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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Comics Spotlight Review: The Shadow Hero - The Dawn of a Golden Age (Issue 2)

A look at the second issue of Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew's restoration of The Green Turtle

When we last left our protagonist Hank, his mother Hua, and his father at the close of Issue 1 of The Shadow Hero; readers were left with the tantalizing beginnings of Hank's mother pushing him (fairly reluctantly) into the role of a superhero. With this second chapter, we're given an opportunity to see the lengths to which Hua hopes to turn her son into the kind of hero that might be able to give him a way to escape the hum-drum life that he had begun to settle towards, working in his father's shop.

While the previous outing was aimed at finding a way to meld Eastern belief with Western pop culture, with that synthesis being highlighted as a part of the immigrant experience, this issue is basically Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew's tribute to the hijinx of Comics' "Silver Age"; particularly the work of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. This is accomplished in two ways: with the internal family dynamics and tough luck that marked those hallowed 60's comics, being a driving force that shapes Hank as a character, and the attempts by Hua to imbue her son with science based powers, based on rumors she's heard about the other superheros that already exist in their city. Liew crafts the latter sequence with some wonderful comedic energy, with Hua kicking Hank into a toxic waste spill (only to make him sick) and have him get bitten by a radioactive dog, amongst other efforts.

When none of these experiments work, Hua, after hearing about another hero who fights crime through extensive training, enlists "Uncle" Wun to train Hank to become a physical force. It's through these almost "Henri Ducard/Stick from Daredevil" training sequences that Yang takes the time to reflect on the characters a bit more from the previous chapter which was a bit broader in its strokes. We learn more about the past relationship between Wun and Hua, and there's a scene of family strife between Hank's mother and father regarding these super-heroic training efforts and how it pulls Hank away from the quiet life he was headed towards. These are the kind of character building efforts that I'm pleased to see so soon after the initial premise had been set. There's a sense of connectivity now, particularly towards Hua, that enriches her character beyond just comic value. I'm hopeful that with Issue 3, we'll get an opportunity to learn just as much about the paternal end of this family beyond just "he's a good man". The reappearance of the mystical turtle entity seems to indicate as such and I'm looking forward to how the two disparate plot strands will connect.

The second half of the issue zeros in on Hank's first attempt at crime-fighting, and may have produced my favorite sequence in the entire series thus far. Hua attempt at being "Ma Kent" to Hank's "Clark", through her brand of tailoring produces one of the best gags in Yang's script that I'm still finding myself chuckling about. Hank's actual attempt at crime fighting is about as clumsy as one would expect, but it heightens the "flawed hero"/Silver Age connection that Yang and Liew are striving for with this chapter. We also get a development by story's end that seemingly introduces a love interest, but at the same time may have something far more sinister in the background yet to be revealed.

Liew's artwork continues to be rich and emotive, with character designs that feel flawed and incredibly human, and his color palette utilization is quickly becoming one of my favorites in the industry. Yang's script, for his part, has taken us towards the personal, after aiming for a more macro-based world building view previously. I look forward to what he may have up his sleeve next, though perhaps a Denny O'Neill inspired Bronze Age tribute isn't too far away, as the appearance of an almost Talia Al Ghul-like figure with a mysterious father certainly hints towards.

In all, The Shadow Hero #2 is a great follow-up chapter to the stellar first issue, which in of itself, is a heck of a feat given how pitch-perfect its preceding entry was. Yang and Liew continue to pay homage to one of the lost heroes of comics' "Golden Age", by giving him an origin, but also traveling him forward, in a sense, through an era that he sadly missed. Chu Hing, The Green Turtle's creator, would be awfully proud.

Grade: A

You can obtain a copy of the second issue of The Shadow Hero - The Green Turtle Chronicles at Amazon with a print copy of the entire graphic novel coming from First Second Books in July.
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