Comics, Reviews

The Good Asian: 1936 Comic Review: Noir's Finest

Discover the story of Edison Hark, a Chinese-American detective who seeks to uncover the truth behind a bloody conspiracy sweeping through 1930s Chinatown.

The Good Asian HC Cover
Image: Image Comics
By: Javier ReyesJun 16, 2024, 7:16 PM

The Good Asian

The Good Asian HC Full Cover

Writer: Pornsak Pichetshote

Artist: Alexandre Tefenkgi

Publisher: Image Comics

Release Date: May 29, 2023

Page Count: 304

Format: Comic

Edison Hark is a powerhouse of a noir protagonist who you want to see succeed as he spirals deeper into the story’s intriguing mystery.

Noir detective stories have always been a staple within the world of comic books. Batman, of course, is the poster boy for stamping out bad guys after unraveling a devious mystery. But beyond the escapades of the Cape Crusader is a wealth of other comics that explore darker themes and more violent plotlines. From Blacksad to any comic book made by the dream team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips, there’s no shortage of modern classics to satisfy readers who love to immerse themselves in intriguing mysteries. Among the latest titles to join the pantheon of great detective stories is the graphic novel "The Good Asian" by Pornsak Pichetshote and Alexandre Tefenkgi.

As someone who has only dabbled lightly into the genre, The Good Asian grabbed my attention with its unique twists to classic noir tropes. It has the suspense, intrigue, and hard-hitting action readers love about noir fiction while also presenting bold commentaries on systemic racism and social injustice. With that said, let's dive into my review of "The Good Asian."

Edison Hark arrivesImage: Image Comics

The Story’s Nitty Gritty

Set in 1930s San Fransisco during the time of the Chinese Exclusion Act when scores of Chinese immigrants were banned from entering America. The story follows Edison Hark, one of America’s first Chinese-American detectives. Edison was called in from Hololulu by his surrogate brother, Frankie Carroway, to investigate the disappearance of their family maid Ivy Chen. The young girl was the supposed lover of their father and millionaire philanthropist Mason Carroway, who recently fell into a coma. Frankie believes the heartbreak from losing Ivy caused the sudden illness of their father.

What starts as a missing person’s investigation spirals into a string of mysterious murders connected to an urban legend hatchetman known as “Hui Long.” As tensions and fear rise on the streets of Chinatown, so do the racial conflicts between Chinese and Americans. It’s up to Edison to pull out every trick in the book to get to the bottom of the bloody conspiracy that’s spiraled out of control.

Edison Hark investigating cluesImage: Image Comics

A New Perspective on Noir Fiction

"The Good Asian" has all the trappings of a classic noir story. A mysterious disappearance. A string of brutal murders. Crooked cops. Toxic romance. And most of all, a brooding yet suave protagonist with a flair for introspective monologues at the center of it all. Put all these classic tropes through the Chinese-American perspective, and you get a riveting crime drama about a hard-boiled detective who fights an uphill battle against systemic racism and corruption.

While "The Good Asian" is filled to the brim with exciting characters, Edison Hark is the clear star of the show. Inspired by real-life Chinese-American detective Chang Apana, Edison is a no-nonsense detective with a sharp mind and strong fists. He shows on several occasions he can just as much punch his way out of sticky situations when negotiations fall apart. While he is no saint by any stretch of the imagination, Edison’s unrelenting determination makes him a resonant hero you want to see catch the villain behind it all.

Edison’s character makes "The Good Asian" stand out from others in the genre. It’s not often you see the Chinese-American perspective as the focal point in noir fiction. Edison Hark is a man torn by the two sides of his being. His American peers look down on him, while his Chinese blood distrusts him for “bending the knee” to the people that hate them so much. The circumstances of the period add a unique layer of tension to the story. Not only must Edison solve the conspiracy sweeping through Chinatown, but he also has to fight the stigmas and social injustice that’s kept his people down for generations.

Murder scene in The Good AsianImage: Image Comics

For Noir Fans Who Love a Touch of History

The Good Asian is just as much of a historical snapshot as it is an intriguing crime drama. Writer Pornsak Pichetshote dives deep into a turbulent and pivotal time in Chinese-American history. The historical references throughout the story, from the Chinatown Telephone Exchange to the 1906 San Fransisco Earthquake, make the world of the comic feel authentic to its period. It’s clear Pichetshote put time and effort into his research for the comic, evident in his comprehensive writer’s notes that talk about historical tidbits and creative influences. If the comic’s gripping narrative doesn’t catch your attention, then the fascinating history that inspired its events and set pieces definitely will.

Final Thoughts

For fans of the noir genre, "The Good Asian" has everything you want in spades. The art stylishly captures a distinctly noir atmosphere. Characters all have secrets that satisfyingly pay off by the final pages of the comic. The story’s mystery unfolds with many twists and turns that grip your attention from start to finish. Then all those elements combine to establish a new and exciting noir hero in comics. Knowing that the adventures of Edison Hark are far from over, it’s exciting to consider what new mysteries await down the line.

A fight scene breaks outImage: Image Comics

Why You Should Read The Good Asian

  • Well-crafted mystery plot 
  • Engaging cast of characters
  • Highly influenced by history and culture
  • Incredible art, panel composition, and colorwork
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