Heralding The Heroines: Grace Choi (Featuring Chantal Thuy)

If you’re a fan of the CW’s Black Lightning, you’ve no doubt taken notice of Anissa’s love interest Grace Choi. She’s a bit of a mysterious figure at the moment, but the character has a rich comic history.

So, for this installment of Heralding the Heroines, we’re showcasing the indomitable Grace Choi in both her comic and live-action appearances. (Note: Chantal Thuy, Grace’s actress in Black Lightning, gave me an awesome quote!)

Just has a heads up this article will contain some spoilers for The CW’s Black Lightning, The Outsiders, Amazons Attack (yikes), and Batman and The Outsiders. 

Grace Choi was created by Judd Winick and Tom Raney and made her first appearance in 2003’s Outsiders #1.  

Grace Choi is a young Asian-American woman who is about 7 feet tall (roughly 213.36 cm) with metahuman powers like super strength, accelerated healing, enhanced physical durability and so on. She has an intricate series of tattoos on both her arms, stomach, and back. She’s a heavy drinking, foul-mouthed, and hard-partying punching machine.

Grace takes shit from no one.

We first met Grace when she was recruited (somewhat reluctantly on her part) by Roy Harper to join his new Outsiders team. Grace fits in with the team as well enough but frequently enjoys poking fun at and hazing teammate Anissa Pierce about her rookie status and idealized vision of what a hero is supposed to be.

Throughout their adventures, Grace settles into being a hero and begins to take pride in the work they do.

During the events of the, poorly received, Amazons Attack (Skip this event. Seriously, just skip it.), she discovers that she is the daughter of a Bana-Mighdall amazon. However, this doesn’t offer a full explanation for Grace’s powers as the Bana Amazons have only peak human level strength and conditioning.

After the discovery of her Amazonian heritage, Grace begins to find a role model in Wonder Woman, who she joins on a mission in the Countdown tie-in Wonder Woman and Grace #1.

The Real World’s Finest

Now here comes the point in the article where I need to lay down a trigger warning. From this point on there is going to be talking of child abduction, sexual abuse, and sexual assault. 

Yeah, it gets heavy. You can scroll down a little bit and I’ll let you know when it’s done.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of what makes Grace Choi, well, Grace Choi, we can dig a little deeper into her backstory.

Grace’s history is heavily explored in the Outsiders story arc “Most Wanted.” In the arc, after inadvertently stumbling on a child prostitution ring, it was revealed that Grace escaped had this same ring year earlier.

The ring, led by a man named Tanner, targeted orphaned and runaway children. The children abducted by Tanner and his ring were branded on their lower backs.

This same brand was visible on Grace from the first issue of the series, but up until this point it was simply assumed to be one of her many tattoos.

At about age 12, Grace’s metahuman powers began to develop. She used these newfound powers to escape, taking the other children with her.

After teaming up with America’s Most Wanted and John Walsh (Yes, you read the right.) the Outsiders, led by Grace, are able to take down the ring. We also see Grace finally confront her abuser years after her escape.

Grace giving Tanner exactly what he deserves.

I do just want to say that this arc pulls no punches and doesn’t attempt to hide the true horror that comes child abduction and prostitution. It doesn’t sanitize the issue but instead makes you confront the reality of these situations. The added element of America’s Most Wanted and John Walsh himself drag the issue out of comics and right into reality.

That being said I can’t praise this arc enough. It makes the reader confront a horrific topic and making it a part of Grace’s backstory shows that anyone can be a victim. – Mary

End of the triggery stuff. 

Throughout the rest of the run of Outsiders, Grace continues to remain a member of the Outsiders even after Nightwing hands the team over to Batman where she is a member of the team in Batman & The Outsiders, but does leave at one point to settle down with Anissa.

Speaking of Anissa…

The other major part of Grace’s overall story is the development of her romantic relationship with teammate Anissa Pierce, who just so happens to be the daughter of Black Lightning.

Their relationship is kind of contentious in the beginning. Grace teases Anissa for being the rookie and sees her as stuck up. Anissa is annoyed by almost everything about Grace. All of this aside the two women are often paired together on missions.

One such instance led to THE BEST MOMENT OF THE ENTIRE OUTSIDERS RUN.

THEY CATCH A FREAKING PLANE

Their friendship progresses from general dislike, to good-natured ribbing, to a solid friendship.

Their romance doesn’t happen right away. Not at all. During the first several years of the run of Outsiders, Anissa’s sexuality isn’t addressed and Grace is engaged in a “friends-with-benefits” relationship with Roy Harper.

Their relationship comes as a bit of a shock when it is revealed in the One Year Later arc. (Comic note: following Infinite Crisis, all of the books skipped a year, the missing year is chronicled during 52. Confused? Good, welcome to DC Comics.)

When the events of the missing year are addressed it’s revealed that, and I’m summarizing as best and as vaguely as I can, Anissa initiates the relationship after Grace speaks up in defense of Black Lightning after he goes to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. (There is a lot more to this situation, but we’d be here all night, so those are the important bits.)

After the two have some “quality time” Grace admits that she has been attracted to Anissa from the beginning and described her constant teasing of Anissa as “teasing you at recess.”

Grace and Anissa after some “quality time.”

Grace and Anissa have a deeply loving relationship and are wholly dedicated to each other. After Batman boots Anissa from the Outsiders, Grace, for lack of a better word, is absolutely pissed and strongly advocates for Anissa so she can rejoin. Anissa is eventually allowed to rejoin and their adventures resume.

Sadly, Grace and Anissa were two characters that were removed from the main continuity after Flashpoint. They have not appeared in main continuity since. There are been some non-canon appearances. Anissa recently, and very briefly, appeared in the currently running DCeased.

Grace (and I am grasping at straws here) appeared on 2 “group shot” variants for New-Superman. Both are variant covers and both covers are comprised of the major Asian characters in the DC Universe, regardless of continuity.

Grace was set to disappear from the DC Universe entirely until the CW’s Black Lightning.

We’re shifting into TV here, so spoilers for Black Lightning. I’ll try to keep it vague.

You’ve been warned.

The CW’s Black Lightning follows the adventures of Jefferson Pierce and combines Tony Isabella’s Black Lightning with Judd Winnick’s Outsiders (They pull Anissa from Outsiders as #1 is her first appearance).

In season 1, episode 3, we saw the introduction of Grace (played by actress Chantal Thuy) in The CW universe. She and Anissa meet at a bookstore when Anissa goes to research genetic mutation. The scene is packed full of flirting and Anissa is not a smooth as she thinks she is.

The rest of Grace’s short appearances in season 1 don’t give us much insight into her character, but just serve to establish her. She’s bisexual, she likes comics, and she’s a bartender. (I assume working at the bar is a nod to her being a bouncer in the comics.)

In season 2, we see Grace’s storyline begin to grow. She and Anissa begin dating and as their relationship, and the season progresses Grace becomes distant and angry at times.

(Note: Something fun I noticed in season 2 is that Grace has a full sleeve tattoo on her right arm. I’m not sure whether the tattoo is Thuy’s or was added for the show, but either way, it’s a festive, and perhaps unintentional, nod to the source material.)

We find out that Grace is a meta of some sort, but seems to have poor control over her meta abilities, to the point we see her taking multiple doses of medication to keep her powers in check.

The bombshell comes towards the end of season 2 where Anissa is given larger bits of Grace’s backstory by Gambi, a close family friend and tech support for Black Lightning.

We learn that a lot of Grace’s comic background was adapted for the show including being bounced to different foster homes and even being sold to into child prostitution. (Yeah, I was not expecting to see that included.) Things have been added, but large chunks of her comic backstory appear to be “intact.”

The biggest exclusion seems to be the fact that, from what we’re aware of right now, she isn’t an Amazon. Grace’s meta powers seem to be shapeshifting.

In the finale for season 2, Grace has disappeared, but Anissa seems hell-bent on finding her. So, I’m positive we will see more of this subplot expanded on in season 3.

Now…for the really fun part: I reached out to Chantal Thuy, a while back, and asked her what playing Grace meant to her and how she felt to be playing one of two LGBTQ Asian superheroines on TV (the other is Lyrica Okano as Nico Minoru in Marvel’s Runaways.)

In a Twitter message, she said this:

“Grace Choi came into my life when I needed her the most. She came at a time when I thought I’d have to wait another lifetime to see this kind of Asian American superhero on TV, much less play one. In TV & film, it feels Asians can more often than not be relegated to a role that has “token Asian” subtly marked on it. And Grace is not that. For me, she defies all model minority stereotypes attributed to Asians in such a deep way, and I can’t help but admire and feel gratitude to the comic book creators, the showrunners and the writers for scribing her to live in this way. Grace for me is a person who speaks her truth as it is, in the best of her ability: being Bi, having a difficult past, being in love—and she expresses her humanity, and puts that in the forefront.”

Left: Thuy in Black Lightning 1X03

“And I feel in our society, as young Asian/POC girls and women, we are unconsciously conditioned to walk around apologizing for our otherness— whether it’s our sexuality, being bi/gay, bringing our smelly Asian food in high school cafeterias… And it took me a long time to integrate and love all the parts in me that felt unlovable because I grew up not fitting in and feeling like a social anomaly. But Grace is completely comfortable and in integrity with who she is, and I believe that’s the goal we all strive for. None of that apologetic bullshit. And when I get feedback from Black Lightning fans who feel a connection with Grace, that’s often what I hear. And it means the world to me that people connect to her in this way, because that would be one of the messages I’d want to leave everyone. To be in integrity with who you are; you don’t have to apologize for being you. You do you, and that is more than good enough.”

Be sure to tune in for Black Lightning season 3, which premieres Monday, October 7th on The CW and read Grace’s comic adventure by picking up trades for The Outsiders wherever comics are sold.

 

 

 

 

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Mary Swangin

Mary Swangin

Senior Editor
A lesbian who spends too much time/money reading and overanalyzing comic books.
Mary Swangin

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A lesbian who spends too much time/money reading and overanalyzing comic books.

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