I am a fan of superhero comics. After reading about talking ducks, precocious teens at Riverdale High, and an equally precocious rich kid, I wanted something with a real story, not a situation. I wasn’t allowed to buy comic books, so I had to rely on the kindness of cousins. Whatever I could scrounge up in their rooms was irresistible for me. When I discovered Batman and Superman at a teen cousin’s house, I had found the stories to build my dreams on. Sadly, it was always a lone issue. I never knew what happened next. That wasn’t all bad. I had a lot of fun making up my own stories, culminating in an exciting outcome.
It wasn’t until I was an adult and graphic novels became common that I was able to find the beginning, middle, and end of superhero stories. Today I read a lot of comics, making up for those lost years. Some superheroes have become less than admirable in our current taste for the anti-hero. They weary me.
Thank goodness for Gene Luen Yang , Sonny Liew, and The Shadow Hero. They’ve created a fresh, fascinating, and accessible character in Hank Chu, the son of a Chinese immigrant who owns a grocery store and a mother who has big ambitions for her son … she wants him to be a superhero. She maneuvers and manipulates, even risking Hank’s life, to make him into something he doesn’t want to be.
In homage to a comic series, The Green Turtle, originally published in the ‘40s, Hank Chu is inhabited by one of the four spirits protecting China, a turtle. What might seem convenient to the storyline in the hands of another writer becomes a solid, satisfying characteristic with Yang’s writing. The villains, protection racketeers, are multi-layered. Hank’s romantic interest is shadowy, but smart and forthright. The story sails along, compelling the page turn.
As for Sonny Liew’s art, I love his crisp line, expressive faces, and a style that easily relays motion. The palette in brown, rust, mauve, and green is muted. It suits the atmosphere of 1930s San Incendio, a city big enough to have a Chinatown. Even the Turtle, Hank’s shadow, is expressive when he confers with Hank in moments of great need.
This book is a winner. Hand it confidently to any reader who has a penchant for heroic deeds … or someone you suspect will wait breathlessly for the Shadow Hero’s next adventure.
The book will be released as a paperback on July 15, 2014. You can purchase digital versions now wherever your favorite e‑books are sold.
a video in which Gene Luen Yang talks about The Shadow Hero
an interview with illustrator Sonny Liew at First Second Books