the group a crash course in martial arts ahead of their battle. But when Sun scoffs at the idea of taking directions from a mortal, Shang Chi proves his skill by effortlessly disarming hlặng of his staff and knocking him bachồng with a punch lớn the chest (Pak, 2019a, pp. 20-21). Thus humbled, the Monkey King accepts this as a learning opportunity: “The Great Sun Wukong is always up for learning something new” (Pak, 2019a, pp. 21).
Sun is ahy vọng the vanguards who lead the charge against Sindr when she arrives in northern Đài Loan Trung Quốc, but even he is beaten baông chồng by her power (Pak, 2019a, pp. 8-9). However, after a brief confrontation with Pele, who turns out to be a robot designed lớn battle magic beings, a large portion of Sindr’s mystical energy is drained, leaving her open lớn attaông xã. Sun takes this as an opportunity to sacrifice his life so the New Agents of Atlas have sầu a better chance of defeating her. He leaps into the air & stabs her in the baông chồng with his staff before succumbing lớn the intense heat of her flames (Pak, 2019b, pp. 13-15). His last words are: “Behold, the Great Monkey King, Sun Wukong! I’ll save this word … And I’ll see you in the next! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!” (fig. 5) (Pak, 2019b, p. 14).
2. References to Journey khổng lồ the West
During Sun’s battle with the demonic gladiators in the Eighth City, he refers to lớn his staff as an ocean-calming pillar & recalls his past adventures, including stealing immortal peaches and wine from heaven, stealing his name from the books of life & death, & acquiring a feathered cap from the Dragon Kings of the four oceans (Spencer, 2011a, pp. 7-8). All of these are mentioned in one khung or another in the novel, <5> but I must make a few corrections. Instead of Sun stealing his name from the infernal legers, he crosses it out with ink (Wu & Yu, 2012, vol. 1, p. 141). And instead of “defeat
The Buddha’s wager with the Monkey King recalls the exact event from chapter seven. But instead of trapping the imp in his hvà, the Enlightened One transforms the appendage inlớn Five Elements Mountain and imprisons Sun Wukong beneath it.
Sun transforms inkhổng lồ a hawk (Spencer, 2011a, p. 5; Fialkov, 2011, p. 18), a gecko (Fialkov, 2011, p. 6), & a lion (Fialkov, 2011, p. 17) in the early part of his story. This recalls Monkey’s famous 72 transformations, which are best exhibited during his battle with Erlang in chapter six (video 1) (Wu và Yu, 2012, vol. 1, pp. 182-184).
Video 1 – The magic battle of transformations between Sun và Erlang. From the 1960s classic Havoc in Heaven.
3. Problems with the writing và art
As I previously stated in my Reviews of DC Comics’ Monkey Prince, an adaptation of Journey lớn the West, or in this case the Monkey King, has lớn be super accurate or just different enough for me to lớn find it fresh & interesting. This adaptation is neither accurate nor uniquely different. Sun Wukong has simply been grafted onlớn a modern, human supernhân vật và in the worst possible way. He is depicted as a Chinese man wearing the queue (bianzi, 辮子) hairstyle, a cleanly shaven scalp adorned with a long braid hanging from the crown (refer baông xã to fig. 3). I get the distinct feeling that Sun’s creators, (writer) Niông xã Spencer and (artist) Ariel Olivetti, were influenced by Hong Kong wire-fu media of the 1990s in which heroic martial artists, played by the likes of Jet Li và Donnie Yen, sported the queue while fighting injustice. So in that sense, the character could be considered an homage to cinematic folk heroes like Wong Fei-hung và Hung Hei-gun. But the problem is that the creators clearly didn’t take note of the hairstyle’s historical context. Such films are set during the foreign-ruled Qing dynasty (1644-1912).
Historically the Manchu forced their traditional hairstyle on the Chinese as a sign of subjugation after conquering the Middle Kingdom in the mid-17th-century. The Chinese resisted, not because of the braid—long hair was after all a Chinese fashion—but because of the requirement lớn shave sầu the scalp. Those who refused were put lớn death (Godley, 2011). The disgust for this style was perfectly summed up by leaders of the Taiping Rebellion in 1853:
The Chinese have Chinese characteristics; but now the Manchus have ordered us khổng lồ shave the hair around the head leaving a long tail behind, thus making the Chinese appear lớn be brute animals … You are all Chinese people; how can you be so stupid as lớn cut your hair and follow the demons? (Godley, 2011).
Students & laborers who traveled abroad were still required lớn wear the queue up inkhổng lồ the early 20th-century. But by then the hairstyle had already become antiquated on the world stage (Godley, 2011). For example, writing in 1903, the nationalist Zou Rong lamented: “When a man with a queue & wearing Manchu clothes loiters about in London, why vị all the passers-by say ‘Pig-tail’ or ‘savage’? And if he loiters about in Tokyo, why vày all the passers-by say ‘Chanchanbotsu’
This antipathy for braid-wearing Chinese had already for decades been mirrored in Western “Yellow Peril” propagandomain authority of the late 19th-century. For instance, “Immigration East & West” (1881) (fig. 6), a two-page political cartoon by George Frederiông xã Keller, depicts the concept of “Chinese Immigration” as a monstrous serpent arriving in the “West” (western US) with fangs bared & large, clawed hands threatening khổng lồ attack a defeated-looking Lady Liberty <6> and a cowering California Grizzly. The serpent’s queue whips in the air overhead, spelling “Asia”, và spots on its body toàn thân are labeled with afflictions such as “immorality”, “smallpox”, and “ruin khổng lồ trắng labor” (Bierce, 1881, p. 173), symbolizing the then prominent fear that the Chinese would overrun the United States with cheap labor and diseases (Lyman, 2000). This is in contrast to lớn the adjoining image, which depicts Lady Liberty <7> welcoming throngs of bustling European immigrants khổng lồ the “East” (eastern US), who bring with them virtues such as “art”, “labor”, and “agriculture” (Bierce, 1881, p. 172).
So the hairstyle was originally a sign of subjugation forced on the Chinese by foreign rulers under penalty of death. And it later served as a symbol for racist, economic-based fears of Chinese immigration in the West. Therefore, I feel confident in saying that depicting Sun Wukong with a queue was not a well-thought-out idea. In fact, this laông xã of forethought is indicative of the lazy writing that plagues the rest of the Monkey King’s character arc.
Fig. 6 – “Immigration East and West” (1881) (larger version). It first appeared in volume seven of The Wasp (Bierce, 1881, pp. 172-173), a satirical magazine from San Francisco, California, USA.
Fear Itself: The Monkey King (2011) is the worst perpetrator of this lackadaisical approach. For starters, how did Lion and Sun travel to lớn the Wudang Mountains & why are they still wearing their everyday street clothes instead of thiông chồng coats & hiking boots? How does Lion even know the location of this ancient cave sầu và why does he alone know it’s the final resting place of the historical Monkey King? Shouldn’t this be a well-guarded secret only known khổng lồ a select few? This is even more puzzling considering that, in Journey khổng lồ the West, Sun Wukong retires to the Buddha’s Western Paradise in India (Wu và Yu, vol. 4, pp. 381-383), so why would he resettle in China? How does Lion know about the trigger hidden in the rock face và why does he know the ground will engulf Sun? Why is the Monkey King’s magic staff just sitting out in the open and how does Sun effortlessly piông xã it up despite weighing 17,550 lbs. (7,960 kg) in the novel? <8> Sure, the historical Monkey King says, “Only the greathử nghiệm thief who walks the earth” can hold the weapon (Fialkov, 2011, p. 14), but why is that even a requirement, especially when he ends up sentencing the crime lord to hell for having an unclean soul? Why does Monkey give hyên ổn the powers and the staff even after judging hyên ổn to lớn be unworthy? Why does he give hyên a superhero costume upon sending hyên ổn khổng lồ hell? Where does the modern Monkey King get the different superanh hùng costume upon escaping from hell? None of this is answered. This is just frustratingly lazy writing by Joshua Hale Fialkov.
Oh, và the lazy streak continues. Sun Wukong’s ability to fly on clouds from the novel is briefly alluded lớn in Fear Itself: The Monkey King (Fialkov, 2011, p. 4). But this power is completely forgotten in the very same issue, for the modern nhân vật has to lớn magically transform inkhổng lồ a hawk in order to lớn fly (Fialkov, 2011, p. 18; see also Spencer, 2011a, p. 5). In addition, this avian transformation is also forgotten in later appearances, for Sun is shown standing on a glowing hover disc in Captain America: Steve sầu Rogers #18 (2017) (Spencer & Cates, 2017, p. 15). And War Of The Realms: New Agents Of Atlas #3 (2019) depicts him traveling northern Trung Quốc on horseback (Pak, 2019a, pp. 19). Furthermore, the storyline seems khổng lồ forget that the character has super strength. In Avengers World #13 (2014) he’s capable of stopping a dragon with a single h& (refer back to fig. 3) (Spencer, 2014/2019c, pp. 274-275), but in War Of The Realms: New Agents Of Atlas #3 Shangi Chi, who does not have super strength, easily snatches away his staff (fig. 7 & 8) (Pak, 2019a, pp. 20-21). Ugh.
Beyond the laziness, another problem with the writing is Sun’s negative characterization. He comes off as a boastful, greedy, và thoroughly unlikable person, so this leads me to lớn believe that he was never intended lớn be a top-tier superhero. In fact, I dare say that he was designed as a throwaway character. His quiông xã, pointless death is the “smoking gun”. Sun isn’t given a chance to evolve sầu as a character—i.e. a series of stories in which he reflects on his flaws và strives khổng lồ be a better person—và there’s no prolonged battle with a running internal monologue in which he deems his sacrifice a necessary outcome. He just blindly rushes to an empty death that serves no purpose as the fire giantess Sindr continues to fight even after the anh hùng goes up in smoke (Pak, 2019b, p. 18). Next, there are several instances where Sun touts his abilities or fame & subsequently gets knocked off his pedestal, making hyên the butt of a joke. First, he boasts of his fighting skill but is easily defeated by Skirn, and after she & her companion leave, he claims: “They … ran away lượt thích cowardly, lying dogs. I begged them to stay and fight, but they knew better” (Spencer, 2011c, p. 4). This reads less like Sun Wukong and more lượt thích a delusional person. Second, he trumpets his fame as the Monkey King, stating everyone knows his name, but Iron Fist comically shrugs his shoulders in confusion (Spencer, 2011c, p. 4). However, given Iron Fist’s training in K’un-lun (a magic thành phố in China) và Sun Wukong’s centuries-long popularity throughout Asia, <9> this makes as much sense as someone in Metropolis saying they’ve sầu never heard of Superman. Third, Sun continually flaunts his godly powers và looks down on mortals, but, as noted before, Shang Chi takes away his weapon (Pak, 2019a, pp. 20-21). This slap khổng lồ his ego is preceded by the head of S.P.E.A.R. telling Sun, “ll your magic won’t be enough … without training”, suggesting the anh hùng relies solely on the mystical arts (Pak, 2019a, p. 20). But this doesn’t make any sense considering that he’s shown lớn be a capable fighter in previous issues (refer baông xã lớn fig. 1) (Spencer, 2011a, pp. 6-9, for example), not to lớn mention the fact that, in Journey to lớn the West, the Monkey King is depicted as a master of unarmed boxing.
The art throughout Sun’s character arc ranges from the divine (Ariel Olivetti) lớn the demonic (Juan Doe). But here I’d lượt thích to lớn focus on the Character design. Beyond the problematic queue, the costume first appearing in Iron Man 2.0 #5 (2011) isn’t bad, it just doesn’t suit the character. Nothing about it says “Monkey King”. Sun is depicted wearing a form-fitting red top with blaông chồng accent lines on his chest, bachồng, & arms; grey gauntlets with three golden stripes; a blachồng sash belt; a gray apron & baggy pants; and blachồng boots (refer baông chồng to fig. 1). The lower half of his costume was likely influenced by period clothing from the aforementioned wire-fu films of the 90s. However, I vì have a problem with Sun’s shirt. It is almost exactly the same as the upper half of Shang Chi’s toàn thân suit, which is also red with black accent lines on the chest, back, và arms. Shang also has gauntlets with three sections. The similarities are apparent when the characters share the same scene (fig. 9). The only difference is that Shang’s blaông chồng accents don’t go all the way down his chest, and those on his arms break up into stacked arrows. I think it would have been a smarter move to lớn differentiate the two.
The only other critique I have sầu for Olivetti’s thiết kế is the Monkey King’s staff. It is depicted as a gray metal bar with a strange finial. The tip features a cutesy, grinning monkey with half moon-shaped ears on a spherical head. A tail spirals down from the top like a corkscrew (fig. 10). It looks lượt thích something straight out of Hello Kitty. This simian ornament next appears in Fear Itself: The Monkey King but only on the cover (fig. 11). The finial within the issue looks more like the gnarled kết thúc of a red & blachồng walking stiông xã (Fialkov, 2011, p. 16, for example). Interestingly, the monkey isn’t present in Sun’s later comic book appearances.
Lastly, the superhero costume appearing in Fear Itself: The Monkey King is terrible. It’s so bad in fact that it never appears again in another comic. The overall suit is blaông chồng with red tryên ổn on the chest, arms, apron, và legs. The top features layered shoulder pads, a silver monkey symbol on the chest, & wrapped forearms. It totally looks like something a villain from the Mad Max franchise would wear. And to lớn top it all off, Sun sports a blaông chồng mask with a molded monkey nose on the front và a hole in the back khổng lồ accommodate his queue braid (refer khổng lồ fig. 11). This is another example where the costume just doesn’t suit the Monkey King concept. Juan Doe should have sầu at least tried to lớn mirror some of the elements from Sun Wukong’s literary armor.