The Shadow Hero
Shadow Hero
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Gene Luen Yang, illus. by Sonny Liew
ISBN 9781596436978
First Second/Roaring Brook, 2014.
5 stars
Keywords: chinese-history chinese-mafia chu-hing gene-luen-yang golden-age-comics green-turtle shadow-hero superheroes

The Shadow Hero
by Gene Luen Yang, illus. by Sonny Liew

Gene Luen Yang (Boxers & Saints) and artist Sonny Liew (Malinky Robot) imagine a captivating origin story for the Green Turtle, a character created by Chu Hing during the Golden Age of American comics.

Hank works in his father's grocery while his mother serves as a housekeeper and sometime chauffeur for the Olsons. When a robber hijacks the Olsons' car with Hank's mother at the wheel, she is saved by a superhero, and decides Hank should become one, too. Humor abounds as she tries making him a costume, pushing him into a chemical spill and arranging for his martial arts lessons. At the same time, Yang exposes the corrupt underbelly of Chinatown's business world. Yang threads together the plot lines when Hank (as aspiring superhero) attempts to save a woman from some shady characters and, in a comic twist, she winds up saving Hank. Her connection to the underworld brings the Green Turtle face to face with the head of the Chinese mafia.

Through this very human hero and his green turtle alter ego, Yang and Liew debate cowardice versus bravery, vulnerability versus strength, disdain versus compassion. Yang also ties in the impact of the collapse of the Ch'ing Dynasty and the ensuing chaos resulting in immigration to the U.S. His smart, funny afterword lays out the facts and speculations, and explains the subtler shadings of the "origin" story. The audience will extend beyond comics fans, to those who enjoy noir and good old-fashioned storytelling anchored by historical events.

The review first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.
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