The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew | Book Review

Why Did I Read This Book?

When it comes to graphic novels, one of my favorites in the industry is Gene Luen Yang. I was so excited for The Shadow Hero because I’ve never read a single disappointing thing by Gene Luen Yang. While The Shadow Hero is not quite on the level of Boxers & Saints, it is a fun superhero read with a few serious notes. I’ll admit I am not the sort of person who reads a lot of superhero comics, unless you count Sailor Moon manga, it is just not a genre I pursue. I am not saying there’s anything wrong with the genre. So, read this review with the caveat in mind that I am not the typical superhero reader.

What’s The Story Here?

The Shadow Hero takes on a character from an actual 1940s comic called The Green Turtle. The Green Turtle is speculated to be the first Chinese comic super hero in America. However, that’s a rumor because in the original comic created by Chu Hing, you never see The Green Turtle’s face. He’s always shown from the back or with something obscuring his face. So, Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew took this knowledge of the Green Turtle and the rumor of him being Chinese and ran with it. In the original comic, The Green Turtle’s back story is never explained. Whenever Burma Boy asks how he came to be, something interrupts. So, The Shadow Hero is what Gene Luen Yng and Sonny Liew have come up with for the backstory. It begins with these shadow creatures talking in China. One of the creatures, a turtle gets onto a boat heading for America and becomes the shadow of a drunk man. That drunk man goes on to become sober, marry a woman who doesn’t love him, have a son named Hank and to run a grocery store. The Shadow Hero, though, is truly Hank’s story. You see, there’s several different caped heroes, but none in Chinatown and so Hank’s mom is insistent that Hank become a hero. She wants him to be courageous. However, Hank isn’t so sure about being a super hero. Reluctantly, he becomes the Green Turtle and must take on the corruption in Chinatown.

How Is The Characterization?

The main character, Hank, is fantastic for the role. He’s a boy who has just become a man. He wants a simple sort of life where he runs his own grocery store just like his dad and is happy. Maybe he’ll play mahjong with the neighbors and have a splash of whiskey. That is not his fate though. When his mom asks him to become a superhero and to get some courage, Hank is a bit reluctant, but he does it anyways to please his mother. It’s funny because she tries all these things to try and get him super powers, but none of those things really seem to work. I mean, things like chemical spills, animal bites, and best of all, hard work and training. Hank does not quite give up though. Perhaps his courage might get him in trouble, but overall it is an admirable attribute and one that he seems to struggle to maintain. I’ll admit that I like it when a hero or a main character struggles to walk the straight and narrow and to do the right thing.

How Is The Artwork?

The artwork in The Shadow Hero is different from the artwork of Gene Luen Yang that I am used to. The lines are not as curvy and fluid as Yang’s. This is because Sonny Liew is the artist in this book. That’s okay though, I thought he did a good job with the story. Liew’s art feels more like traditional comic book artwork as compared to Yang. It works though, for The Shadow Hero considering that this book is an homage and an origin story for a 1940s comic. The use of color within the book enhanced my enjoyment and I found myself really liking The Shadow Hero’s aesthetics.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you are someone who likes graphic novels and super hero stories with deeper themes like racism and what it actually means to be brave in various contexts, I think you’ll really enjoy The Shadow Hero. I think people who have already read and loved Yang’s previous novels will get a kick out of this book too. It’s not quite as heavy as Boxers & Saints yet there’s a thread of pathos in this book too. If you haven’t read anything by Yang yet, this would be a good place to start.

Sum It Up With A GIF:

Listen, I punched in SUPER HERO GIFS and this made me laugh so hard, I could not resist choosing it. Also, because Hank can totally be my homie.

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. Haha, that gif is awesome. I am also not a huge graphic novel person, however, I really like Gene Luen Yang. I just LOVED American Born Chinese. I might have to give this a try, but first I need to read Saints & Boxers.
    Quinn @ Quinn’s Book Nook recently posted..Audio Review: Better Homes and Hauntings by Molly HarperMy Profile

  2. I think I’d read The Shadow Hero for the simple reason that it has an Asian protagonist in it! Plus, this sounds like a superhero origin tale I could totally get behind. Glad that, though it’s not your normal cup of tea, you enjoyed this one!
    Alexa S. recently posted..Behind the Scenes – Dahlia Adler (Review)My Profile

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