Review of the Week: “Shadow Hero”

ShadowHeroYang, Gene Luen. The Shadow Hero. Sonny Liew, Illus. Graphic. First Second, 2014. 156p. PB $17.99. 978-1-59643-697-8. OUTSTANDING. GRADES 7-ADULT.
In this appealing and dynamic follow-up to his award-winning works American Born Chinese (2006), and Boxers and Saints (2013), Yang creates a deeply satisfying story about a Chinese American super-hero. In 1944, a Chinese American cartoonist supposedly created the first Asian American super-hero, the Green Turtle, but the hero’s face was never revealed, leaving open the question of his racial identity. In The Shadow Hero, Yang and Liew imagine the Green Turtle’s origin story, adding diversity to the often homogenous world of super-heroes. At first, Hank Chu resists his mother’s wish that he become a super-hero, but then, with the help of a turtle spirit, he fully embraces his super-hero identity and defends his family against extortion by a powerful Chinatown crime boss. The story has Yang’s characteristic self-deprecating humor, as well as a tinge of mysticism. Hank, an anti-hero, struggles with his filial obligations and his own desire for a quiet life. Hank’s mother is full
of bossy vigor and the source of much comic relief, yet she, too, harbors broken dreams. Sonny Liew’s excellent illustrations have an atmospheric quality, striking color, and modern humor. The characters’ facial expressions convey authentic emotions and Liew’s bold, gestural art carries the story as much as Yang’s text. An essential addition to any collection, this is a compelling adventure story that is also a nuanced portrayal of an immigrant family nursing their unfulfilled dreams.
Jenny Yap, Independent

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