Monday, July 14, 2014

Review: The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew (ARC)

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
Publisher: First Second Books
Release Date: July 15th, 2014
In the comics boom of the 1940s, a legend was born: the Green Turtle. He solved crimes and fought injustice just like the other comics characters. But this mysterious masked crusader was hiding something more than your run-of-the-mill secret identity... The Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero.

The comic had a short run before lapsing into obscurity, but the acclaimed author of "American Born Chinese," Gene Luen Yang, has finally revived this character in "Shadow Hero," a new graphic novel that creates an origin story for the Green Turtle.
Disclaimer: I received an early copy from First Second Books. This did not affect my review in any way, nor was I compensated for this review.

"I just found the book so empowering, particularly as a Chinese American. Hank is such a real character, and this story really delves into his internal struggles to accept and treasure his culture, as well as to fight with the morality of his actions."

You may or may not know that I have been slowly getting into graphic novels, particularly those released by First Second Books. It really started with reading Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese. While I was not the biggest fan of the book, it was really the fact that Gene writes about Chinese people, Chinese Americans, and Chinese culture that I was drawn in. It's really amazing to me to see my culture and people like me in a book, whether I'm similar to them or not. I think, of the books of his that I've read, The Shadow Hero definitely trumps them all and takes the spot as my favorite by far.

There's just something about this book and about seeing a Chinese American super hero that makes it mean so much more. I've grown up knowing super heroes such as Iron Man, Spiderman, Superman, Flash, the Hulk, and more. But none of them are Asian. It's so empowering to see someone like me, an Asian American, as the super hero. This is why we need diversity in books. There's this power behind seeing someone like you in a book, especially if it's as a main character (though not female). It makes you, in terms of your culture and ethnicity, feel noticed. You feel empowered. You feel like you are important too. To see Hank as the Green Turtle made me wish that the Green Turtle had been more popular as a super hero.

Even more than that, I loved seeing the struggle in Hank as he tries to figure out if what he's doing is right or wrong. Is it right to kill or harm others to avenge those that they killed? Is it right to kill or harm people that will cause more damage alive and threaten the public safety? Oftentimes, you don't see superheroes thinking about these things. They're too busy saving the world. But Hank is also a kid living with his parents, who is going through a hugely traumatic event. He does have to think about the morality of what he's doing, and I'm so glad to see that. Because he's a normal person that makes himself into a superhero, showing that everyone can become a superhero, in which ever way that may manifest itself. Because if it were one of us, we would have conflicting thoughts too. It makes Hank so real because one can imagine oneself in his shoes.

Additionally, The Shadow Hero sticks out because it deals with the discrimination and prejudice against Asian immigrants and Asian Americans in the 40s. Hank's mom often makes excuses just to get out of Chinatown. I don't blame her! I would want to as well. It's like we've been taught, subconsciously, that we should be ashamed of who we are. This book briefly looks into that, and I think that that's really important. I think Hank learns to appreciate, at least a little bit more, his background and culture; it's something I've slowly been trying to appreciate more as well.

I also really enjoyed the fact that the book dealt with the darker side of Chinatown--its gangs. It does so in an interesting way, by showing the other side of things. We see the gangs as being big and bad, but we also see why some people may get involved in these gangs and their business. Gangs, no matter where they are found, are brutal and unforgiving. There's a delicate balance between what's right and what will get you killed. I don't want to spoil much, but Hank's father is involved in a huge Chinese gang. It's scary and leads to basically the whole story, but I think it gives a different look at the same story. We see some of his motivations for getting involved in the gang, and it's just so heartbreaking because he just wanted to be able to survive in America and help his family. And it would come back to haunt him.

As with any superhero novel/comic/graphic novel, there's a bunch of action and heart-racing moments. While it wasn't as strong as I thought it would be, I think it's not necessarily needed. You still get the underlying messages and ideas, and you still get enough action that it is a superhero story. While I'm also not 100% in agreement over how the women are treated in the book, I can't say that it's surprising, given the time and the culture. You do see powerful women, including women that are powerful in more non-conventional ways (such as Hank's mother), in the book, and they are able to stand for themselves, but I can't explain what I mean without giving anything away. So that was my only real problem with this book.

Overall, I just found the book so empowering, particularly as a Chinese American. Hank is such a real character, and this story really delves into his internal struggles to accept and treasure his culture, as well as to fight with the morality of his actions. It's so rare to see such a deeply explored character and such important issues represented and addressed, particularly in superhero stories. It really makes you view things in a different light--how we view ourselves and our cultures, how much parents give up for us (particularly immigrant parents), how people get tied up in bad business because of good intentions, and more. There's a level of complexity in this graphic novel that I've rarely seen in any book, particularly graphic novels (I am not bashing on graphic novels; I love them!). This will remain a really special book in my heart, and I cannot recommend this enough, regardless of your background and/or ethnicity. The Shadow Hero is the one graphic novel you do not want to miss.

The Shadow Hero: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
Gene Luen Yang: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Blog


  1. Jealoussss. Love both First Second and Gene Luen Yang so much and I'm glad you enjoyed this one. :3

    1. Hehe. Love them both too! :D Thank you


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