Follow TV Tropes


Comic Book / The Shadow Hero

Go To
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.

In May 2017, a sequel was released in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. The comic was published in partnership with Panda Express and is downloadable for free here.

This comic contains examples of:

  • 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.
  • Animal-Themed Superbeing: Type 2. The Green Turtle has an image of a turtle on his cape, and is powered by an ancient tortoise spirit, but does not have turtle-themed powers.
  • Big Bad: Ten Grand, the mysterious tong leader, is the main antagonist of the first book.
  • Blind Weaponmaster: Ten Grand is blind but a powerful fighter, due to his origin story, in which he was the only survivor of a battle royale at the cost of his eyes.
  • Brains and Brawn: The two tong leaders working for Ten Grand. Mock Beak is the Brains, being a physically unimposing but cunning man who fights dirty. Big Cookie is the Brawn, being a huge man who relies on brute strength.
  • Bullet Dodges You: This is Hank's mystic promise from the Turtle - any bullets fired at him are deflected.
  • Captain Ersatz:
    • Owlman is 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.
  • The Casino: The tong have their own casino, modeled after a Chinese palace.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The Four Gods are seen meeting at the beginning of the story. The Tortoise is the only one the story focuses on after that... until the climax, where it's revealed that the Dragon is empowering Ten Grand.
  • Combat Pragmatist:
    • Wun Too teaches Hank a combination of classical kung-fu and dirty fighting with any weapon available.
    • Mock Beak sneaks a gun into his ceremonial fight with Hank and Big Cookie. The daughters of Ten Grand ask their father if this is acceptable, and Ten Grand allows it, calling Mock Beak "resourceful."
  • Dark Action Girl: Red Center and her sisters are violent warriors for the evil tong.
  • Dating Catwoman: Hank, the hero, and Red Center, a warrior for her villainous tong, definitely have something going on between them.
  • Deadly Dodging: Hank doesn't seem to do this intentionally, but his opponents manage to repeatedly shoot their own allies trying to hit him.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: As this takes place in the WWII era, many Western American characters casually use Chinese racial slurs. Even the Green Turtle's ally Detective Lawful does the same in the heat of the moment, though he later comes to regret his behavior and admits he was wrong.
  • The Dirty Thirties: The story is either set at the end of the thirties, or the very early forties pre-Pearl Harbor.
  • Doing in the Scientist: In the original comics, it's not clear if the Green Turtle even has powers, but he was very good at dodging bullets. In this, it's explicitly a supernatural power.
  • Dragon Lady: Red Center and her sisters are sexy Chinese-American bad girls.
  • 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: The mystic promises the spirits give to their hosts work like this. Tortoise even directly says wording is everything. 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. Ten Grand was victorious, therefore the fight had ended.
  • Eye Scream: Both Mock Beak and Big Cookie are out an eye as a result of Ten Grand ripping one out of each of their heads after defeating them in combat and dominating them. Ten Grand himself lost both his eyes in his teens.
  • 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.
  • Firearms Are Cowardly: Mock Beak is shown as a scrawny, honorless, yet cunning gang leader. Late in the first book, he is pitted against the tough, brutish gang leader Big Cookie in a ceremonial fight to the death, with the winner inheriting Ten Grand's criminal empire. Mock Beak reveals that he snuck a gun into the arena, and he shoots Big Cookie, killing him instantly. One of Ten Grand's daughters is clearly shocked and disgusted by Mock Beak's underhanded tactics of violating the rules of the area and asks her father if they are acceptable. Ten Grand simply calls Mock Beak "resourceful," and allows it.
  • Flying Brick: The Anchor of Justice has the usual Superman-expy powers of flight, superhuman strength and superhuman durability.
  • 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 in the opening.
  • 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.
  • Graceful Loser: Ten Grand's reaction to being defeated by Hank is to laugh heartily and let him go with the man who killed his father.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Wun Too's absolute favorite weapon is the broken bottle. Some thugs fighting him run in terror when Hank manages to slip him a pair of them.
  • 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 Dragon.
  • Heroic Willpower: The Tortoise's gift to Hank's father, to allow him to resist ever drinking alcohol again.
  • Hero of Another Story: The Anchor of Justice is a well-known superhero within the story, but only appears as Hank's mother's rescuer and Hank's inspiration.
  • 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. The sequel shows that he's also immune to other projectiles, including ray guns.
  • Insectoid Aliens: Miss Stardust from the sequel, who uses her mask to hide her compound eyes.
  • 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 injury.
  • Living Shadow: The Turtle and his brothers manifest as the shadows of the people they give boons to.
  • 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.
  • Mayor Pain: Implied. The mayor is seen hobnobbing with organized criminals at least twice, implying some sort of corruption.
  • Mugging the Monster: The people who assault Red Center, a highly trained kung-fu fighter. (She lets Hank fight for her, until he gets into trouble.)
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Red Center uncritically follows Ten Grand's orders despite correctly doubting his morality.
  • 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. He later admits that he is a racist when Hank makes excuses for him, but that he hopes to change.
  • Public Domain Character: Like many other Golden Age characters, the Green Turtle entered the public domain some years after the death of the original author, hence Yang is able to use him freely.
  • Punny Name: Hank learns to fight from a man named Wun Too. ("one-two")
  • Put on a Prison Bus: Both the fake Ten Grand and Mock Beak are last seen being arrested in the first book. In the case of the latter, Hank actually debates killing him because Mock Beak killed Hank's father but Hank ultimately decides to take Mock Beak to the police because killing him wouldn't be the right thing to do.
  • 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, in which his forfeiting the fight interacts with the villain's boon to prevent the villain from harming him any further.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Hank Chu's family name, revealed in this book, is shared with the character's original creator.
    • 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 superheroics 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 & 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.
  • Superman Substitute: The Anchor of Justice is your typical Superman Ersatz - a Flying Brick with a kindly, modest personality. And he's an alien, as well.
  • 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.
  • Villain of Another Story: Both the city's mayor and police chief are shown interacting with organized criminals (the mayor is seen playing pool with Mock Beak, and the mayor and the police chief are later seen attending the tong's casino), implying that they're both in cahoots with the tong, but they're not given much focus in the story.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: A very rare example of a mother-son relationship with this dynamic. Hank's mother is apparently solely determined for him to become a superhero.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Ten Grand believes that his tong's criminal activities are justified in terms of keeping Chinese culture strong.
  • What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: A big part of the sequel is people thinking Green Turtle's only power is lame, especially in comparison to more powerful heroes like Miss Stardust. While Green Turtle is Immune to Bullets, he's not immune to melee weapons nor is he unusually strong or fast otherwise.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: During their fight to the death for control of the tong, Mock Beak suggests a temporary truce between him and Big Cookie, to last until they kill Hank. Big Cookie agrees. But when they have Hank severely weakened, but still alive, Mock Beak kills Big Cookie anyway, saying he doesn't need Cookie anymore.
  • You Killed My Father: Mock Beak kills Hank's father in revenge for Hank's first attempt to attack him as a superhero.