Today we’re going to talk about one panel from a comic:
It’s from Agents of Atlas issue #3 by Greg Pak and Nico Leon with colors by Rachelle Rosenberg and lettering by Joe Sabino. At this moment, the titular agents are meeting in their secret headquarters to discuss some potentially nefarious shenanigans that are happening.
And, naturally, all these superheroes have taken their shoes off.
Okay, so, the Agents of Atlas are all ethnically Asian. You’ve characters like Amadeus Cho and Cindy Moon, Korean-Americans based out of New York and Pearl Pangan from the Philippines and Lei Ling of Shanghai. There’s even a handy map on the credits page to offer an easy rundown:
Yes, there’s a gut reaction to dismissing this sort of team-up as being pandering; it’s just Marvel realizing they’ve got a dearth of Asians and are mashing them all into one comic to highlight them and hope that combined their combined appeal can move books. Consider it tokenism but on steroids. Yet Atlas is able to get past that by applying verisimilitude to its fiction. An early beat during their War of The Realms introduction has the diverse cast (and yes, they are diverse: there’s a world of difference between being Chinese and Korean) sitting down to eat and bonding over the myriad of ways to prepare spam. It’s a quick gag, but one that quickly conjured up memories of how I’ve been served it in the past.
So the third issue and the lack of shoes.
I wrote not too long ago about how much I loved a beat of Always Be My Maybe that involves running kids taking off their shoes indoors and that same sentiment is in play here. It’s an absolute darn delight to see that tiny bit of detail. I take my shoes off indoors! And so do Silk and Shang Chi! There’s even a genkan where the shoes are left and fuzzy slippers available for indoor use. This ain’t some half-assed representation. It’s a small detail that’s really big in that it very much establishes that a) these characters are Asian beyond being drawn/named such, and 2) when given the opportunity will embrace that part of their culture.
There’s a narrative component to it too!
What’s it mean that they took their shoes off when going into their headquarters? Understand that taking your shoes off somewhere belies a sense of respect and comfort/intimacy. You don’t take your shoes off at the office or the movie theatre, but you definitely do in someone’s home and, in some parts of Asia, restaurants too. When someone like me — who’s been taking his shoes off in houses his entire life — sees this, it instantly communicates a lot of information about the people and where they are.
The Agents of Atlas are comfortable in their headquarters. Not like “ah, I’m comfy here,” but they treat it like a home. Sure, they’re all still in costume, but it’s somewhere they can take their shoes off. For someone like me, that feeling of taking off my shoes when I get home is a little marker that “yep, I’m back.” Thus seeing this being acknowledged in the comic is a delightful nod that immediately establishes how these characters feel about where they are.
It also helps with the conflict! In the scene we find ourselves in, Amadeus Cho, leader of the Agents, is wary of newcomer Isaac Ikeda — a hero in the employ of the entrepreneur responsible for the aforementioned potentially nefarious shenanigans. Amadeus didn’t invite Isaac; he’s surprised to even see him in the headquarters. Maybe he’s paranoid (he’s not quite sure), but he doesn’t want Isaac in their secret base, and for Isaac to be there — in this place where they’re able to take their shoes off! — isn’t unlike a roommate bringing home that super sketchy dude from the bar. This is made clear in the dialogue, of course, but the complication of the shoes adds an additional subtextual layer to it all.
Oh, diversity and representation. How I do harp on them. But this is why! This panel brought me such joy! This detail means so much to me because it’s something that I understand and speaks to me from a frame of reference I’m familiar with. Look, I’m a biracial third-culture-kid who’s an immigrant on both sides of the Pacific; I take the wins where I can find them. And yes, that means a comic where the superhero team takes off their shoes indoors. It’s important!