Who is Agent James "Jimmy" Woo? Most people couldn't tell you, but you've probably seen the name recently attached to that of actor Randall Park. Park, of Fresh Off the Boat and VEEP fame, has recently joined the cast of Marvel’s upcoming film Ant-Man and the Wasp. Not only will Park be joining the ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D., but he will be breathing new life into the cultural barrier-breaking Agent Woo, one of the first positively portrayed Asian heroes in American comics.
Making his #Marvel film debut, Park will be working alongside Paul Rudd, who is returning in the title role, and Evangeline Lilly, who is making her debut as the Wasp. With the script (written by Rudd and Gabriel Ferrari) being kept under tight wraps, there are a lot of unknowns about the film. Fortunately, we know a thing or two about Agent Woo, who has over 60 years of history in the Marvel Comics universe.
Long Before Coulson, There Was Woo
As both an agent and a cultural icon, Woo's character is nothing short of extraordinary. Created by EC Comics writer Al Feldstein and artist Joe Maneely, Woo first appeared in the comic book Yellow Claw #1 in 1956. An Asian American of Chinese descent, Woo originally worked as an FBI agent working to apprehend the Chinese-national mandarin known as the Yellow Claw.
Eventually, Agent Woo was tasked with overseeing the 1950s superhero team, the Avengers. Though his team was the short-lived predecessor of the later, more well-known Avengers, this put Woo in an incredible role. It is also reminiscent of the role that would later be given to the famous Agent Phil Coulson, who was not created until 2008's Iron Man.
In 1968's Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #2, Woo made the leap to official S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, leading to an eventful career. From hunting Godzilla to working with Spider-Man to shut down a rebellious cell of the Atlas Foundation, Woo rarely has a dull moment. Fans of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will no doubt be familiar with LMDs (Life Model Decoys), as was Agent Woo. He, along with other high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D officials, was once temporarily replaced by an LMD back in 1988, which seemingly inspired this past season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s plot.
Woo is still a part of the Marvel universe today. From 2006 to 2007, he starred in Agents of Atlas as the leader of a S.H.I.E.L.D. team of the same name. Later, during the Infinity storyline, Woo became the head of the Pan-Asian School For The Unusually Gifted, working with Asian teenagers who have superhuman abilities.
Combating Bad Guys And Yellow Peril In Comics
As you may have gathered from some of the titles that Agent Woo was first associated with, Asians and Asian Americans were not usually cast in a fantastic light back in the day. Jeff Yang, who has curated the "Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942–1986" exhibit identified Jimmy Woo as a positive exception to an otherwise largely negative depiction of Asians in comics:
"The images were largely negative. This reflected the time frame — a period when the view of Asians was shaped by racist, xenophobic wartime propaganda.”
As Yang noted in an NPR interview, comic books portrayed Asians as seen through the eyes of a fearful and uneducated America during times of conflict. Comics published between 1941 and 1986 saw America in almost constant struggle with many Asian countries, from World War II and the war in the Pacific to the Korean and Vietnam Wars. There were also frequent economic and political battles with Japan and China, which all found itself influencing American comics.
"And so comic books, in a lot of ways, pick up a lot of this resonant energy around how Americans were thinking of Asians in ways that virtually no other medium does. You see this character, like the character of the Yellow Claw emerging, this sort of monstrous, incredibly alien, exotic figure, this puppet master behind the scenes emerging just as America's anxiety around Chinese immigration, around the changing demographics of the country was first beginning to be felt."
Given the social climate during the early years of Jimmy Woo's appearances, it must have been shocking to see an Asian government agent who was more James Bond than karate master. Working alongside some of America's greatest superheroes, Woo became a pioneer, breaking the mold and expanding the way in which Asians could be portrayed in comics.
Agent Woo For A New Generation And A New Medium
Though is unclear what exactly Jimmy Woo's role will be in Ant-Man and the Wasp, it is a big step forward for Marvel and the Asian American community to see such an iconic character come to life on the big screen. We can only hope this new interpretation of Woo will be as influential today as his comic book counterpart was in the past.
You can catch Agent Woo in Marvel's Ant-Man and the Wasp, due out July 6, 2018.