Our buddies over at Code Switch are taking a look at a very exciting new development in comics — the return of the Green Turtle!
For the first time since the 1940s, the Green Turtle is returning to comic bookshelves. The long-forgotten character has been resurrected in The Shadow Hero, a new graphic novel about what many comic fans consider the first Asian-American superhero.
"He’s like a classic, American World War II hero," says cartoonist Gene Luen Yang, who collaborated with illustrator Sonny Liew on The Shadow Hero.
You remember Gene Yang from last year’s shattering Boxers & Saints. In terms of his fellow superheroes, Yang says the Green Turtle is more Bruce Wayne than Clark Kent. “He doesn’t have any explicit superpowers in the original books. But he’s very agile,” Yang explains.
Yang wrote The Shadow Hero to finally give the Green Turtle an origin story and an explanation for his — let’s be honest — not-so-heroic-sounding name.
" ‘Turtle head’ is an insult in Chinese," says Yang, who is Chinese-American and adds that his parents would always tell him to not wear green hats. "There’s a saying about wearing green hats, which means you are a cuckold."
So, instead, Yang connected the Green Turtle to the celestial tortoise, one of four guardian animal spirits of Chinese mythology.
An enduring mystery around the series is whether creator Chu Hing wanted the Green Turtle to be Chinese-American like himself. Rumor has it the publisher didn’t want an Asian superhero as World War II was raging in the pacific — so the Green Turtle always wore a mask.
Yang’s new graphic novel firmly establishes the Green Turtle as Asian-American, unmasking the superhero as a teenager named Hank Chu, the American-born son of Chinese immigrants living in the Chinatown of a fictional city on California’s coast in the 1930s.
Hank transforms from a scrawny neighborhood kid into one of his city’s top crime-fighters. But in the end, he’s still caught between Chinatown and the world outside.
"Every superhero has this superhero identity and a civilian identity," Yang explains. "A lot of their lives are about code switching. It’s about switching from one mode of expectations to another mode of expectations. And I really think that mirrors something in the immigrant’s kid’s life."
Time to pay a visit to my friendly local comic store, I think!