The Shadow Hero

book cover of The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen YangTitle: The Shadow Hero
Author: Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Graphic Novel
Length: 169 pages

Verdict: Gene Luen Yang and Sony Liew breathe new life into story of Green Turtle, a short-lived comic book hero from the 1940s who was also the first Asian-American superhero.

Synposis: Hank’s parents met in the US after immigrating from China. His father runs a small grocery store while his disillusioned mother dreams of ways to improve her family’s position and achieve the movie star lifestyle she once dreamed of. After her life is saved by another superhero, she latches on to the perfect plan to make something out of her son. She sews him a costume, tells him he’s the Green Turtle, arranges martial arts lessons, and sends him off to fight crime, with slightly disastrous results. 

Thankfully, Hank’s father has an old friend, the tortoise spirit, that he helped leave China for the US. As Hank navigates life as a first-generation American and faces several injustices, including his family’s troubles with a local gang, Hank might just be able to become the hero his mother dreams of, with a little help from his new shadow.

Curious? Check out the book trailer for a better taste:

Review: The Shadow Hero was great. I read Yang’s Boxers and Saints earlier this year and enjoyed them. I wasn’t disappointed with The Shadow Hero. This was definitely a lighter read than Boxers and Saints, although it doesn’t avoid tough subjects either.

I love the idea of reclaiming a short-lived superhero from the Golden Age and reinventing him, giving him a backstory. This particular backstory was charming in some respects. I especially loved that it was Hank’s mother who wanted him to become a superhero and essentially strong arms him into it. And then proceeds to interrupt him whenever he’s trying to do superhero-y tasks and even has to save him at times.

Hank's mother presents him with the superhero outfit she made for him


Recreating the Green Turtle is a great way for Yang and Liew to explore life in 1930’s Chinatown. I liked what Yang wrote about superheroes and the experience of immigrants:

“I’ve loved superheroes all my life.  Superheroes are about all sorts of things, but at their core superheroes are about America.  They were invented in America, they’re most popular in America, and at their best, superheroes express America at its best.

Superheroes are also about immigrants. Take at look at Superman, the granddaddy of them all. His parents sent him to America in search of a better life. He had two names, one American (Clark Kent) and the other foreign (Kal-El). He wears two sets of clothes and lives in between two cultures. He loves his new home, but a part of him longs for his old one.” –Gene Luen Yang

Highly recommended.

I received an advanced copy of The Shadow Hero from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


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