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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Comics Spotlight Review: The Shadow Hero - True Colors (Issue 5)

Action is the name of the game in the penultimate issue of Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew's The Shadow Hero, subtitled this month as "True Colors".

It's been a heck of a ride thus far in Yang and Liew's exploration of Chu Hing's The Green Turtle, and the series has been structured in a rather unique way. Up-front in the first two issues, we were exposed to world-building, but also a good deal of humor, particularly provided by Hank's mother. By the third and fourth issue, we were brought to some darker twists, with the loss of Hank's father bringing this series to its most somber moment. At Issue 4's conclusion, we finally see Hank drop the "Golden Man of Bravery" moniker (still my favorite superhero name ever) and fully become The Green Turtle, even hiding his face ala his appearances in the 1940's until the final page. It was a great moment that parlayed the idea that some serious superhero action was coming.

And boy did it ever! Issue 5 is probably the most kinetic chapter of The Shadow Hero yet. As Hank has arrived at Cooley Hat Rock to take on Ten Grand and his forces, more than half of the comic is dedicated to Hank's battles with the various thugs and assassins that line Ten Grand's casino. The 7 to 8 pages that cover these moments carry a perfect blend of superhero combat and humor as while Hank attempts to work his way through the gauntlet of baddies, he's internally debating with "The Turtle" that he became imbued with in the previous issue. The friendly antagonism between our symbiotic pair really drives home the Lee/Ditko influence that Yang is playing with here, and Liew's art is stunning throughout in these sequences. There's one panel of note that superimposes the battle into the slots of a roulette wheel that is a marvelous way to insert a good deal of storytelling into a small space. I'm a sucker for those kinds of artistic flourishes, particularly when they fit as naturally within the context of the narrative as Liew's work does here.

Back in Issue 2, I mentioned how I felt the creeping up of a particularly strong Denny O'Neill influence possibly slipping into Hank's adventure when we first saw the signs of the mysterious villain, his daughter's attraction to Hank, and the workings of a deeper criminal conspiracy. With this issue that thread finally pays off as Ten Grand's casino is a strong-hold in the Ra's Al Ghul tradition, with even a bit of a nice twist that's too good to spoil here; needless to say, the inspirations run deeper than just the aesthetics of the environment and character design. Additionally we get follow-up on the budding relationship between Hank and Ten Grand's daughter aka Red Center which had been put on the back burner due to the personal journey that made up the previous two issues. Because of the whimsical skill Yang employs to the characters personalities, it feels like there hasn't been a beat missed in the break period between their last interaction and a reader can invest in this pairing with relative ease.

In the closing beats, we see Hank's semi-partnership with Detective Lawful come to full fruition where the good Detective in a kind of Commissioner Gordon role posits the young hero with the moral question that surrounds Hank's actions: is the law in place for a reason or is there a place for a hero like Hank, and just how far should Hank take his crusade? Should a life be taken if the ends seemingly justify the means? This is heavy stuff, but in our hero's continuing evolution, it was always going to come down to this warring philosophy. The Green Turtle has a tremendously difficult ethical dilemma ahead of him, especially since the enemy's daughter is tugging at another side of his thoughts. It makes me salivate at the thought of Issue 6 and this incredible saga's including chapter. So far though, The Shadow Hero continues to be a home run and one of my favorite reads each month.

Rating: A

You can currently purchase the first five issues of The Shadow Hero digitally from First Second. The print version will be available on July 15th.
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