White Savior by Eric Nguyen and Scott Burman, published by Dark Horse, brings a new perspective to a classic trope. For centuries, literature like Marco Polo’s journals, as well as modern movies like Last Samurai and The Great Wall, portray a European arriving in a non-European culture to save the day. The motif is one of colonialism in action, but the post-colonial world demands a new look. White Savior provides just that with all the action and intrigue one would expect from an adventure story along with wisecracks and side-of-the-mouth commentary for a laugh-out-loud read.
The four-issue series follows Todd Parker, an Asian American man of Japanese descent whose parents decided a whiter name would make for an easier time in American culture. Throughout White Savior, Parker’s narration carries on with hilarious quips worthy of Peter Parker but with more of a nihilistic edge. He mentions that his parents are “gone now,” and then quickly corrects himself that “they’re just on vacation in Branson”—so he’s not the stereotypical hero orphan. He is hardly a stereotype, as he cannot do karate or miraculously heal people with his hands and that he is bad at math. Just as Parker is an inversion of stereotypes, so his adventure shows a more complete story of the “white savior” trope as he careens into a magical journey.
White Savior begins with a poetic retelling of a tale of “an outsider, with snow-colored skin” who would fulfill the prophecy of saving the Japanese village of Inoki from its warring rival. The legend takes a quick turn as the white savior charges headfirst into the enemy and is immediately plugged full of arrows, as charging headfirst is likely to result in. The perspective changes to Parker listening to his grandfather, the tale’s teller, and Parker’s dismissal of the whole legend. Parker soon shows himself to be a hero in trying to save a girl from some thugs on the street, which proves to be a scam to pick his pockets. When Parker chases after her to get his wallet back, he stumbles back in time to feudal Japan.
Parker tries to dismiss his journey as a dream, but it is all too real. He inadvertently saves the leader of Inoki, trying to dodge loose arrows since he cannot afford to get hit given the “insanely high deductible” on his health insurance. Once in the care of Inoki, and noting some surprising similarities between actual Japanese history and ‘90s Cinemax movies, Parker at last meets the legendary white savior of legend: a loud-mouthed, hard-drinking, self-involved loser with light skin who does not seem much of a hero at all.
Nguyen’s art, complemented by Iwan Joko Triyono’s colors and Micah Myers’s lettering, gives life to the clever script by Nguyen and Burman. With fine lines, jagged edges, and deep shading perhaps best known from Old Man Logan, the style highlights the legendary aspects of the story. The backgrounds are near-photographic, with detail and clean angles, while the characters in the foregrounds are rougher and more representative. The art matches the story well in showing that history, and even the present day, is not ever as clear as it may seem.