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The Shadow Hero

Review

The Shadow Hero

At the end of their modern graphic novel, collaborators Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew explore the history of a superhero you've probably never heard of: The Green Turtle. Starring in just five issues of a Blazing Comics comic book, The Green Turtle was the creation of a previously unknown Chinese American comics artist named Chu Hing. Yang and Liew speculate --- based on some pretty compelling evidence --- that Chu Hing intended The Green Turtle to be the first-ever Asian American superhero, but that publisher pressures prevented him from making The Green Turtle's ethnic identity apparent.

In a running joke in the original Green Turtle stories, for example, the hero's sidekick, Burma Boy, repeatedly asks him how he became a superhero, but the telling of the origin story is always interrupted by some new crisis. Now, in Yang and Liew's incredibly entertaining reimagining of The Green Turtle, that origin story can finally be dreamt up, drawn up and told for a new generation of comics readers.

Yang and Liew's graphic novel is an entertaining narrative in its own right, and it's also a clever political commentary not only on superhero comics in general but on the historical Green Turtle character in particular

Author Gene Luen Yang has made something of a career of addressing Asian characters and themes in his work, which includes the award-winning graphic novel AMERICAN BORN CHINESE and BOXERS & SAINTS, a two-volume graphic exploration of the Boxer Rebellion. Now, in THE SHADOW HERO, Yang gives his hero, Hank, an undeniably Asian-American story.

Hank's father was a washed-up drunk when he landed on a boat from China to the United States. Unbeknownst to everyone, however, he made a supernatural bargain that enabled him to defeat his addiction and become a respected Chinatown grocer. Hank's mother became accustomed to disappointment when the United States failed to live up to her grand immigrant's expectations, and her marriage to Hank's father offers her daily opportunities for renewed disappointment. As for Hank, he is happiest when helping his father in the grocery store, and he dreams of taking over the shop from his dad someday. But Hank's mother is not so satisfied, and when, after a chance encounter with a superhero, she sets some new goals for her son, Hank is set on a new journey that will result in crossing paths with some of the scariest figures of Chinatown's criminal underworld.

Yang and Liew's graphic novel is an entertaining narrative in its own right, and it's also a clever political commentary not only on superhero comics in general but on the historical Green Turtle character in particular.Yang's afterword notes that The Green Turtle's artists gave the hero's skin an unnatural shade of pink to make him seem aggressively Caucasian; Yang's origin story explains this odd pinkness in a totally different (and pretty humorous) way. THE SHADOW HERO is surprisingly funny; Hank's mother provides much of the humor as she swings from being hell-bent on raising a superhero at any cost to wondering when and if her newly-minted superhero son will come home for dinner. Liew's expressive illustrations capture this humor, as well as a range of other emotions and plenty of action, too. THE SHADOW HERO is a great book because it will appeal to a broad swath of readers, everyone from comics aficionados to armchair historians of the genre to kids who just hope to get to know a new kind of hero.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on July 16, 2014

The Shadow Hero
by Gene Luen Yang

  • Publication Date: July 15, 2014
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: First Second
  • ISBN-10: 1596436972
  • ISBN-13: 9781596436978