The Shadow Hero

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
The Shadow Hero Book Poster Image
Exciting take on a forgotten Asian American superhero.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The Shadow Hero provides a backstory for an odd bit of comic book lore from the 1940s. The Green Turtle was a comic created by a Chinese American, and it may have featured the first Asian American superhero. An explanatory essay enriches the illustrated story.

Positive Messages

The Shadow Hero emphasizes the importance of family and of standing up to those who would harm those you love. Hank's superhero career is dangerous, but it enables him to protect his mother and the Chinese community.

Positive Role Models & Representations

In The Shadow Hero, teenager Hank is extremely loyal to his parents, helping out in his father's grocery store and indulging his mother is some of her crazy schemes. When tragedy strikes, he's brave and resourceful enough to track down the killers and deliver them to justice. In the real world, his antics would be incredibly dangerous, but they are appropriate for the superhero genre.


The Shadow Hero contains many scenes of violence, including car chases, fistfights, swordfights and gunplay. Sometimes the violence is cartoonish, with the participants escaping injury, but in some instances it is shown to lead to tragedy.


After Hank saves a mysterious young woman in a red dress, their breath is "meshed together." Later on, they flirt a bit, and the girl kisses Hank. There's also some slapstick comedy in which Hank's mom hides a pork bun in her bra, causing strangers to wonder whether she has a third breast.


"Damn" and "hell" are each employed one or two times.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Hank's father's friends make the boy drink whiskey as a joke. A reformed alcoholic, Hank's father throws away a bottle that tempts him. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese, Boxers & Saints), is a graphic novel that creates a backstory for what might be the first Asian American comic book superhero, the Green Turtle, an obscure 1940s comic book character. It subverts stereotypes about Asian characters while celebrating Chinese culture. There are many fistfights, car chases, and gunfights, and people close to Hank, the main character, are injured and killed. Sexual content is limited to some flirting between Hank and the mysterious young woman known as "Red," and there are only one or two instances of "damn" and "hell." Hank's father's friends force the boy to drink a shot of whiskey, which he doesn't like.

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What's the story?

In Chinatown in the 1930s, teenager Hank Chu wants nothing more than to help his mild-mannered father in the family grocery story and keep his disgruntled mother happy. Hank's mother, however, has bigger plans for him, wanting to turn him into a famous superhero. But when real-life tragedy strikes and Hank is imbued with the ancient spirit of the Tortoise, the boy finally dons the costume of the Green Turtle and vows revenge on the gangsters who secretly rule Chinatown.

Is it any good?

THE SHADOW HERO is a clever, heartfelt ode to -- and send-up of -- books from the golden age of comics. Author Gene Luen Yang invents a complex backstory for an obscure comics character from the 1940s, the Green Turtle. He and artist Donny Liew spin an exciting tale of costumed derring-do that plays with the conventions of superhero comics and comments on how Asian Americans were viewed by popular culture in decades past. It's not deep, but it is fun, and enriched by the explanatory essay that concludes the volume.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why comics and graphic novels are so popular with young readers. Why are superhero titles in particular so popular?

  • How were Asian characters portrayed in popular culture in the 1940s? Do any stereotypes continue to the present day?

  • How did World War II affect the lives of Asian immigrants living in the United States?

Book details

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For kids who love graphic novels

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