Monkey Prince Series Debut Combines A Unique Origin Story With Chinese Mythology
This week kicks off Lunar New Year and DC Comics is celebrating with the release of Gene Luen Yang’s 12-issue comic book series about the trickster Monkey Prince! The character was first introduced in the DC Festival of Heroes last year and also DC Fandom. Yang and artist Bernard Chang took inspiration from the popular Monkey King stories that they had grown up with and turned it into something unique for DC Comics. I had the opportunity to read the Monkey Prince series debut and let me say: it is FANTASTIC. I cannot wait to read the other eleven issues and I’m so excited to see a myth from my childhood coming to life in the DC Universe.
Who Is The Monkey Prince?
Image via DC Comics
The Monkey Prince was originally created by Yang and illustrated Chang, and was based on the Monkey King, a famous hero from Chinese mythology and beloved protagonist of the classic tale, Journey to the West. The Monkey Prince is one of DC’s newest shape-shifting superheroes. His alias is Marcus Sun and he’s the son of the Monkey King, although he was raised by adoptive parents and, ironically, does not consider himself a superhero and hates them as a whole, believing they are arrogant and see themselves as above ordinary people. Marcus’s powers are tied to his emotional state; he may revert to human form if he is afraid, or summon a wind too powerful to control if he becomes angry. In an interview on the DC Comics blog, both Yang and Chang talked extensively about why they wanted to bring the Monkey Prince to life. Yang said:
“We’re hoping that it will introduce American readers to Chinese mythology, and Chinese readers to the DC Universe. We really want it to feel cross-cultural. On the fun side, we want the Monkey King to go up against other DC characters, both heroes and villains.
In Asia—in China and Japan specifically—Monkey King’s story is so popular that it’s become almost ubiquitous. I think they release a couple of Monkey King movies every year. Dragon Ball Z is based on the Monkey King story. Goku is essentially an anime version of the Monkey King. There are just so many versions of him.
One of the questions we had to ask was, why are we doing it? What makes our version different? We wanted to firmly ground our character in the DC Universe. We wanted it to feel like a story that couldn’t be told anywhere else. The main character isn’t the Monkey King himself, he’s actually the son of the Monkey King—that’s why he’s called the Monkey Prince. Second, we wanted to tie him into DC heroes and DC conventions. We wanted some kind of relationship between the character and the heroes and villains that already exist in the DC Universe. One of the conventions of DC superheroes is that there’s a secret identity, so we wanted to give him one. We wanted to give him a human identity and something to hide.”
While the Monkey Prince is based on Chinese mythology that might not be familiar to many comic readers, the character himself is someone that readers from all backgrounds can relate to. Marcus is a typical teenager that wants to fit in, but he has the added layer of having these mystical powers too. He needs to learn how to rein in his emotions and how humility can make him a better person and superhero.
Why I’m Especially Excited For The Monkey Prince Series
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The team behind Monkey Prince could have just said, “Oh yes, Marcus is the son of the Monkey Prince,” and left it at that. Instead, they took the time to really interweave the Monkey King myth into Marcus/Monkey Prince’s story. It was great to see familiar characters like Pigsy, who acts as Marcus’s teacher, or shifu. In the original Monkey King story, Pigsy wasn’t quite a wise mentor; rather, he often got his companions in trouble for his laziness, gluttony, and propensity for lusting after pretty women.
Similar to Yang’s other works, he also includes small details that I, as an Asian American reader, can appreciate. For example, in a flashback, the Monkey King is fighting against a swarm of giant bugs and as they get killed, their innards are spewed everywhere and Pigsy says they smell like durian. I could immediately smell the pungent fruit in my mind (or rather, my nose). Much like Shang-Chi or the Alysia Yeoh, representation matters, and the more diverse characters and stories we see, the richer the comic book reading experience. As Yang himself said:
“It’s not that that there’s not that many Asian characters—it’s that there’s not that many that aren’t problematic. There’s Egg Fu. There’s a whole bunch from the 1940s. There’s Chop Chop. It was a thrill. (DC Editor) Jessica (Chen), Bernard Chang and I, we talked about how this was kind of a bucket list item for us. We all are heavily interested in seeing Asian representation within the DC Universe. But even beyond that, there’s something about the Monkey King. All three of us have childhood memories of hearing Monkey King stories from our parents. For all of us, it’s tied in with our love of superheroes. There’s a lot of overlap between the Monkey King and the American superhero genre. They both are heroes, they’re battling for the fate of the world, they’re both dressed up in fancy, colorful costumes, and they both have these fantastical, superhuman powers. It felt good to bridge that gap between those two loves—American superheroes and the legend of the Monkey King.”
The themes often seen in comics usually have universal themes of acceptance, friendship, and love. To disregard a certain group because a story “isn’t for them” is to brush aside the fact that readers not only need to see themselves but can also learn about others, and Gene Luen Yang’s Monkey Prince is perfect for that.
What Happened In The Monkey Prince Series Debut And What Is His Part In The DCEU
Image via DC Comics
In the DC Festival of Heroes story, “The Monkey Prince Hates Superheroes,” we learned that the Monkey Prince interacts with Shazam and is best friends with Billy Batson (I assume Marcus doesn’t realize his best friend is, in fact, the superhero he despises). Then, in this first issue of the Monkey Prince series debut (titled “Enter the Monkey: Part 1), we learn that Marcus is currently living in Gotham City and that Batman is after his family! What?! Just some chronological clarification: “Enter the Monkey” is the beginning of Marcus’s origin story and introduces us to a teenage boy who is trying to understand his place in high school.
After meeting Mr. Zhu, the school janitor who is also a disguised Pigsy, Marcus starts to experience weird things. Think clouds appearing around him, growing a monkey’s tail, and squeaking like an animal. Only after facing his fear of the pool and jumping in does he transform into the Monkey Prince. Combining “The Monkey Prince Hates Superheroes,” “Enter the Monkey,” and the DC Fandome story, “Apokolips in the Heavenly Realm,” we get a better sense of the Monkey Prince and Marcus. Pigsy is there to teach the young superhero “confidence, not arrogance,” and will probably try to direct him towards a more mature attitude toward things. Pigsy has also fought alongside the Monkey King, so he can also help Marcus connect to his family and culture. However, the shocker comes at the end of “Enter the Monkey,” when the Monkey Prince is attacking a student and Batman and Robin appear to stop him. In the process, Batman cuts off the Monkey Prince’s head!
But how does the Monkey Prince fit into the DCEU though? In “Enter the Monkey” we learn that Marcus’s adoptive parents are actually working for Penguin and it seems like they’ve also done work for The Riddler, Intergang, and Captain Cold, which explains why Batman was after him. I had previously mentioned that the Monkey Prince had first interacted with Shazam/Billy Batson in “The Monkey Prince Hates Superheroes,” so we know for sure there’s a connection there too. Will future issues include more interconnected crossovers like these? What is going to happen to the Monkey Prince’s head? I guess the only way to find out is to buy the next issue of Gene Luen Yang’s Monkey Prince, right?
The Monkey Prince series debut is now available for purchase everywhere.
What do you think of Gene Luen Yang’s Monkey Prince? Do you feel like you need to read the rest of the Monkey Prince’s adventures after this Monkey Prince series debut? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured image via DC Comics