The Green Turtle was a comic book superhero created by Hawaiian-born Chinese American artist Chu Fook Hing. During the Green Turtle’s short five-issue run in Blazing Comics in 1944, he fought in China during World War II alongside Americans against the Japanese army. His racial identity, like his true identity, was never revealed. NPR’s Code Switch explains how despite publishers succumbing to fear of the “yellow peril” and coloring his skin differently from other Asian characters in the comics, the Green Turtle was likely the first Asian American superhero.
Gene Luen Yang, author of National Book Award Finalist Boxers and Saints and the award-winning American Born Chinese, and illustrator Sonny Liew revive the Green Turtle in a new book The Shadow Hero. In this update, he is given the all-important origin story – the chelonian crime fighter is a kid named Hank Chu from a fictional California Chinatown – that sets up Yang’s commentary on race and identity. Yang told Newsarama, “The negotiation of identities, the hiding of one’s true self, all of those dynamics are daily realities for immigrant’s kids. Many of us grew up with two names, one foreign and the other American. The dual identities of superheroes feel familiar.”
Journalist, sci-fi author, and co-editor of Boing Boing Cory Doctorow praises the book saying “Yang and Liew’s backstory for the Green Turtle is a golden-age comics whiz-bang adventure story that unflinchingly faces the widespread racism against Asian-Americans that rose to a fever pitch in WWII, while skewering modern stereotypes of Tiger Mothers and nose-to-grindstone Chinese kids. It walks a fine line between slapstick and commentary, to great effect — reminiscent of the work of Will Eisner or Harvey Kurtzman in its blending of broad humor and sly digs.” (links are ours)