This is a crime noir with a unique focus. The detective is Edison Hark, a Chinese-American who is a member of the police force in Hawaii. But he is trying to solve a 1936 murder in California, where the very idea of a Chinese policeman is completely foreign–after a while he stops even showing people his badge, because they all think it’s fake. Chinese-Americans are routinely referred to as “Orientals” or “Coolies,” and no doubt it would be historically accurate to use far more racist terminology (the word “chink” also makes an appearance, as well as “yellow”).
Edison is on the case because he was adopted by Mason Carroway, a rich white man with properties in Hawaii and San Francisco, and because Carroway’s son Frankie asked him to come (Mason is inconveniently in a coma, so he cannot help with the investigation). Ivy Chen, a family housekeeper, has disappeared; and the investigation points towards personal connections to both Mason and Frankie. Someone is killing people in Chinatown with an axe, evoking the preferred execution method of the dreaded Chinese Tong mobsters, thought to be long gone.
The narrative also deals with the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake–which destroyed so many records that many Chinese faked documents claiming they were citizens returning home whose birth papers were lost in that fire. But the big mystery never stays away for long, and in the end it finds Frankie and Edison in Chinatown, looking for a resolution that may be the end of Chinatown itself. Tefenkgi’s art is a bit minimal, but the storytelling is solid. The Historical Notes expand on the background of the Chinese Exclusion Act and Angel Island (the gateway for immigrants crossing the Pacific), as well as including an Immigration History Timeline, which includes immigrants of all races. There is also the history of the Chop Suey Circuit and the Chinatown Telephone Exchange, which are both referenced in the story.
Undiscovered Country Vol. 3: Possibility
Scott Snyder & Charles Soule, writers; Giuseppe Camuncoli, layouts; Leonardo Marcello Grassi, finishes; Matt Wilson, colors; Crank!, lettering.
Image Comics, 2022
The saga continues as the group makes its way through Possibility, the third of the thirteen zones in the no longer United States of America. This region was built on American creativity, from folklore to superheroes to virtual reality, which makes it especially ripe for imaginative visual storytelling. The zone was once populated by all of the creatives responsible for the stories, myths, music and styles that made up the American culture that was such a draw for the rest of the world. They were tasked with making new creations that would redefine the land, so that when the doors re-opened the American Dream would be renewed. Uncle Sam claims not to remember what happened in the past three hundred years, but he tells the group that their task is to create an American masterpiece.
As usual things are even more complicated than that, but it’s fun watching them fight off a bunch of black-and-white gangsters and an island full of superheroes. Next thing you know they are meeting characters like Paul Bunyan, Davy Crockett and Annie Oakley–who take them to meet George Washington, Betsy Ross, Johnny Appleseed and others. George tells them about how the Crossroads Devil convinced them to kill all of the humans. But the Devil is still in charge, and the story is just a ruse to get the visitors to find the last Anything Engine (a magical machine capable of creating literally anything). Teamwork allows the team to prevail, and move on to the zone of Disunity.
As a musician I especially enjoyed the musical references in this installment. The guitar-playing Crossroads Devil is a clear reference to blues legend Robert Johnson’s famous midnight wager. And I enjoyed seeing them open the gates to The Mix by correctly singing a piece of music notation. There were also several interesting flashbacks to earlier scenes after the Sealing showing past lives of the team members. The collection ends with the usual array of supplemental materials, including a timeline, sketches, and alternate covers.