Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero
by Fred Chao
Cover Artist: Fred Chao
Review by Colleen Cahill
Tor Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765329370
Date: 17 July 2012 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Some comics have a bleaker view of the world, as with the Dark Knight and other such superheroes. Worlds with little light and no humor, while at times intriguing, can bring one down. But fear not, for Fred Chao's graphic novel, Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero is here to deliver some fun and quite a few giggles. Johnny is an average guy, just trying to get by, all the while facing off with irate Japanese chefs, running from revenge seeking ronin-business men, and trying to rescue his girlfriend from a giant Japanese lizard. Here is a work of depth, emotion and a lot of humor.
The book opens with Big Lizard in My Backyard, as we see New York City in the peaceful time of the wee hours of the morning. Johnny Hiro and his girlfriend Mayumi are sleeping. A hint of danger shows when a giant eye peeks in their upper story apartment bedroom window; suddenly the wall rips open and a scaly paw grabs Mayumi! Godzilla has traveled half way around the world to find her and now it's up to Johnny to save his love… hopefully without stretching her borrowed bunny slippers. But what is a busboy in a sushi restaurant suppose to do?
The answer is as amusing as it is surprising in this first of five stories, all of which have interesting guests, such as the noted Japanese monster. For example, cleaning up after a rampaging radioactive monstrosity takes lots of effort and Mayumi calls on Mayor Michael Bloomberg who actually answers the phone. The damage to Johnny and Mayumi’s apartment, however, is not public property, so they have to deal with that themselves. This eventually leads to The Comeback, as the couple appears in night court with Bull, Roz, and the entire crew from the TV show... except Harry. Seems he is off that night so the case is presided over by Judge Judy!
Part of the charm of these tales is the appearance of different notables, such as running into Talking Heads singer David Byrne while at the opera or the tasty interruptions by Alton Brown. Paired with this is the unlikely but amusing events that either lead to or cause chaos for Johnny. Even possible encounters, such as when food critic Jeffrey Steingarten sits down in the sushi restaurant where Johnny works, bring adventure in Lobster Run. When Jeffrey orders lobster and there isn't any in the place, Johnny is sent to steal one from a neighboring shop (because there is no way the owner will sell it). This leads to a chase through the city, via back alleys, up fire escapes and swinging down electric lines. I won't spoil the end, but it is just as incredible as the chase.
With action, adventure and fabulous guest stars, what's not to like about these stories? Chao captures all the hope and struggles of a young couple starting out in New York City, then adds those fantastic elements that truly make this a page turner that you will read again and again, even if you are not a big graphic novel fan.
Highly recommend and this reviewer is looking forward to the release of Skills to Pay the Bills in the summer of 2013.