Comic Solutions

Book Review: The Shadow Hero

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 5.06.17 PM The Shadow Hero
Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
First Second
July 2014

In the Golden Age of the comics, the 1940’s, a hero was created by Chu Hing named….The Green Turtle! The Green Turtle had no mystic or magical powers, but he was a superb and skilled fighter. During World War II, The Green Turtle helped the Chinese army defend itself against the invading Japaneses forces. But there’s even more to this legend than meets the eye…the Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero. Even though Chu’s publishers refused to allow the Turtle to ever be depicted in the comics as Asian, Chu hid the Turtle’s face and gave him slanted eyes. The Turtle did not run long and soon lapsed into the night, but his legend remained and those that knew of him wondered…where did he come from? Thanks to the efforts of writer Gene Luen Yang and artist Sonny Liew that question may now be answered. And the legend of the Green Turtle is at long last revealed.

Hank is just your average 1930’s teenage kid. He’s a second generation Chinese-American living in Chinatown with his parents. He looks up to his dad and works hard their grocery store, thinking about the future when he’ll take over, and eventually pass it onto his children. But his mother…his mother isn’t happy with average. One day she is saved by a superhero. And she decides…Hank needs to be the first Asian American superhero. And Hank begins a journey that will include encounters with gangsters, the police, beautiful women, and perhaps…even an ancient spirit or two. Now the only question is…can he survive what the “training” his mom throws at him?

The first thing I thought of when I heard of this story is…what the heck is the Green Turtle?? It just sounds…strange. But after reading the description, that Gene and Sonny were bringing back the first Asian American superhero and giving him an origin story, I was intrigued. I mean how can you not be, after learning that in the 1940’s Chu did all he could to give the world this hero and he drew and wrote the story in such a way, that the publishers, or anyone else for that matter, cloud claim that the Turtle was a white hero. And Gene and Sonny do an excellent job of bringing this character and his story to life.

Gene is one of those writers that I’ve admired for a very long time. You know the type, that everything they do seems to come out awesome and you want to be jealous of them, but how can you be? Not only is he a great writer, but he’s also one of the nicest guys around. Gene and Sonny capture the feeling of being in 1930’s California.  The growing and bustling population of Chinatown, the immigrants looking to make a new life for themselves, and the racism that the people must endure.  Gene doesn’t shy away from using racial slurs, showing inept and horrid caricatures of the Chinese and other creations.  The thing that I love most about Gene’s stories though, are that he starts blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, to create a world that you recognize and instantly want to be a part of. And that’s what he does here. This world that he creates where heroes exist and where ancient spirits roam, and there are people that are willing to stand up and fight for the wrong in the world…how can you not want to be a part of that? That says nothing of the fact that the characters are memorable and the journey they undertake is powerful. It leaves you to wonder…what would you do in the spot? Would you make the same choices? Would you get lost? And that’s one of the best things any story can do.

Sonny’s artwork is just simply gorgeous. He seems to effortlessly capture the movement of the characters on the pages as they fight and battle, that it almost seems like they’re dancing. But even better is just how well Sonny’s art works with Gene’s words. Sometimes you read a comic book and think “why the heck did they pick this person to draw? It just doesn’t look the words!” But here…that’s not the case. If you were to read Gene’s words by themselves, Sonny’s images surpass what you could even imagine.

This is a great story and I’m glad that Sonny and Gene were able to come together to create and weave a great story. You can see the “secret origins” of the Shadow hero on Gene’s blog, as he shares the process behind the creation of the comic, including some of the early scripts and sketches that he and Sonny put together.  I’m linking to part 5 of the secret origins and you can find the links to the previous parts. I really hope that they come out with a second volume, because I want to know what happens next…and I can’t wait to read it. I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at First Second

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