Taking one of comics’ most obscure heroes and rebuilding him for the modern day, Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew turn The Green Turtle into a real Shadow Hero. Read our review of the first e-issue to the upcoming graphic novel below!
Written by Gene Luen Yang
Illustrated by Sonny Liew
The Green Turtle is probably one of the weirdest forgotten characters from the Golden Age. A pulp hero from 1944’s Blazing Comics (which tragically never ran up to issue #420) who ran around with intense combat skills, a jade dagger, and an actual Turtle Plane, he’s one of the first Chinese-American superheroes who wasn’t just a cheap caricature. Unfortunately, due to an editorial policy in place at the time called “racism”, his creator Chu Hing wasn’t allowed to show his face so he was always drawn with an obscured face before ultimately getting cancelled and forgotten. Now, seven decades later, Boxers & Saints’s Gene lien Yang and My Faith in Frankie’s Sonny Liew unite to give The Green Turtle the respect he’s deserved with Shadow Hero. The actual graphic novel doesn’t come out for a couple months but if this sneak-peek e-issue is any indication, they’re well on their way to reinventing The Green Turtle as a hero fighting crime in 1944 Chinatown for the modern-day reader.
Well, not exactly. “Shadow Hero” #1 focuses on the early days of Hank, the boy who’d grow up to become The Green Turtle and his family. Yang writes a backstory infused in mythology that’s filtered through the charming life of an immigrant family in 1940’s LA. Though the mythology is given little elaboration here, a large portion of the issue is dedicated to the day-to-day life of the family, namely Hank’s mother who is an adorable and strong comic book character. A stern woman struggling with the disappointments of immigrant life while taking the time to enjoy a pork bun in her boss’s car, through a chance encounter, she’s inspired to give her son a way of living beyond his dad’s grocery store and the energy in her body noticeably transitions from mildly discontent to straight up idealist.
One of the major reasons for Hank’s Mother being such a compelling character has to be Sonny Liew, whose art displays an honest energy in all his characters. The contrast between Hank’s discontented mom at the beginning of the story and the way she glides around describing her encounter is one of the most striking visuals in the comic. Despite what I’ve been saying for the last couple sentences, Hank’s Mom is hardly the only highlight of this book. The entire cast feels real, like a family looking to give Hank a good future, through various means. The mother wants to embrace their Chinese heritage while Hank’s father wants to escape it, for various reasons. It’s an interesting subtext, though a bit unexplored in this preview, warmly illustrated by Liew against a backdrop that seems equal parts realistic and cartoonish, but always authentic. When superhero elements bleed into the historic fiction the first and second act are structured around, it’s surprising, leading into one supreme chase scene, but there’s no huge disconnect between the two genres.
Overall, “Shadow Hero” #1 is an exciting sneak peek at what’ll probably become another classic from Yang and Liew. Yang’s writing is heart-warming yet uncompromised and Liew’s art breathes life into this world. If I had to describe “Shadow Hero” #1 in a word, it’d be honest. It’s a heart-felt superhero story that focuses less on the cape and spandex and more on the bond between family and heritage. Though this is only just a preview, “Shadow Hero” #1 has shown that it’s going to be one of the must-read graphic novels of 2014.
Final Verdict: 8.7 – Get your pre-orders ready
For more on how to pre-order and how to buy this first e-issue online, check out First Second’s site.