by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
Gene Luen Yang is releasing his latest story in digital chapters leading up to the physical release of a new original graphic novel. The book, The Shadow Hero, tells the story of an Asian teen living in America in the days of the early twentieth century. Hank’s story is an interesting one, and Yang introduces readers to a culture and a period not often depicted in this medium. The first chapter, titled The Green Turtle Chronicles, is very much the beginning of a new hero, and it offers readers a lot in a short time.
As the story opens, readers are presented with some history and lore about the dynasty regime in China, its fall, and the mythic beings that exist on another plain. These beings require something be done in the time after the dynasty, and each has a different plan. One being, the tortoise, does not comment, and attaches himself to a man traveling from China to the United States. It is the last readers get of this grander element of the story, but it makes for a very curious background to the narrative that follows. Similarly, Sonny Liew’s art, while fantastic throughout, adopts a very specific look during these panels and is a great visual companion to the script.
Hank is the narrator of the story, and the readers follow the events of his family from the time his parents were children through his own childhood years. The timeline is compressed and through his depiction, readers get a pretty good idea of the life his family has led. It is one most are aware of, even if tangentially. Hank’s parents were Asian immigrants who found housing prospects in Asian neighborhoods. The conditions were bad. There was overcrowding and not much opportunity. As Hank grows up, he learns to assist his father in their family shop. While his mother works for some richer families, the boy cherishes his days with his father and plans to adopt the “family business.”
Yang and Liew do a great job walking readers through this historical depiction of Asian families coming to and setting roots in America during this time. It is an area rarely, if ever, depicted in the medium and done in a way that is inviting and engaging. Though most of the interactions with Hank are by way of narration, readers develop a good sense of the boy and his life after only a few pages. Readers may even forget the mythical opening and view this as a story of an Asian family and their experience in 20th Century America.
As the first chapter concludes, Yang brings a different element into the fold. Taking readers closer to what the true scope of this book may be, readers are given a very comical explanation for why it is that this boy becomes a hero. This explanation is very entertaining and it, mixed with Yang’s effective use of space to tell a lot in a short time, provides a great promise of what may lie ahead for The Shadow Hero. Likewise, this book’s art is excellent. Different from what readers may be familiar with in their monthly cape comics, Liew’s style isn’t so unique that it takes any adjusting. Instead, the detail, panel work, and coloring are just distinct enough to be his own.
After this opening chapter, The Shadow Hero earns a place on people’s radars. Sure to be another high quality piece of literature from First Second Books, Yang and Liew look to have a solid new story.