Book Review: The Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Lieu

cover of The Shadow HeroThe Shadow Hero is absolutely delightful.  It’s funny, sexy, exciting, and sometimes very sad.  It’s inspiring.  It’s everything a superhero comic should be, completely with the important question of what a superhero should do with his power.

In the 1940’s, there was a superhero in comics named The Green Turtle.  He was drawn by an Asian American man named Chu Hing.  Supposedly, Hing wanted The Green Turtle to be Chinese, but the publisher wanted him to be Caucasian.  Consequently, The Green Turtle never got an origin story, and he was always drawn so that the reader couldn’t see his face.  His ethnicity was a mystery.

In The Shadow Hero, The Green Turtle is re-created as a boy whose parents emigrated to America from China.  The boy, Hank, likes working in the family store with his father, but his mother has bigger dreams.  When his mom meets an American superhero, she decides Hank should be one too. She tries many things to get him superpowers (having lab animals bite him, tripping him so that he falls into toxic waste) but the only result is that Hank develops skin that glows a bright pink under certain conditions.  Then Ma realizes that Hank could be a superhero without powers, and she forces him to learn to fight.

Hank doesn’t take being a superhero seriously until his family run afoul of the local crime boss.  Suddenly Hank has a family secret to carry that comes with a real super power (he can’t be shot).  He has a mission for vengeance, and a determination to seek justice despite the power of the boss and the corruption in the police system.  With the hope of one good cop, his Mom, and a turtle spirit, he has to take down the local crime boss and still make time to take the boss’s daughter out to dinner.

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I loved everything about this comic – the art, the sense of place, the tone which shifts from comic to tragic and back, the action, and the cultural details.  The afterword has fascinating details about the original Green Turtle and one of the early Green Turtle issues.  If you are interested in diversity in comics, that afterword alone makes the book worth picking up.  This would be a better review if I had more nuanced things to say besides “I loved it”, but really, it was just tons of fun and very, very well done in art and writing.  Am running off now to the library card catalog to get more comics by these guys.  I picked this up on a whim and I’ve never had a happier surprise.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Lieu

  1. I loved this too! I really hope they write more adventures of the Green Turtle some day, so this doesn’t have to be a one-shot.

  2. Kayla says:

    I actually enjoyed the book too! I had doubts because I’m the comic book type of girl, but I found it entertaining! But a question I have is what was the whole theme or central idea of the book? Just to fight bad guys and do what your mother says? What do you think?

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