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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Comics Spotlight Review: The Shadow Hero - Enter the Green Turtle (Issue 6)

We at GeekRex have have been reading Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew's The Shadow Hero since #1 back in February, and we've loved it so far; but we all know comics have a varied history with sticking the landing–so does The Shadow Hero nail it?

In this extra-sized finale, we get to learn more about our hidden antagonist, Ten Grand, who himself has a pretty fascinating background that begins with hope in America but quickly turns violent. This is where perhaps the best parts of the issue are, as Yang creates an extremely interesting backstory that really explores the historical period and culture of Chinese-Americans. Ten Grand's mentor is a man who became a eunuch as a sign of loyalty to the empire which is now gone, and he seeks to create his own empire in America.
This leads to a Ra's Al Ghul-like situation in which our hero the Green Turtle is forced to fight the gangsters that took his father's life, a fight in which only one will walk away and will inherit Ten Grand's position at the head of the gang. It's a morally tense fight, but my only quibble with the issue comes here, when Hank's mom finds him and essentially "pauses" the fight and tells Hank that he's become a real superhero. It's a bit awkward narratively, but fortunately this can be overlooked because the bits of comedic relief and tenderness that it brings are absolutely worth the tangent. The familial relationships in this book have always been one of its strong suits, and it's nice to bring some closure to the bond that has developed between mother and son here.

My favorite part of the issue comes when we discover that Ten Grand also has a spirit living in his shadow, the ambitious Dragon that we saw all the way back in issue one. The Dragon and the Tortoise converse, the Tortoise trying his best to get the Dragon to stop this violent madness. Their conversation, overlayed on the fight between Hank and Ten Grand, is full of thematic richness, really bringing home the ideas that Yang has played with throughout the book. The idea of using superheroes as a metaphor for a new kind of moral hero in a changing cultural landscape is not a new one, but it is a perfect on in this setting and is given an all-new perspective that is wholly welcome.
The issue (and series) ends on a high note, bringing into play all the elements that have made this book receive such glowing reviews from us all the way through: great humor, interesting moral questions, and a really nice surprise that plays with the idea of being a hero in a foreign land. It ends with America just on the verge of entering World War II, which (at least in our imaginations) provides us with a whole host of new adventures for the Green Turtle.

Liew is in rare form here as well, and gets a chance to really show off with the many fight scenes that permeate the issue. While these are fantastic, I especially love his work on the spirits, which have a cartoonish, but historical look. There are also many comedic moments here that might fall a little flat if it weren't for his wonderful cartooning which really sell the humor and have a classic feel.

As both a revival of a lost character and a different cultural perspective on the superhero archetype, The Shadow Hero is a thoroughly enjoyable comic book. It's not quite like anything I've read before, but it adds much to the landscape of Asian superheroes and has elevated the Green Turtle to be my favorite new superhero in years. It's wonderful to see these kinds of stories come out, and between Yang's tight, clever scripting and Liew's dynamic layouts and style, this one comes with very high recommendations!

You can purchase the all six issues of The Shadow Hero digitally from First Second, or get the complete graphic novel, on sale now!
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