At long last! Evildoers cower and flee! It's the triumphant return of the masked crimefighter known as the Green Turtle! Wait... who? What, you mean you've never heard of the first Asian American superhero? Then you must read The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew, on shelves this week from First Second.
Okay, if you've never heard of the Green Turtle, I can't really blame you. He's an obscure Golden Age character that briefly appeared in the pages of Blazing Comics during the 1940s. While the character's run was short-lived, what makes the Green Turtle interesting is his creator, Chinese American artist Chu F. Hing.
Legend has it, Chu wanted to make a series about a superhero of Asian descent, but his publisher wouldn't allow it, because, you know, America. So Chu found a weird, passive-aggressive way to make the character Asian: he never showed his hero's face. If you look at the old comics, the Green Turtle is always drawn so that his face is obscured, either hidden by shadow, or blocked by a piece of furniture or even his own arm.
Gene, the award-winning graphic novelist behind American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints, was intrigued and inspired by the lore of the Green Turtle, and saw it as an opportunity to tell a great story about the first Asian American superhero. With art by Sonny Liew, The Shadow Hero revives the character, and spins an all-new origin story for a new generation of comic book fans.
Here's a cool trailer for The Shadow Hero:
The Shadow Hero tells the story of Hank Chu, a Chinese American teenager growing up in 1930s Chinatown. Hank wants nothing more than to work in his family's grocery store, but his mother has more ambitious plans. She wants him to embody the excitement of their new home. She wants him to become a superhero.
From the obscure depths of what should have been a mildly curious footnote in comics history, Gene and Sonny have extracted and crafted a marvelous, heartfelt, unmistakably Asian American superhero tale. They've even managed to weave some of the weirdest elements of the character (seriously, what kind of superhero name is "Green Turtle"?) into their inventive origin story.
Best of all, this is not just a comic book tale about powers, masks and villains, though it's got all that great stuff. The Shadow Hero is also a story about the immigrant experience, explored through the genre of superheroes. I expected to love this book. (Yes, I judged it by its cover.) I didn't expect to be so moved by its heart.
The trade paperback of The Shadow Hero is now available from booksellers everywhere, including Amazon. You can also download digital issues from Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and Apple iBooks. For further information about The Shadow Hero, visit Gene Luen Yang's website.
To celebrate the release of The Shadow Hero, twenty-seven different artists are doing their takes on the Green Turtle, one a day through the end of the month. Check out the first few drawings here.
You can also listen to my podcast conversation with Gene Luen Yang, recorded last year.
More from NPR's Code Switch: Was The Green Turtle The First Asian-American Superhero?