Book Reviews

In Review: The Shadow Hero

The Shadow HeroThe Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved The Shadow Hero. It captured the feeling of old-school comic books while still creating something fresh. It was also a fun read with interesting characters!

Anytime I read something based on golden age comic books, I get nervous. Comic book writers just aren’t very good at taking old stories and making them fresh. Actually, this really peeves me. [Warning: The following could be construed, by some, as a rant. Feel free to skip to the next paragraph to return to the book review.] The comic book has the potential to be an incredibly unique medium because of the way it mixes graphics with writing. It creates a world that readers can completely immerse themselves in- in a way traditional novels and films can’t. Yet for some reason, 99% of comic book writers have been telling the same played-out stories for years. It’s like every comic book writer read an issue of 1950s Superman and decided that that was the standard to which they would hold their own writing. Of course, I get it. Those writing techniques and plot structures are “tried and true”. Who needs to put in the work to create something truly original when they can just write the same story over and over? Plus, it’s not like the world has changed at all since the 1950s…Granted, comic book publishers are also to blame. They seem to think that comic book readers have not changed in 50+ years. I heard recently that DC Comics is planning to start a children’s line of comics. This is getting good press and that’s great, but why did it take until 2017 for them to realize that children will like a well-told comic book story just as much a well-told chapter book story? Why did it take until the 2010s for comic book publishers to catch on to the fact that comic book readers would enjoy strong female superheroes (by which I just mean female characters with any real depth). Why did it take a slump in sales and an increase in indie publishers for the traditional comic book publishers to realize that they might, at some point, need to evolve and grow a little? There are of course good things being done in comics. I’ve read some brilliant stories and I know there are lots I haven’t read. But the comic book industry, as a whole, seriously needs to step up its game. Meanwhile, back at the Batcave…

What really made The Shadow Hero great was the history behind it and the way Yang wove his own ideas into that history.

The Green Turtle was a small-time superhero from the golden age of comic books. Most people haven’t heard of him but he was perhaps the first Asian-American super hero. I say perhaps because in the original, which only ran for 5 (or 6?) issues, we never learned the Green Turtle’s backstory. We never saw his face completely; his skin was an odd shade of pink; his shadow was a turtle for some reason; he didn’t have any noticeable super powers but seemed to just run through bullets and easily beat up all his enemies. (The Shadow Hero included a good history of the Green Turtle.)

Yang took the ambiguity from the original comics and filled the holes one by one. His additions felt natural and he didn’t try to recreate the original Green Turtle. He just worked with what had already been written. That isn’t easy to do (well). Along the way he also added comedy and some characters that felt real.

It can be difficult to resurrect an old hero without upsetting people, but Gene Luen Yang did very well (granted there aren’t many original Green Turtle fans to upset in the first place).

The Shadow Hero is aces in my book!
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