Deadshirt Is Reading… is a weekly feature in which Deadshirt’s staff, contributing writers and friends-of-the-site offer their thoughts on a diverse array of comics, from name-brand cape titles to creator-owned books to webcomics.
Kayleigh Hearn is Reading…
The Shadow Hero (OGN)
Written by Gene Luen Yang
Art by Sonny Liew
First Second Press
“Go ahead. Finish your call. Tell your boss–The Green Turtle has come for him!”
The Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew, lifts the little-known comic book character The Green Turtle out of obscurity to tell the origin story of what may have been the first Chinese-American superhero. During the Golden Age of Comics, artist Chu Hing created the superhero The Green Turtle, who protected America’s ally China from Japan during World War II. The facts about The Green Turtle are scant, as he had only a handful of published appearances, but a rumor persisted: Chu Hing wanted The Green Turtle to be Chinese, but this idea was nixed by the publisher. Chu Hing’s response was then to never show The Green Turtle’s face on panel. Even masked, he is always shown from behind, or with an arm or object obscuring his face. (Even the cover of Blazing Comics #1 doesn’t show his head at all—but rather turtle-emblazoned gloves and boots stomping on a Japanese soldier.) Was this Hing’s attempt to keep the ethnicity of his hero Chinese, even if he could never be fully seen?
Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s graphic novel gives a face and a name to The Green Turtle, as well as an origin story: he’s Hank, a teenage boy working in his family’s Chinatown grocery store. After his mother is saved by the superhero Anchor of Justice, she pushes Hank to become a superhero himself, believing he’ll have a bright future in costumed heroics. Hank is mild-mannered and reluctant, but no superhero origin is complete without a personal tragedy, and The Green Turtle soon acquires superpowers from a very unique source, as well as a mission to take down the gangs ruling Chinatown.
Like Gene Luen Yang’s previous book American Born Chinese, The Shadow Hero is very much about Chinese-American identity, this time filtered through a Golden Age comic book lens. If Superman is about the immigrant experience in America, The Green Turtle is even more explicitly so. Yang doesn’t shy away from the racism that The Green Turtle would experience as a Chinese-American crimefighter in the 1940s, or the pop culture stereotypes that would surround him, like the white con artist in “Fu Manchu” yellowface he brings in to the police. But the story is also laced with adventure, humor, and the fantastic; Hank is an extremely likeable hero, optimistic and funny and trying to find a place for himself in the world.
Sonny Liew’s art is charming and expressive, with a great sense of action; he doesn’t try to mimic Chu Hing’s original Golden Age art, instead infusing his characters with his own fluid style. Both writer and artist clearly have a lot of affection for this obscure character, and The Shadow Hero is an attempt to solve the mysteries Chu Hing’s comics left behind—who was The Green Turtle? What was his secret origin? And what was that mysterious, grinning, turtle-shaped shadow behind him? The Green Turtle is an important, long-overlooked piece of comic book history, and The Shadow Hero is a great re-introduction to a forgotten superhero.
Christina Harrington is reading…
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson (colors)
Letters by Clayton Cowles
with Hannah Donovan, Designer
“Damnation is delightful. Everyone should try it.”
The newest project from wonder-boys Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, The Wicked + The Divine is shaping up to be the summer’s best designed and most original new comic. You see, every ninety years, twelve gods are reincarnated, and as young, vibrant people they captivate the world for two years before dying. It’s 2014 and the gods are back. In issue two, super-fan Laura ingratiates herself further with Luci, who, in turn, reveals a bit of how she came to be The Lightbringer, and a new reincarnated god is revealed. (Click here to read Deadshirt Guest Contributor Adam Pelta-Pauls’ review of issue one of The Wicked + The Divine)
The sequence at the end of this issue, in which Laura travels underground to see The Morrigan (another god), highlights how every member of this creative team excels: McKelvie leaves a narrow strip running diagonally down the page as Laura descends down an escalator, filling above and below this strip in black, mimicking the claustrophobic feeling of the London Underground. Meanwhile, Matthew Wilson’s otherwise bright and realistic colors go muted, with blue and gray highlights, while a circle of light elegantly and subtly finds Laura on the page for us. Clayton Cowles places McKelvie’s words, white against black, in individual, lonely sentences or grouped together in tight columns, as if they’re gathering together for comfort. Why does Laura have to break into a closed subway station to see The Morrigan? As Gillen explains through Laura: “[The other gods]’re pop stars. She’s more underground.”
The gods, their fans, and their enemies are the real gems of this book, unique and interesting enough that I’m willing to follow them through the otherwise humdrum plot (Lucifer is in jail framed for murdering a judge, and Laura is trying to free her). This book is high energy all the damn time, which is fitting seeing how the main characters are teenaged and in their early twenties. Gillen is so good at capturing that manic kind of energy, as he proved with his superb Young Avengers run. Though if we’re comparing the two, the Young Avengers were a bunch of firecrackers while the young gods of The Wicked + The Divine are a powder keg, hyper-aware of how close the flame is. I can’t wait to see what happens when the wick is lit.
Joe Stando is reading…
Written by Ryan North
Art by Kat Philbin, Missy Pena, Becca Tobin, Liz Prince, Carey Pietsch, Jesse Tise, Ian McGinty, T. Zysk, David Cutler, Yumi Sakugawa, Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb
“[My name’s] Cool Muscles. My parents named me that when they saw how I was born with neat muscles.”
Ever since I heard about this issue, I wanted to check it out. Adventure Time #30 is an homage to DIY zines, done in-character as the cast’s submissions for the comics issue of Marceline’s homemade magazine. As such, it features a ton of different artists in a variety of styles, playing the roles of the characters. It’s a fun concept, but a lot of it depended on execution.
I’m pleased to report that I was not disappointed. North nails the styles and voices of the various submissions, and the artists tailor themselves to the concept well. Among the highlights are Missy Pena’s collage-style renderings for BMO’s absurdist joke page, and Yumi Sakugawa’s thick, monochrome lines on graph paper for Princess Bubblegum’s attempts at comics. Marceline’s hourly comics section rings true to the character and provides a fun story about her and Princess Bubblegum, a popular pairing. Finn and Jake’s entry, a superhero parody, is impressively rendered and has a great punchline. The issue is mostly silly, but it does maintain the moments of melancholy or ominiousness that are a hallmark of the series, particularly in Ice King and Lemongrab’s sections.
This issue is a wonderful stand-alone that not only executes a good premise well, but provides a showcase for a number of talented artists. It was a cool twist on the POV/Rashomon stories we get a lot in comics and animation.
Thanks for reading about what we’re reading! We’ll be back next week with a slew of suggestions from across the comics spectrum. In the meantime, what are you reading? Tell us in the comments section, on Twitter or on our Facebook Page!