Monday, October 27, 2014

Subversive Superhero

The Shadow Hero
The Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew, is so much fun to read.  The backstory is fantastic, the Asian-American hero is wonderful, the family dynamics are great, and it seems like Yang and Liew had a blast working on it together.

The book description from School Library Journal is pretty spot on, so here it is:

Award-winning author Yang and artist Liew tackle a lesser-known aspect of history, breathing new life into the Green Turtle, a 1940s comic book hero. According to lore, the Green Turtle was originally drawn to be Chinese, but publishers quashed artist Chu Hing's plans, and Hing rebelled by drawing his hero so that his face was never visible. 

The Green Turtle is cast as an unlikely 19-year-old young man, Hank, the son of Chinese immigrants who own a grocery store in 1940s America. When his mother is rescued by a superhero, the loving but overbearing woman decides that it's Hank's fate to become a hero himself, and she does everything in her power to push her son in that direction. Though Hank initially shies away from assuming the role of caped crusader, when tragedy strikes, he's eventually inspired to call himself the Green Turtle, and fight back against gangsters who have been intimidating his family and many others in Chinatown. 

Liew's scratchy, action-packed illustrations have a nostalgia-tinged vibe ideal for the gritty/hard-boiled setting, and Yang plays expertly with clich├ęs and stereotypes about Chinese culture without ever becoming heavy-handed or obvious. A detail about the four spirits of China, one of whom allies himself with Hank's father and then Hank, injects an element of magic and of Chinese history and mythology that made Yang's American Born Chinese (First Second, 2001) such a layered and complex work. - Mahnaz Dar

How brilliant does that sound?  REALLY brilliant, and it delivers.

I have not been reading much lately.  I am not sure what happened, but after #Diversiverse, I just couldn't find any books that kept my interest and I kept flitting from one to another.  When this happens, I usually go back to the genres that I grew up on - epic fantasy and Georgette Heyer (fine, she's not a genre all her own, but she is for me).  Neither of those appealed to me this time, either, so I turned to graphic novels, and hooray!  Not only did it (mostly) work, but it also gave me the opportunity to read a book that everyone in blogosphere has loved.


I really enjoyed The Shadow Hero, not just because the premise is so fantastically subversive, though that's a lot of the reason.  I LOVE the idea that someone stuck it to the man right in front of the man's face.  But the book also has so many wonderfully realistic, self-deprecating, humorous moments.

I could talk, too, about how well-integrated Chinese culture is in the story.  But honestly, it was the fun plot and the great artwork that worked for me in this story.  I love books in which diverse characters shine and defy stereotypes and do awesome things.  But I love them even more when they are fun and hilarious and well-illustrated.  The Shadow Hero is all of those things, and I can't wait to read more.


5 comments:

  1. This looks so fun. I've loved every other Gene Luen Yang I've read, so I'll definitely have to pick this one up.

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    1. Hard to go wrong when you mix superheroes and humor :-)

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  2. Yay! I am excited to read this -- Gene Luen Yang is such an interesting author. I love that he's been working in a variety of genres, and that his work gets a lot of attention no matter what he's writing about. I think it all bodes well for the future of comics as a medium.

    (Comics are like, "Uh, yeah, our future is secure, THANKS FOR YOUR CONCERN," which, I know they're fine! But I just mean that it'll be awesome when comics get more and more mainstream and there's tons of work being done in all genres and everything gets shelved with its genre instead of with its medium.)

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    1. You're right - he DOES write across a ton of different genres. I really liked this a lot. I also want to read G. Willow Wilson's comic about the Muslim girl hero. That sounds like a ton of fun, too.

      And I know what you mean about having the comics shelved with genre rather than with medium. But I kind of like when they are with medium, too, as I can try so many books I probably wouldn't ever come across otherwise.

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  3. YAY! I haven't seen too many reviews of this one, but I LOVED it, and I did a chair dance that you loved it too.

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