Back in October 2013, I posted a video in which comics creator Gene Luen Yang introduced his next project, The Shadow Hero, a graphic novel that invents an origin story for The Green Turtle, the first-ever Asian-American superhero who featured in a short-lived, five-issue series in 1944.
The Shadow Hero is out in stores today, and it's a provocative, exciting adventure that lives up to the promise of a collaboration between Yang (whose work, like the award-winning American Born Chinese, has been fearless in its willingness to engage with tough issues of race) and illustrator Sonny Liew, whose work I came to love through Malinky Robot.
Yang and Liew's backstory for the Green Turtle is a golden-age comics whiz-bang adventure story that unflinchingly faces the widespread racism against Asian-Americans that rose to a fever pitch in WWII, while skewering modern stereotypes of Tiger Mothers and nose-to-grindstone Chinese kids. It walks a fine line between slapstick and commentary, to great effect — reminiscent of the work of Will Eisner or Harvey Kurtzman in its blending of broad humor and sly digs.
At the same time, Shadow Hero is a terrific story, full of the kinds of timeless dilemmas about responsibility, power, and duty that makes the superhero motif so enduring.
The book ends with a powerful essay by Yang in which he discusses his motives for writing the book, and then a reprint of one of the original Green Turtle comics from its 1944 run.