Welcome to A More Diverse Universe! Check out the link for a description of the event and tons of reviews from other bloggers. Thanks again, Aarti!
I say "versus" because it takes Gene Luen Yang to make me read a superhero comic. And then you get the first 30 pages in and come on, it's barely a superhero comic--this book is entirely about a browbeaten father/son pair and the overbearing, discontented Chinese wife/mother who keeps them oppressed.
I went into The Shadow Hero knowing what the blurb says--in the Golden Age of comics, there was briefly an Asian American superhero called The Green Turtle, and this book is based loosely on him--it's an origin story, of sorts. That's about it. But I went in without any doubts, because come on, Gene Luen Yang! American Born Chinese, Boxers & Saints, The Eternal Smile. Somewhere in the neighborhood where genius meets charming!
But the beginning didn't have the dramatic drive you expect from a superhero origin story--it's not the perfunctory "Peter Parker's Uncle Henry was a great father figure UNTIL....and Spiderman was born." It's truly this family's small story.
Then. Then, the mother discovers superheroes (real ones, who fly and rescue people and catch bad guys and exist in this world), and decides that THIS is the man of action she wants her son to be. She begins to shape him into it--makes him a costume, pushes him into combat lessons, drives him to the site of his good-deed-doing. And he does his best for her, but it doesn't work out very well.
Then, stuff gets real. His dabbling in heroism starts a chain of events that ends in tragedy, and all of a sudden it isn't a game anymore. Peter Parker lets the bad guy get away and Uncle Henry gets killed and Peter has to make up for that, because there's no such thing as making it right. And I found that the more superheroey it got, the more I liked it. The second half is much more of an adventure story, and all the personal, emotional real life that went on in the first half pays off.
I loved how Hank gets his powers, and how there are real limitations there, which makes him both very fragile and mortal, and also very special. I loved the police officer who's trying to do the right thing, in spite of the odds stacked against him. I loved the gorgeous daughter of the Big Boss bad guy who is attractive and attracted to Hank, but who is not nearly as flat as the bad guy's daughter who loves the hero might be expected to be.
I think my favorite line--I hope I can remember it; wish I'd written it down--is something the detective says after saying something insulting about Chinese people, then realizing that the masked hero he's talking to is Chinese. He says, "I'm sorry about what I said before. That's not..." Hank replies, "That's not who you are," and the detective pauses and then says, "No, that's not true. But it's not who I want to be."
I loved that. I loved it so much, because becoming a better person is a process, and it's always a process. Being a hero is the process of acting like one every day--you don't wake up one day with "heroic" as your default setting. You have to do the hard, right thing, over and over again, every time. Not being racist in a racist world is a process; you have to relearn things you don't even know you learned. We are all, every day, trying to be the people we want to be.