Monday, July 14, 2014

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang

I am in love with Gene Luen Yang's writing and Sonny Liew's artwork. In fact, I've read almost everything Yang has published, and every time I pick up one of his books I learn something and I come to further appreciate his ability to create nuanced stories of characters grappling with ethnic stereotypes.

In The Shadow Hero we meet our young protagonist, Hank, who lives in Chinatown during the Tong Wars. If you're not familiar with the Tong Wars, don't feel bad...I had to Google it. This was a time in American history (roughly 1880s to 1921) when warring Chinese gang factions were working underground to control the economy of Chinatown. Hank is proud to work in his father's grocery store, and has no plans to do otherwise, until the day that the Tong Wars infringe on his family life. With his mother's enthusiasm (pushiness!) behind him and a wish to avenge a great wrong done to this family, Hank becomes the Green Turtle...a superhero. He also inherits a Chinese spirit god who lives in his shadow and helps out from time to time.

This graphic novel was a great mix of humor (a superhero forced into being by his mom) and weighty issues. Not only is Hank fighting against the Tong factions, he's also grappling with himself and his morals, dealing with a corrupt police force, and struggling with his feelings for a woman he shouldn't get involved with. Arching over all of those conflicts is the greater issue of stereotyping. The "good guys" don't have very flattering things to say about Chinese immigrants in New York City at this time, and the "bad guys" play into the stereotypes in order to manipulate and take advantage of the white New Yorkers' pre-conceived notions of them.  

Besides being a great stand-alone graphic novel, knowing the history behind this volume makes it even more intriguing...

The Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero. Created by Chu Hing for Blazing Comics in the early 1940s, Green Turtle had a short run before lapsing into obscurity, but Yang has revived the character creates an origin story for the Green Turtle in The Shadow Hero

Hing created the Green Turtle comics in a world of cartoonists and publishers interested only in white superheroes. His work was borderline subversive and I loooooooooooove clever subversions. At the end of this book there is a note of explanation from Yang that runs through the real history of the Green Turtle comics. If you'd like to learn more in the meantime, check out this Chu Hing biography.

Perhaps what's greatest about Yang's work is that you can read it on a surface level and find a great story. But if you do a little digging there are depths to plumb that you might not even realize. For me it makes a rich, rewarding reading experience every single time. 



I certainly don't want to skate over Sonny Liew's artwork! After seeing some samples of the original Green Turtle comics, I think it's safe to say that Liew pays tribute to the classic style of Hing's work, especially through the coloration of his panels. His characters have much more exaggerated features that those older works, but it's a nice balance for the contemporary reader...a seamless blend of nostalgia and 21st century aesthetics. The drawings' richness, bold shapes and line are characteristics I tend to associate with my favorite graphic novels from the publisher, First Second, so I felt right at home with this one.  

Pub. Date: July 15, 2014
Publisher: First Second
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 1596436972
Source: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in consideration of a review. An honest one!






11 comments:

  1. This sounds like an awesome read. The artwork is gorgeous!

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    1. It is very good, Sharlene!

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  2. Ah, this sounds so great! I didn't even realize he had another book coming out, but now I'm super excited. I love that this one is US history based, too.

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    1. It snuck up on me, too, Shannon. And it's just so lovely with the historical background. Makes it even more meaningful.

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  3. This sounds great! I haven't read Gene Luen Yang yet -- suggestions on where to start?

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    1. Boxers and Saints or American Born Chinese. I think American Born Chinese is deceptively simple and gets passed over a lot for that reason.

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  4. Fun! I have only read a few graphic novels.

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    1. Sheila, I started reading them back in 2004ish and have been addicted ever since. There are soooo many good ones.

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  5. I wish I could afford an addiction to graphic novels. They always look like so much fun.

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  6. Yessssss! So excited to see that Yang has a new graphic novel out. Can't wait to get my hands on it! I might have to stock up on these for the readathon (which is already on my calendar in BIG letters and the hub has been forewarned).

    And James--LIBRARY!!! :P

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  7. Oh, how exciting! I am looking forward to reading this one. I like how he highlights historical events that many people are not familiar with.

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