At first glance, The Shadow Hero a.k.a The Green Turtle, isn’t your typical hero. He’s a vestige of an ignorant generation, one whose idea of a hero, never went beyond the blonde hair and blue eyes. The story of how this shopkeepers son became China Towns “Dark Knight” in the 1940’s, isn’t the amazing part of this story though, the amazing part lies in how two writers Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew breathed new life into a super hero who existed decades ago, but whose creator, had to hide the heroes Chinese background for fear of low sales.
In 1944 a young cartoonist by the name Chu Hing, whom later went on to work for Marvel, was asked by his then employer, Rural Home, to create a character for their new Blazing Comics series. The character he came up with was a hero of Asian decent known only as the Green Turtle. He couldn’t fly, but like his modern persona, he could avoid bullets. The reason The Green Turtle never took off is a thing of comic book lore, but the most obvious and most probable cause, the heroes Asian decent. The publisher went to great length’s to change Chu’s creation, even going as far as too make it’s skin an unmistakable pinkish color, as to not get it confused with that crazy “yellow” skin. Chu’s answer to this bullshit was to plant easter eggs throughout the series that went over his publicists head, but said what Chu secretly wanted to say about, not only The Green Turtle, but about society as a whole.
Below are some images that hint at Chu’s reluctance to make the Green Turtle Anglo, so instead he blocked TGT’s face every chance he could get keeping his identity ambiguous. In addition, he placed this ominous smiling shadow in scenes when The Green Turtle was fighting, but it never talks, unlike the updated version. In fact, to me, it doesn’t even look like a turtle.
Another odd facet of the earlt GT comics is the blatant, stereotypical look, of the Japanese foes. Some believe this may have been Chu’s anger toward the Japanese occupancy of China at the time. The buck teeth, ultra slanted eyes and pointed ears is pretty much what most cartoons were serving up at the time. Too bad most American’s wouldn’t have been able to differentiate one look from another, when this was created and it probably would’ve had the reverse effect and perpetuated Asian stereotypes as a whole, but for what it’s worth, The Green Turtle was America’s first Asian superhero.
Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew took what could have easily just faded away into oblivion and restored it to it’s former glory, but with some fuel injected-political correctness and Chinese pride. They’ve created a wonderful story that tells a tale of family legacy and honor in the 1940’s white America. What reads immediately, is the level of comedy, that could easily be referenced to today’s youth, but especially the Asian youths. Hank (The Green Turtle) and Hua (Hank’s mother) go back and forth and are so relatable, I started to think that maybe the writers had met my mom and based Hua on her.
Hua, who came to America as a young girl with her family in pursuit of the American dream, became one of the statistics in California, but when she is saved by a flying masked man, it gives her an idea. That idea is to make her now, twenty something, son a superhero. The idea, in the beginning, comes from Hua’s frustration with the life she’s been given and the fact she was forced into marriage with a man whom she considered a coward. Ultimately, the transformation proves almost fatal as Hank is placed in some serious and life threatening situations. Among these, a run in with a Chinese mafia that results in the death of Hanks father. Realizing what she’d done, Hua begs her son to stop, but the damage has been done and Hank has to become The Green Turtle and restore order to his crime ridden community.
The Shadow Hero is a delightful read and somewhat of a history lesson for those who are unfamiliar with the plight of Chinese Americans in the 1940’s. The story is also a testament to the human spirit. If the Green Turtles original creator was alive today, I imagine he would be very proud of what these talented artist have done to his beloved story.