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The Shadow Hero Paperback – July 15, 2014
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From School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Award-winning author Yang and artist Liew tackle a lesser-known aspect of history, breathing new life into the Green Turtle, a 1940s comic book hero. According to lore, the Green Turtle was originally drawn to be Chinese, but publishers quashed artist Chu Hing's plans, and Hing rebelled by drawing his hero so that his face was never visible. The Green Turtle is cast as an unlikely 19-year-old young man, Hank, the son of Chinese immigrants who own a grocery store in 1940s America. When his mother is rescued by a superhero, the loving but overbearing woman decides that it's Hank's fate to become a hero himself, and she does everything in her power to push her son in that direction. Though Hank initially shies away from assuming the role of caped crusader, when tragedy strikes, he's eventually inspired to call himself the Green Turtle, and fight back against gangsters who have been intimidating his family and many others in Chinatown. Liew's scratchy, action-packed illustrations have a nostalgia-tinged vibe ideal for the gritty/hard-boiled setting, and Yang plays expertly with clichés and stereotypes about Chinese culture without ever becoming heavy-handed or obvious. A detail about the four spirits of China, one of whom allies himself with Hank's father and then Hank, injects an element of magic and of Chinese history and mythology that made Yang's American Born Chinese (First Second, 2001) such a layered and complex work. A creative take on the superhero genre. [See author Q&A, p. 20.]—Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal
*Starred Review* In the 1940s, the golden age of comic books, Chu Hing, a little-known Chinese American cartoonist—very likely the first ever—created the Green Turtle, a superhero tasked with protecting China from invading Japanese forces. Though the comic ran for only five issues, Yang uses Chu Hing’s Green Turtle as a launching pad for this story of young Hank Chu, a Chinese American teen in the 1930s who becomes a hero in his Chinatown neighborhood. In a loving spoof of classic superhero origin stories, Hank is exposed to toxic radiation, visits a mystic, and is bitten by an animal used for science experiments before simply working hard at becoming a good fighter. It isn’t until he is faced with real tragedy and inherits the wish-granting turtle spirit who lived in his father’s shadow that he becomes a real hero, the Green Turtle. There’s plenty of humor in this lively, entertaining adventure story, and it capitalizes on the dashing bravado of golden-age comics, particularly in Liew’s stylish pages, full of inky outlines and dramatic paneling. At its heart, though, this book is a subtle comment on China’s changing cultural landscape and growing multiculturalism in America. A lovingly tongue-in-cheek homage. Grades 8-12. --Sarah Hunter
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Top Customer Reviews
The Green Turtle evidenced no obvious superpower, relying mostly on his rocket plane and his two good fists. He went around in a mask and a massive cape with a turtle design. He defended America's ally, China, against the encroaching Japanese forces. One odd conceit about him was that his seemingly ubiquitous shadow resembled a cheerful giant turtle that no one seemed to notice.
The awesome rumor goes like this: Chu Hing was pushing to make a Chinese-American superhero, except that Rural Home ixnayed that intent pretty quick. So Chu Hing went the passive-aggressive route and introduced another odd conceit. He drew the Turtle in such a way that never once did the reader get a good look at his face. Too, whenever the Turtle was about to explain his origin story to his sidekick, Burma Boy, something always came up to interrupt him. Seven decades later, writer Gene Luen Yang notes that even his extensive research is unable to confirm this rumor. But to quote THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
Gene Luen Yang - whom you may know from his acclaimed graphic novels American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints Boxed Set - and artist Sonny Liew (MY FAITH IN FRANKIE, Malinky Robot TP) give the Green Turtle his origin story, one that's steeped in cultural identity and in the zeitgeist of the pre-war 1940s era. The venue is relocated from China to the States, to the city of San Incendio. Our guy is Hank Chu, an unassuming 19-year-old boy who's content to work in his father's grocery store in Chinatown. And, like Lester Girls, Hank proves to be a reluctant hero. I really like Hank's colorful supporting cast, none more colorful than his mom who sailed to our shores as a hopeful young girl but who quickly sours on the American dream. So, for most of her life, she's been this embittered woman. But an encounter with a heroic flying man - this world's Superman avatar - reinvigorates her zest and her ambition. Seizing an opportunity for fame and fortune, she sets about turning her unwilling son into a superhero. We're in for a fun montage of her putting her son thru a bunch of outlandish experiments, one of which has the peculiar fallout of turning her son's skin, when wet, to an odd pink color that glows in the dark.
I love how the writer explains away the turtle shadow. And, no, I don't think I should go more into it.
Sonny Liew's visuals perfectly complement Yang's offbeat storytelling. Liew's art, with its delicate, sort of cartoony lines and its vitality, stylistically evokes an authentic feel of comic books as drawn in the 1940's.
The original 1940s comic lasted five issues and then folded back into obscurity. I'm anticipating the modern-day run to go longer because it's good enough to. The creative team's worldbuilding and mythology incorporate themes of family, heritage, insight into life as an immigrant, terrific humor, Eastern mysticism, and an inventive shuffling of superhero tropes. I won't say what, but the Green Turtle does have a super-power after all, but it's one that's limited and born out of not thinking things thru. What a charming, unpredictable read. When I flipped to the last page I just wanted to keep on reading. The closing panels of THE SHADOW HERO dovetail nicely into the stories told in the old BLAZING COMICS as the Turtle is recruited into the great world war. And how awesome is it that this trade also reprints the original Green Turtle story from BLAZING COMICS #1? There's also Gene Luen Yang's 5-paged afterword in which he details the Green Turtle's backstory and how he and Sonny Liew came to be involved with reviving this forgotten hero.
I should not have been worried. Yang and artist Sonny Liew tell a fast-paced and deep story that never gets lost in its own complications. The main character is a lovable doofus, helped along by an equally lovable and also somewhat doofy spirit. The action sequences are clever and well rendered, and early 20th century Chinatown(in what seems to be a fictional version of San Francisco) is lovingly rendered and full of pulp details. Some of the more obvious are the cop with the yellow trenchcoat and lantern jaw, or the genial Superman analog flying around dispensing polite justice. Some concepts are wonderful and original(to my knowledge): the 3 female assassins with color-coordinated names and outfits were a fun and not over-done concept.
Finally, the resolution upends your expectations and builds to something truly moving and thought-provoking. This isn't a reinvention of the superhero; its a superhero told from a distinct point of view within a specific cultural experience.
A final note: this collection includes a re-print of the first adventure of "The Green Turtle" from the golden age. It isn't great, but the commentary points out some very interesting stylistic choices that make it for a fun companion piece.
This book is spectacular. Highly recommended.
I hope Yang and Liew do a sequel!