by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
Last issue, Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew showed readers that The Shadow Hero has the potential to be as crushing as it has been entertaining. After some incredibly enjoyable storytelling and sequencing, including some fantastic parodies of well-known superhero origins, Mock Beak showed Hank the consequences of playing the game. Suddenly, the story had its villain, its inciting incident, and Hank’s true origin. Issue four brings readers back to the world in order to find out how Hank will respond.
The insult to follow the tragedy of last issue was that Hank would have to deliver even more payment to the Tong of Sticks and Mock Beak. As the fourth chapter opens, Hank walks readers through the next few days of his life, as he tries to find his way again. When the detective on the case comes by the shop, Hank’s few shreds of hope are tossed aside. It is clear that despite the detective wanting to help, the Tong of Sticks have a lot more pull in this town and it is quite likely that nothing is going to be done. Hank, with his head hung low, must go to Mock Beak and deliver the additional money. It’s here that the shadowy spirit remerges to protect Hank and readers learn a bit more about this spirit and Hank’s father.
When the story first introduced the spirits to the story, the plot was left with it boarding a boat. Soon after the story picked up with Hank and here, readers learn about whom Hank’s father was. It is a rather simple tale of a man turning towards a quieter life, but it runs parallel to that of the spirit’s journey. This spirit had long been one that attached itself to the most powerful military men, fighting to guard the great city. Over time, both the spirit and Hank’s father grew tired of fighting endlessly and wished to find a new path. The pendulum swings the other way, here, as both Hank and the spirit decide that they must fight to overcome the evils of the world. It is a short sequence, but it contains a big message; the idea of fighting and peace, of good and of evil, and right and wrong are all within the conversation that Hank and the spirit have. In this story, it seems clear that only through fighting back will good prevail, but in a similar argument it could be stated that more fighting will only perpetuate the violence. Yang moves the story on, but there is certainly a lot that could be said with these approaches.
Hank returns home with a new path forged. He knows what he is destined to do, and he accepts this without any need for persuasion of insistence by another. His choice to fight for justice is not a fever dream of his mother. In some ways, the story on display here is very much a coming of age tale. Though a bit unconventional, it is only through his own motivation, void of his parents encouragement or persistence that Hank adopts this life. With a new name and bigger villain behind the street-level mobs, Hank sets out to return the world the people. As has been the case in every chapter so far, Sonny Liew’s art continues to push the story forward. His pencil work and page layouts maintain a quickness that suites the pace quite effectively. Each chapter, even in its heaviest moments, feels as it is in motion.
As the issue comes to a close, Liew places Hank staring up at a massive building, with his nemesis waiting somewhere inside. It simultaneously triggers memories of the great old arcade games, where one must fight level by level to reach the boss as well as the symbolic nature of the scale of the evils he has chosen to take on. As such, it makes for a solid ending to this pivotal chapter in the series and a great tease for what is to come.