The Shadow Hero

by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Sonny LiewHank Chu goes about his life, like most young men in Chinatown.  He spends his days working in his family’s store and his spare time playing mahjong with his father and his father’s friends.  It’s a quiet life, and Hank enjoys it very much.  His world turns a little upside down when his mother is rescued during a bank robbery by a superhero, The Anchor of Justice.  Mrs. Chu throws herself into turning Hank into a homegrown superhero, subjecting him to everything from odd medicines to toxic sludge; sewing a costume; and driving him around Chinatown at night to try and find crimes in progress.  Let’s just say it doesn’t go well.  Hank is initially resistant to his mother’s actions, but when his father is killed, all bets are off, and Hank is out to avenge his father’s killer, with a little help from the Turtle, one of the guardian spirits of China.The Shadow Hero is an origin story for a short-lived superhero comic series from the 1930s written by Chu Hing, called the Green Turtle, who is said to have been the first Asian superhero.  It uses a lot of the stereotypical superhero tropes (parent violently dying, secret identity, teenaged protagonist), but adroitly avoids some of the others, like women in distress or the protagonist having lots of nifty tools and toys. Hank also lacks the seemingly bottomless bank account that goes with the supply of cool toys.  (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Batman and Iron Man!)  Hank manages to fight crimes based on his own wits, strength, and intelligence, which makes a refreshing change from otherwordly powers and gadgets.  Another thing I really liked was that Hank never contemplates killing his enemies and tries to avoid violence at all if he can.Yang writes wonderfully complex characters.  The character that leads a quiet life turns out to have been a troublemaker in his younger days.  Do stereotypes exist in his comics?  Yes, but they don’t stay stereotypes for long.  Circumstances change his characters, sometimes for better, sometimes not.  But nobody stays static in Yang’s world for very long.Sonny Liew’s drawings evoke vintage comic books, and he does a great job differentiating between events in the past and present. He even uses the classic comic elements of onomatopoeic sound effects (“bang,” “pow,” etc.).  He manages to draw the characters so that they are readily distinct from one another. Gene Luen Yang is the award-winning author of American Born Chinese, Boxers & Saints, and Level Up.  He also wrote several Avatar: The Last Airbender comics.