Comic Book: The Shadow Hero

The Green Turtle returns!

The Shadow Hero is a graphic novel written by Gene Luen Yang, with art by Sonny Liew. It acts as a Revival and Superhero Origin for the obscure Golden Age character the Green Turtle, an American masked hero who helped the Chinese fight the Japanese invaders during World War II. Or rather, it adapts the Urban Legend surrounding the character's creation.

You see, in the original comic strips, the Green Turtle was only seen from behind, or with his face hidden by something. The comics were created by a Chinese-American writer-artist, Chu Hing, and rumour has it that he wanted the Turtle to be an explicitly Chinese-American character, but a racist publisher forbade it.

Yang and Liew run with this to make the Turtle a Chinese-American teen, Hank Chu, who is pushed into becoming a superhero by his mother. But when his first effort to act heroically leads to tragedy, he finds his own motivations.


This comic contains examples of:

  • Action Girl / Dark Action Girl: Red Center and her sisters.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Ten Grand's reaction to being defeated by Hank. See the Exact Words entry for details.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: Hank's skin becomes inhumanly bright pink when he gets wet, due to the effects of one of his mother's unsuccessful attempts to arrange a Superhero Origin for him.
  • Blind Weaponmaster: Ten Grand, due to his origin story.
  • Bullet Dodges You: This is Hank's mystic promise from the Turtle - any bullets fired at him are deflected.
  • Captain Ersatz:
    • The Anchor of Justice is your typical Superman Ersatz - a Flying Brick with a kindly, modest personality. And he's an alien, as well.
    • There's also Owlman, an Ersatz of Batman - a Badass Normal in a dark costume. While he doesn't show up in the actual story, the picture Hank's mom draws of him makes him look a lot like Batman.
    • Detective Lawful's yellow coat and hat make him look an awful lot like Dick Tracy.
    • Ten Grand as an Asian Crimelord may relate to Ra's Al-Ghul complete with Dating Catwoman between Hank and one of Ten Grand's daughters.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Wun Too teaches Hank a combination of classical kung-fu and dirty fighting with any weapon available.
  • The Dirty Thirties: The story is either set at the end of the thirties, or the very early forties pre-Pearl Harbor.
  • Dragon Lady: Red Center and her sisters.
  • Drunken Master: Hank's father serves as a Deconstruction: he was this trope until his life went down the toilet due to his consequential alcoholism and his gradual weakening.
  • Education Mama: The Chinese-American stereotype is parodied with Hank's mother's obsession with him becoming a superhero.
  • Exact Words: Ten Grand's mystic promise from the Dragon is that all of his fights will end with his victory. When Ten Grand tries to kill him, Hank surrenders, whereupon all Ten Grand's further attempts to attack him are blocked by a mystic barrier.
  • Fauxreigner: The fake Ten Grand turns out to be an Irish actor playing a Chinese stereotype in Yellowface (which may be a Shout-Out to the the first actor to play Fu Manchu being an Irish man too).
  • Fights Like a Normal: Being Immune To Bullets helps, but Hank mainly uses his entirely-normal fighting talent.
  • Flying Brick: The Anchor of Justice.
  • The Four Gods: Hank is empowered by the Tortoise. Tong boss Ten Grand is empowered by the Dragon. The Tiger and the Phoenix also appear.
  • Four Is Death: Four knocks at the door always mean agents of the tong have arrived. The Tong of Sticks' headquarters is on 104th street.
  • Genre Throwback: To Golden Age comics, providing the explicitly Chinese origin story that the Green Turtle never got due to Executive Veto.
  • Good Running Evil: Ten Grand and Red Center attempt to persuade Hank to become the new tong leader, but he refuses.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Wun Too's absolute favourite weapon is the broken bottle.
  • Groin Attack: After baiting Hank into attacking him during their first lesson, Wun Too kicks him in the balls.
  • Handicapped Badass: Ten Grand lost his eyesight in a forced Duel to the Death among his fellow child criminals, imposed by a eunuch who wanted to choose an emperor. He's still a skilled martial artist with the aid of the Phoenix.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him: Hank spares Mock Beak's life and hands him over to the law.
  • Immune to Bullets: Hank. Just bullets.
  • Knife Nut: Red Center really likes her throwing-knives.
  • Legacy Character: Hank to his father, although his father never actually used his relationship with the Turtle for anything other than recovering from alcoholism.
  • Literal Genie: Hank asks the Turtle to promise that he will never be shot. Unfortunately, that doesn't apply to any other type of weapon.
  • Living Shadow: The Turtle and his brothers.
  • Loophole Abuse: How Hank beats Ten Grand. Ten Grand was promised by the Dragon spirit that "All his fights would end in victory." Hank forfeits the fight, meaning that Ten Grand has technically won and cannot hurt him any further.
  • Mugging the Monster: The people who assault Red Center. (She lets Hank fight for her, until he gets into trouble.)
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Red Center's relationship to Ten Grand.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Mock Beak is likely based on infamous Tong boss Mock Duck.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The city of "San Incendio" is pretty-obviously San Francisco.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: Subverted when Detective Lawful loses his temper at one point and denounces the Chinese in general, using racially abusive language. An angry Hank reveals his ethnicity, and Lawful is genuinely ashamed.
  • Reimagining the Artifact: The novel gives explanations for many of the peculiar elements of the original Green Turtle comics, such as his bizarre, inhumanly pink skin tone, his, for a man, extremely Stripperiffic costume, and his turtle-shaped shadow.
  • The Reveal: Ten Grand is mystically empowered by the Dragon. Also, the Anchor of Justice is an alien.
  • Sheathe Your Sword: An unusual variation ends Hank's final fight with the top villain.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To Iron Man 3. A stereotypical Chinese villain turns out to be a non-Chinese actor acting as front man for the real villain.
      • More likely both are references to the fact Fu Manchu was first played by an Irish/British actor.
    • Hank's mother's attempts to get him superpowers include incidents involving a crashed toxic-waste truck and an experimental animal.
    • A darker Spider-Man reference - Hank's over-confident early attempts at superheroing lead to the murder of his father.
    • One of the Coolie Hat Rock postcards looks almost identical to the cover illustration of the old children's book "Five Chinese Brothers."
    • A street urchin with the same shirt and bald head as The Yellow Kid makes an appearance in a single panel of Ten Grand's origin story.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To Yang's previous long-form work, Boxers And Saints. In this book, Hank is empowered by an ancient Chinese god and becomes a genuine hero. In Boxers, Little Bao gets empowered by an ancient Chinese god and becomes a mass-murdering terrorist who leads his followers to utter defeat.
  • Stripperiffic: The Green Turtle's costume consists only of a hood, cloak, underpants and boots.
  • Training from Hell: Wun Too adopts the usual superhero comic technique of training Hank by beating him up repeatedly.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: The main villains are a tong who have degenerated into mere racketeers. It's implied that this may change under later new management.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: A very rare example of a mother-son relationship with this dynamic.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Ten Grand believes that his tong's criminal activities are justified in terms of keeping Chinese culture strong.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Mock Beak's killing of Big Cookie.
  • You Killed My Father: Mock Beak kills Hank's father in revenge for Hank's first attempt to attack him as a superhero.