Jimmy Woo isn’t a superhero exactly, but he does have some similarities to Iron Man. They both started out as anti-Communist propaganda heroes, and at earlier points in their careers, they both had Fu Manchu knockoffs as their arch-nemesis. Of course, once you factor in the power armor and the Avengers’ memberships, the comparisons begin to fall apart. Still, as far as publishing history goes, Woo’s debut precedes the Fantastic Four by about five years, and it’s about time he got some mainstream recognition.

Back in July, it was announced that Randall Park will be playing Jimmy Woo in the upcoming film ANT-MAN AND THE WASP. Woo first premiered in the 1956 mini-series YELLOW CLAW, which was published during a time in which Marvel comics was known as Atlas comics and generally stayed away from superhero stories.

The titular Yellow Claw, a stereotypical yellow-peril style crimelord with vague mystical abilities, was the main villain of the series. However, while Yellow Claw himself was a racist caricature of sorts, his adversary, FBI agent Jimmy Woo, was Chinese-American, which was pretty groundbreaking at the time.

Although, it should be pointed out that Jimmy Woo’s first on-page appearance wasn’t exactly a beacon of fair representation:

Fortunately, Jimmy’s gone on to better things since then. So, let’s dive into the strange and surprising history of Jimmy Woo, Marvel’s premier Asian-American secret agent.

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The Beginnings of The YELLOW CLAW

Jimmy Wu first issue

The YELLOW CLAW’s first issue begins with the Chinese Communist army hiring Yellow Claw to sabotage the United States. Claw sets up shop in San Francisco, and from there, the rest of the key players are introduced: Jimmy Woo, the FBI agent assigned to stop Yellow Claw; Suwan, Claw’s kind-hearted niece who’s in love with Jimmy; Voltzmann, Claw’s ex-Nazi henchman; and Rocky Miller, an ill-fated convict.

Claw breaks Miller out of prison so that he can pick up some secret government documents on Claw’s behalf. Woo tracks him down and lets Miller know that Yellow Claw is working for the Communists. So, Miller, in a sudden fit of patriotism, sacrifices himself to stop Yellow Claw from accessing the aforementioned government files.

Jimmy Woo
Maybe Miller was just freaking out about Woo’s missing face.

Given what happened to Miller, the first issue of YELLOW CLAW made it seem like it would be a gritty cold war espionage series with Chinese characters at the forefront.  As if to emphasize this, the issue also had a story about communist spies messing up in West Germany that had nothing to do with Claw or Woo. Every issue from then on would feature an unrelated backup story about Communist spies being foiled.

However, the main stories featuring Claw and Woo would end up going in a different direction.

Kirby Takes Over

Starting from issue #2, the legendary Jack Kirby takes over as writer-artist and makes it so that Woo and Suwan no longer look like yellowface caricatures. Unfortunately, 1957 Jack Kirby’s writing is kind of terrible here.

To be fair, Kirby has been an amazingly prolific artist and writer throughout his entire comics career. It’s only natural that he’d have a couple of duds along the way, which is how I would describe the narrative plotting of his YELLOW CLAW stories. Under Kirby’s pen, YELLOW CLAW goes from being a noirish espionage series to being a set of surreal adventures that get cut short by anti-climactic contrivances.

The Half-Baked Misadventures of the YELLOW CLAW

Take, for instance, Kirby’s first YELLOW CLAW story in issue #2: “Concentrate on Chaos!” Yellow Claw has a group of reality-warping mutants under his control. Woo tracks them down and gets trapped in an instant. Then, Suwan stumbles across a gong that instantly breaks the hypnosis spell that Yellow Claw was using to control the mutants, and they teleport away. Yellow Claw flees, and the story ends.

If that was too complicated for you, here’s “The Microscopic Army!” from issue #3. Yellow Claw uses a machine to shrink a bunch of assassins so that they can sneak into a top-secret office. However, the FBI has a copy of the machine. So, Jimmy shrinks down and single-handedly beats up all the assassins in within the timespan of one comic panel.

Jimmy Woo fights tiny assassins

Yellow Claw flees, and the story ends.

In issue #4 we have two of my personal favorites: “The Screemies!” and “Five-Million Sleepwalkers!” In “The Screemies!”, Yellow Claw commands a horde of mutated birds to steal everyone’s food. Then it turns out Jimmy has a scientist friend who can talk to the birds, and he gets them to attack Yellow Claw instead. In “Five-Million Sleepwalkers!” Yellow Claw hires a hypnotist to put people in a sleepwalking daze while he robs the city. Then it turns out that the hypnotist was working for the FBI the whole time, and that Yellow Claw was tricked into thinking that he robbed the city.

At the end of “The Screemies!” Yellow Claw flees, and the story ends. At the end of “Five-Million Sleepwalkers!”, Yellow Claw flies off in a delusional state, and the story ends. Yellow Claw seems kind of incompetent when it comes to world conquest.

Jimmy Woo, Agent of SHIELD

As you’d expect, the miniseries ended without resolving Jimmy Woo and the Yellow Claw’s feud. The two of them, along with Suwan and Holtzmann, would reappear more than ten years later in STRANGE TALES #160. Woo and company were in the Nick Fury segment of the issue, and things got weird. Yellow Claw turned out to be a robot, which in turn was because of a chess match between Dr. Doom and… whatever this is.

Afterwards, Woo joined SHIELD and went on to do less confusing things, like helping Dum Dum Dugan fight Godzilla. From there on out, Jimmy was more or less a SHIELD side character until his eventual return to the spotlight in the 2006 miniseries AGENTS OF ATLAS.

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Jimmy Woo and the Agents of Atlas

This is the point where Jimmy Woo becomes MCU main character material, albeit through some pretty heavy retcons. So, as it turns out, the name “Yellow Claw” was a mistranslation of the name “Golden Claw.” That in itself is a lie since Golden Claw’s real name is Plan Chu. This means that he’s referred to as “Master Plan” by his followers, because “Yellow Claw” wasn’t goofy enough.

Jimmy Woo

Master Plan reveals that his half-baked shenanigans as the Golden Claw were just his way of training Jimmy, who’s the heir to the Atlas Foundation, a mystical dragon cult/criminal empire based around the descendants of Genghis Kahn.

Prior to discovering the evil empire he inherited, it’s also revealed that in the 50s, Jimmy was the leader of a secret government taskforce made up of incredibly powerful supernatural beings. Apparently, his leadership skills were so good that they’ve all given him their undying loyalty and respect.

Basically, Jeff Parker dropped a care package the size of the moon in Jimmy’s lap. Now, armed with vast-reaching secret society and the aid of several god-like beings, Jimmy Woo, leader of Atlas, sets out to change the world for the better.

Atlas’ Legacy

There are a couple of AGENTS OF ATLAS miniseries in total. The first series set up the premise, and the last series ended ahead of schedule. As I far I can tell, they didn’t change society in any meaningful way. However, they did scam Norman Osborn once, and they fought the X-men and the Avengers a few times.

For the record, unlike YELLOW CLAW, I do think the AGENTS OF ATLAS series is a well-written action-adventure series. I just find it odd that there seemed to be a lot of high hopes and ambitions put into that team, since, in the end, they didn’t affect the Marvel universe all that much. Granted, the Marvel universe is a big place. With everything going on with everybody else, who knows what they’ve been up to.

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Woo’s Place in the Marvel Universe

Still, despite his rather abrupt rise to power, ATLAS did some pretty interesting things with Woo’s character. As far as secret organizations go, I feel like Atlas has the potential to be a more free-spirited counterpoint to agencies like SHIELD. In practically every incarnation of the Marvel universe, Nick Fury is there playing the role of a grizzled paranoid spymaster. As the leader of Atlas, Woo is in a similar situation. However, he takes a more clean-shaven and personable approach than what we’d usually expect from an espionage expert.

Granted, keep in mind that Atlas is no saintly organization. The team themselves are often cleaning up after Master Plan’s unethical experiments. Also, practically everyone in the group, Woo included, has no qualms about killing people if needed.

Jimmy Woo

Superheroes killing of their enemies is actually pretty common in the MCU though, so who knows how that’ll translate onscreen. Still, SHIELD is a mess even in the MCU. Someone trying to start up a more freeform alternative could be interesting. Especially if the leader of said alternative is a mystic clan leader, who used to be an underappreciated SHIELD agent.

Woo in the MCU

Realistically, in the upcoming film, Jimmy Woo is going to be a quirky side character at most. The first ANT-MAN brought up questions about the MCU’s version of Henry Pym and Janet Van Dyne, and it’d be odd to push that aside in an Ant-Man and Wasp film to explain the surreal ins and outs of Atlas and the Yellow Claw.

However, unexpected choices for movies like THOR: RAGNORAK and the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY series have been pretty successful. If Marvel Studios wants to try out something different again, Jimmy Woo’s adventures with Atlas is an option.

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