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‘White Savior’ TPB (review)

Written by Eric Nguyen and Scott Burman
Art by Eric Nguyen
Published by Dark Horse Comics


How am I supposed to jump on board for the protagonists in this story when one of them cuts a man’s face off, and the other wears it like a mask? What kind of 2000s edgelord shit is that?

I didn’t care for this one bit.

And I’m sad about that.

White Savior has so much going for it.

With borderline-angry zeal, it wants to skewer white-savior tropes in stories such as The Last Samurai, The Great Wall and Shogun.

And that’s totally justifiable, especially considering how little space Asian and Pacific Islander (API) people have in popular culture.

A Japanese-American film history teacher chases a pickpocket and accidentally travels back in time to feudal Japan, where he finds a community led to massacre by an inept (but completely confident) white man. Can the teacher and pickpocket change history and save the villagers from the man they believe will protect them?

However, the execution fails to live up to its knockout premise.

For something to be a comedy, not every line has to be a joke or a bit.

White Savior is dripping in such Whedon-ishly self-aware comedy and cul-de-sac banter that is thoroughly tired and tiresome these days.

Satire often won’t work if everything said is a bit on top of another bit, and screwball comedy requires a finesse that’s lacking here. Everyone’s too busy commenting on the actions they’re doing and breaking the fourth wall that it makes every event in the book a slog to read.

Add to this the editor’s notes, which make it even worse.

For instance, Todd excuses himself from a banquet with a dumpling-related poop pun, only for the editor’s note to read, “Technically he was eating gyoza, but that post-dumpling dumpling joke is solid gold, so we had to keep it in. Please don’t write us letters.”

Or a full-page panel of an ominous man arriving on horseback at an evil castle needs to have an “excerpt” from a conversation between Burman and Nguyen about how “gorgeous” the page is and not wanting to “ruin it with unnecessary narration.” Ugh.

I feel like there’s a better version of this story in which Todd starts off as an Asian-American young man who largely lives untethered from his Japanese heritage, and gains a deeper, more outward appreciation of it by going on this adventure. Todd’s narration sets this up nicely at the start, pushing back on Asian stereotypes, and noting that his parents named him Todd Parker out of assimilationist ideas.

That doesn’t happen here. Instead, Todd starts off a snarky, do-nothing geek and ends that way. While his job as a film history teacher (how old is he, because he seems late-20s at best) figures into how he helps Inoki win the battle, it’s a hodgepodge of elements from cinema’s great film battles that don’t require much film history knowledge.

Furthermore, the humor in this book lampshades everything so hard that it deflates any sense of drama in the story. If your book has a person scream in pain by screaming, “Wilhelm Scream!” please know that I hate that book and want out.

This kind of humor also highlights where the comic goes wrong. It purports to have so much to say about race, even though the design of Kenzo, the big bad in our story, looks like every yellow-peril depiction of Asian people.

Or Todd gets a Black best friend who’s a muscled giant – and it took the friend saying he’s Black for me to notice he is. The visual depictions of Neal in the first two issues differ from how he looks in the back half of the story via facial features and skin tones. (Half the time, his skin tones are no different from Todd’s and Maggie’s, which certainly is possible, but yeah.)

The lack of detail in the character designs regarding faces hurt my experience reading this overall. But then what should I expect from a story that has the hero wearing someone’s cut-off face? Maggie does this in issue No. 3 and it thoroughly turned me off from enjoying this book as a light romp.

Maybe this would all work if the book were funny. Instead, just like Todd, White Savior swings wildly, hitting next to nothing.


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