The Shadow Hero #2: Review

Gene Luen Yang, generally known for his long form graphic novels, takes a stab at something a bit more discrete and serialized with his new six-issue project The Shadow Hero. And even with a strong debut, issue #2 offers something even better.

Here’s the official word from First Second Books:

With American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang changed the landscape of conversation about the Asian-American and immigrant experience in modern America. Now, with The Shadow Hero, Yang is tackling the Asian American story in the context of that most American of art forms: the super hero comic. This is the story of a young Chinese-American man who honors his Chinese heritage by donning a cape and fighting crime.

Like any genre, the superhero narrative has developed its own clichés, especially when it comes to how Screen shot 2014-03-23 at 8.31.55 AMsuperheroes get their powers. Go ahead and say them with me: radioactive ooze, magic potions, and the channeling of mystic elements. For any writer hoping to delve into the deep weeds of the genre and actually create something original, these tropes must feel like well-placed bear traps – they’re nearly impossible avoid, but getting snagged by one will stop your story cold. Well, with issue #2 of The Shadow Hero Gene Luen Yang does a beautiful job of acknowledging these long-held genre expectations while sidestepping them entirely.  He does this, mostly, by developing the relationship between Hank (our reluctant hero) and his mom (who wants nothing more than for her son to gain some powers). The result is lovely – the continuation of an origin story that’s funny, but emotionally rich. With issue #2 we also see Hank’s inaugural attempt to fight crime, a scene that serves to further upend the trope of a “damsel in distress” while opening up the plot to issue #3.

Artist Sonny Liew is nothing short of perfect for this series. His images are rich and the expressions of his characters are somehow both serious and sweet.  Best, each frame is so carefully composed that it’s clear Liew is just as talented a storyteller as Yang. This feels like a true collaboration. If Yang has found that perfect space between “adult” and “young adult fiction”, then Liew has upped the ante by finding a style that’s both “classic comic book” and “high art.”

With issue #2 of The Shadow Hero this creative team has pitched a perfect game. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

If you’re interested in reading The Shadow Hero be aware that each individual issue will only be released digitally. First Second will release an old-school trade in July 2014.

+ Pitch Perfect Origin Story + Awesome Art