The Shadow Hero
by Gene Luen Yang, Sonny Liew (First Second, 2014)

Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew take a Golden Age superhero and turn him into a modern crimefighter on the level of The Shadow and Batman. What's noteworthy is that this is an Asian superhero, the Green Turtle.

Yang and Liew's creative reworking of a classic superhero gives him an origin story; a city, San Incendio, to defend from vicious drug lords; and a secret identity, Hank Chu, a shopboy content to stock shelves at his parents' supermarket. Until destiny calls, that is....

This modern reimagining is in good hands with Chinese-American writer Yang and Malaysian-born artist Liew, who neatly sidestep any potential stereotypes with a lively, entertaining story that has equal parts romance, social commentary and subtle explorations of racism. It's also an intelligent and entertaining paean to superheroes in general.

Although the original comic was cancelled decades ago after only five issues, Yang and Liew get behind that character by using a real-life protagonist with real-life issues. Hank may be a teenager who wants a simple life but his mother has other ideas. After seeing local Anglo hero The Anchor of Justice in action, Hank's tiger-style mom, Hua, sews a costume for him, gets him to learn kung-fu and pushes him to start defending the streets on behalf of their people and their community.

As with his first effort, American Born Chinese, Yang explores the theme of race relations and ethnic stereotypes from a viewpoint well informed by real experience. In a great, action-packed story, Yang and Liew deliver priceless humor, three-dimensional characters, tragedy and lots of well-intended fun mixed with realism. There are femme fatales, stylish villains possessed of huge amounts of turf and gangs of henchmen, a love interest on the wrong side of the law, and well-blended wit and action.

There is a great nod to the ideology of superhero origins, as well, with the eponymously titled superhero getting a pretty good background without resorting to gimmickry. All of it is supported by the well-designed compositions of Liew. These are the elements on which a good story runs. Thought-provoking while still being highly entertaining, this is a book to read and re-read.

review by
Mary Harvey

29 August 2015

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