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Can I Get A Do-Over? Shadow Selves And Second Chances

by Amal El-Mohtar
Jul 24, 2014

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Two remarkable graphic novels being released this week are themed around shadow-selves, legacies and second chances: Bryan Lee O'Malley's Seconds is about a woman given the opportunity to magically undo past mistakes, while Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew's The Shadow Hero revises a mysterious golden-age superhero called the Green Turtle by fleshing out his Asian-American origins.

Katie Clay is a successful chef whose skill makes Seconds the most popular restaurant in town — but after four years of living and working there without a share of the business, she's ready for a place of her own. Unfortunately, she's phased herself out of her job while her new restaurant's mired in costly renovations; consequently she haunts Seconds in a kind of limbo, generally making a nuisance of herself. But when a bad decision leads to a serious accident for a staff member, she finds that she isn't the only liminal creature haunting the place: Seconds is home to a house spirit named Lis, who gives her a chance — and the means — to fix her mistake and prevent the accident. Astonished by the change, Katie embarks on a dangerous campaign of life-perfecting, which only leads to more complications for her and her loved ones.

Seconds is a gorgeously produced book: O'Malley's art (assisted by Jason Fischer) is wonderful, moving from stylised cosmic trees and impressive layouts to small, beautifully rendered character moments with grace and ease. Nathan Fairbairn's colors are exquisite, and I found myself sometimes returning to parts of the book to re-experience the warmth of the palette here, its brightness there, as well as just to appreciate how much of the storytelling was conveyed through color. I've only recently been taught to notice lettering in comics, and Dustin Harbin's is lovely — it's very much part of the art and contributes significantly to the rhythm of the narration.

Katie is both a magnetic and obnoxious. It's a bit amazing, encountering a female protagonist who's allowed to be justly proud of her skills; strange as it sounds, I was grateful for Katie's arrogance and manipulative streak even as I wrinkled my nose at her. She's self-absorbed and makes appalling decisions, but she's a whole character, and Seconds is the story of her confronting the worst aspects of herself in a surprisingly literal sort of way. There were characters and relationships I wish had been focused on instead of others, some unnecessary bouts of exposition, and the story's resolution was unsatisfyingly easy — but the art kicks an adequate story into something much more, and I was left genuinely impressed.

Approaching revision from an utterly different perspective is Shadow Hero, Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew's interpretation of Chu Hing's The Green Turtle, a comics character from the 1940s whom Yang argues may well have been the first Asian-American superhero.

Hank Chu is the son of a green grocer in an American coastal city's Chinatown, growing up happily and wanting nothing more from life than to follow in his father's footsteps. But his mother has different plans for him: after a life-saving encounter with a superhero called The Anchor of Justice, she becomes enamoured of superheroes and determined to make Hank into one. Hank is dutiful but reluctant — until he comes face to face with the ugly reality of the criminal underworld's power over his family and Chinatown as a whole. Aided by an ancient tortoise spirit living in his shadow, Hank embraces his identity as The Green Turtle and works to take down the mysterious crime boss known only as Ten Grand.

I am unabashedly in love with this book. Liew's art is fantastic, Janice Chiang's lettering is subtle and effective, and Yang's writing is warm, funny, and charming when it isn't quietly devastating. The exploration of immigrant identity and belonging is masterful, as you'd expect from the author of American Born Chinese, but there are so many grace notes to appreciate, especially where the engagement with the source material (outlined in a fascinating afterword) is concerned: the revised explanations for the original Green Turtle's occasionally surprising pinkness and lack of a shirt were hilarious, and the tortoise spirit's hectoring conversations with Hank were delightful.

I particularly loved Hank's mother, Hua, and the book's very tender treatment of her foibles: what could have been a purely comic caricature of an overbearing matriarch is instead rendered with empathy and respect. I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that this is a book as much about Hank's parents, their history, and his relationship with them as it is about his becoming a superhero, and it was deeply moving to see how much his love for them inflects his narration. Complex, clever, and thoroughly engaging, The Shadow Hero is brilliant and not to be missed. In fact I find myself hoping for a sequel.

Shadows are powerful storytelling vehicles, and it's a pleasure to read books that use them in complex and ambitious ways. Whether craving confrontation with your shadow aspect or superhero comics with depth and humor, you'll be well-supplied with material this week.


Amal El-Mohtar is the author of The Honey Month and the editor of Goblin Fruit, an online poetry magazine.

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Judge To Bulldog Thief: 'You Hid The Pup; The Jig Was Up'

Jul 24, 2014 (Morning Edition)

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Sarah Palin Gets A Speeding Ticket, Says She 'Can't Drive 55'

Jul 24, 2014 (Morning Edition)

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Authorities Lose Contact With Air Algerie Aircraft

by Eyder Peralta
Jul 24, 2014

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Authorities have lost contact with an Air Algerie aircraft traveling from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to Algiers, Reuters reports citing the Algerian state news agency.

Reuters adds:

"APS said authorities lost contact with flight AH 5017 an hour after it took off from Burkina Faso.

"Spanish private airline company Swiftair confirmed it had no contact with its MD-83 aircraft operated by Air Algerie, which it said was carrying 110 passengers and six crew. An Algieran official had earlier said it was an Airbus A320."

In a statement, Swiftair said the flight took off at 9:17 p.m. ET on Wednesday, and was supposed to arrive shortly after 1 a.m. ET. on Thursday.

"There is at this moment, no contact with the aircraft," Swiftair said.

Of course, this incident comes about a week after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17was shot down over Ukraine and a day after a Transasia Airways plane crash-landed in Taiwan, killing dozens of passengers.

This is a breaking news story. We'll update when we know more.

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Paul Davis, third from left, the presumed Democratic nominee for Kansas governor, receives the endorsements of more than 100 current and former Republican politicians on July 15, 2014, in Topeka, Kan. (AP)

A Strange Political Dustup Clouds Kansas Governor's Future

by Jim McLean
Jul 24, 2014 (Morning Edition)

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Kansas's Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is locked in an unexpectedly tough re-election battle for doing exactly what he said he would do - cut taxes.

Citing mounting evidence that those tax cuts are creating a budget crisis - not stimulating the Kansas economy as promised - some in the state's moderate Republican establishment recently did the unthinkable: endorse a Democrat for governor.

That's not only endangering Brownback's re-election hopes, it's also tarnishing his plans to turn one of the reddest of red states into a national model.

Sam Brownback left the U.S. Senate to run for governor intending to demonstrate he could use conservative policies to reverse decades of population and economic decline in his home state. He easily won the 2010 race, and immediately began implementing and promoting what he calls his red-state model.

"You've got really two models developing: You've got this red state model and blue state model," he explained in a recent interview with the Heritage Foundation. "And one of these models is going to end up winning out and that model is going to go, I think, nationwide. I really hope it's the red state, lower taxes, less government, more freedom model."

Tax cuts are the most important part of the red-state model, and Brownback argues that lowering and eventually eliminating state income taxes will make Kansas a top choice for entrepreneurs and job creators.

His efforts to sell his model as a path forward for other states caught the attention of Michael Leachman, a researcher at the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

"The tax cuts that Kansas implemented a couple of years ago and took effect at the beginning of 2013 were one of the biggest state tax cuts in history," he explains. "And now a number of other states are pointing to Kansas as a model for how you can use very large tax cuts to promote economic growth."

But so far, Leachman says, following Kansas's lead may not be a good idea. The tax cuts haven't generated anything close to the economic "shot of adrenaline" that Gov. Brownback promised.

"There is no evidence of any boost to the state's economy," he says. "Kansas's job growth since the tax cuts took effect is actually a little slower than job growth has been nationally."

If a lack of immediate results was all that Sam Brownback had to worry about, he could appeal for patience. But there is mounting evidence that his tax cuts are largely responsible for a sudden and sharp drop in state revenues.

Senate Democratic leader Anthony Hensley says if the trend continues the state will quickly burn through its cash reserves, forcing legislators to deal with a burgeoning budget crisis when they return to Topeka in January.

"I think the governor is in a serious state of denial right now about the fiscal condition of the state," he says, chuckling.

The specter of cutting funding to schools, universities and a popular highway program by hundreds of millions of dollars is political fodder for House Minority Leader Paul Davis, Brownback's likely Democratic opponent in the fall.

One recent poll shows Davis leading Brownback by six points.

That has spurred some moderate Republicans to do something quite unexpected. Just last week, more than 100 of them - all current or former elected officials - endorsed Davis.

"We are all Republicans but we will always be Kansans first," says former state Sen. Wint Winter Jr., who helped organize the uprising. "We stand today united in the belief that under the current Republican governor Kansas is going in the wrong direction."

But Brownback is not backing down and insists his tax cuts are starting to work. At a recent campaign rally, he cited a discussion with a business owner he hired to help with his daughter's recent wedding.

"He looks at me and says, 'hey, you're the governor right? Yeah, Yeah. 'That tax deal that you did; that's really helped my little small business out," he says. "And I said, good, good. What are you going to do with the money? He said, 'well I'm looking this fall at buying another truck and hiring another guy to run the truck."

Whether voters give Brownback and his experiment more time could depend on just how much worse - or better - the state's fiscal problems get between now and November.

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