DC's Jessica Chen Talks Returning Favorites and the Monkey Prince's Debut in Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration

DC Festival of Heroes #1: The Asian Superhero Celebration is in stores now, and lives up to its title in more ways than one. Festival of Heroes features several short stories that aim to give bring some fan favorites into the spotlight, and characters like Cassandra Cain, Grace Choi, Tai Pham, Connor Hawke, and Red Arrow are just a few of the faves along for the ride. Festival of Heroes isn't just about returning heroes, however, as the one-shot also introduces a brand new hero into the DC Universe, the Monkey Prince, and ComicBook.com recently had the chance to speak to DC Editor Jessica Chen all about his debut as well as the focus on representing all of Asian culture throughout the issue.

"I kind of lucked out putting this together, because it's such an important project to me, and it's very personal because I am Asian," Chen said. "And so, I was really lucky enough to not really have much of a challenge. I really did make sure though I represented all of Asian culture, not just East Asian, but Indian, Asian American, people from all different backgrounds. And because DC has so many different Asian characters as well, there were a couple I couldn't feature, but I did my best to put in the best characters that people would want to read."

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(Photo: DC Comics)

One such character is Grace Choi, who appears in the story Family Dinner. Choi was the choice of writer Alyssa Wong for the project, and her appearance did spark a new love for the character for Chen. "I also, I've never worked on Grace Choi as a character before, but I've read her, growing up, and so, it was a really big treat to be able to edit a story of hers again. I'm not sure there are any plans with her down the line, but because of my renewed love of her, I may consider having her appear again, here and there. I'm not sure where yet, but keep an eye out."

Another fantastic story is Hawke and Kong, which features the All New Superman and Connor Hawke, though it was actually not initially pitched that way. Thankfully it worked out like it did because this story is easily one of the biggest highlights of the celebration.

"So like I said previously, about how this is a mix of people I reached out to for a specific character and people who pitched me with who they wanted to write. I pitched Greg, 'Maybe you should do a new Superman story. That's really fun. You have a really fun sensibility of writing. I think that will work.' And he came back saying, 'I think it'd be fun if I wrote a Connor Hawke story because personally, I am able to talk about the bi racial-ness of it, because I am biracial as well.' I thought it was a great idea, and so then I went, 'Wait a minute, how fun would it be if we did a team-up? Because that's something we've never seen before. And these two characters, Connor and Kenan are both so different, in their personality. It will definitely create great storytelling.'"

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(Photo: DC Comics)

That's exactly what happened, and the results were delightful. "And so that's how that idea came to be. It was just kind of, a mixture of what everyone wanted, and a perfect example of just organic creative collaboration. And I know as both a Connor Hawke fan, and as a New Superman fan myself, that if you're a fan of either reading this story, you're going to have a lot of fun," Chen said. "And you're going to laugh a lot, because it's so silly. Without saying too much, on the last page, it reminds me of just sitting at home with my aunties and my mom, and so, I hope when you read that, you feel that same sort of, 'Hey, I had that live-in experience, as well.'"

We also get the introduction of the Monkey Prince, and Chen broke down the classic stories that influenced the character and the legacy he holds.

"Oh, man. So, growing up, my parents would tell me stories about Journey to the West, and Monkey King, and I remember thinking, as a child, he was just such a cool character because he has all these cool powers. And so in a way, Monkey King was kind of my first superhero, and after being at DC Comics, I've always wanted to somehow introduce Monkey King as a superhero because his origin story just kind of writes itself," Chen said. "And so, I've been kind of vocal about that, around the hallways over the years, and last year Editor in Chief Marie Javins kind of reached out and was like, 'Hey, remember that passion project that you kept talking about? Go.' And so I was like, 'Wait, really?'"

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(Photo: DC Comics)

"And so with that sort of encouragement and support, I reached out to Gene Yang, because he has a really deep sort of... he's done his research," Chen said. "He did American Born Chinese and has dealt with researching Monkey King, and also, Monkey King means a lot to him, growing up. His mom also read him stories about Monkey King's adventures in Journey to the West, and so immediately, we started brainstorming. 'Well, how do we translate this Monkey King character to DC, so it's very specifically DC, in its DNA?' Because there have been other renditions of Monkey King, as you know, in other media, and, I think we came up with something great."

"The missing piece was Bernard Chang," Chen said. "I've talked to Bernard Chang over the years, and I also know that Monkey King means a lot to him. Growing up, I know his dad used to tell him stories about Monkey King, and I think what it is, for us Asian Americans growing up with the story, it brings this sort of wonder, of first hearing about his adventures and his powers. And I really hope to instill this sort of wonder that I, we all felt when we were younger, hearing these stories, to a newer audience, a newer Western audience, or maybe even other Asian American audiences, who may have the same sort of nostalgia and respect for this character we all love. So yeah, it was kind of my idea, but me, Gene, and Bernard really created the origin and the essence of Monkey Prince together."

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(Photo: DC Comics)

We also have to talk about one of the coolest new additions to the DC canon in quite some time, Shifu Pigsy, who is just as awesomely bonkers as his name suggests.

"Oh, man. Shifu Pigsy is just so cool, because first of all, he can fly with his ears, and in the story that you will read, or I think some of you guys already have, he kind of acts as the support system that every kid needs," Chen said. "He's very positive with the words he says. He's also very kind to you, letting you know, like, 'Hey, this is not okay, but you can do better,' sort of a thing. And this character is very much like everyone's favorite Asian uncle, at least when I read this character, he reminds me of one of my uncles. I can't wait for you guys to read it and learn more about Shifu Pigsy, and his personality. His design in general is just awesome. Bernard Chang is a genius. He nailed that in the first try."

You can meet the Monkey Prince and Shifu Pigsy and reunite with some of your favorite Asian heroes in DC Festival of Heroes #1: The Asian Superhero Celebration, which is available in comic stores now.

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