In the 1940s the world was introduced to, arguably, the first Asian superhero, The Green Turtle, a masked man with a turtle cape, a haunting shadow, and a mysterious background who was featured in five issues of Blazing Comics. Now, 70 years later, Gene Yang (Boxers & Saints, American Born Chinese) and Sonny Liew (My Faith in Frankie, Sense and Sensibility) have brought new life to the character and delved back into his origins in the first chapter of The Shadow Hero.
If you were expecting a grim take on 1930s life with an angst-filled hero on the level of Batman or Spider-Man, then this first chapter is going to be a disappointment. The Shadow Hero is funny, really funny. It’s not a comedy book, per say, and doesn’t shy away from depicting the realities of Asian immigrants of the 1930s, but Hank Chu’s “origin” story is not what you come to expect from modern-day superheroes. I love it for that.
In fact, Hank’s story doesn’t begin with him at all. Our titular hero is featured very little in this first chapter. Instead, it begins with his parents. Readers of Yang’s other work know that he doesn’t need a lot of pages to make you fall in love with a character, and The Shadow Hero is no exception. Hank’s father is a mild-mannered grocer who is happy with a simple life and has instilled many of those values in his son. As dull as that might sound, Yang adds some depth and mystery to the man, and his love and pride in his son is touching. Hank’s mother Hua, on the other hand, is a force of nature and steals the issue. Hua has a powerful imagination, a sharp tongue, and a determination for a better life that makes it hard not to like her. Her part of the origin is funny, gripping, and flat out adorable. When do you ever read a superhero comic and point at the hero’s mother and say, “She’s my favorite character!” Well, I did here.
Speaking of adorable, Liew’s art is incredible. The art adds some more exaggerated elements, such as larger heads and more expressive faces for the characters but keeps character movements and actions within the realm of possibilities in this sort of exaggerated reality. This works perfectly with The Shadow Hero‘s tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and its split between the humdrum of daily life and the far more active world of superheroes. There’s also an emphasis on color that further splits these two worlds. The more muted browns and grays of the grocer’s life that look like events are happening through a sepia filter, and then the bright, rich colors of the superhero world: bright blues, reds, and yellows. One of my favorite panels of this first chapter is when Hua is relating a story. Liew’s art captures her in many different expressions and poses that perfectly explain Hua’s take on recent events in such a charming manner.
While we’ll have to wait until July 15th to pick up the whole book, First Second Books is releasing the chapters digitally each month leading up to the release. For a complete list on where The Shadow Hero is available visit page.macmillan.com/mcpg/shadowhero.
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