How About Some Kung Fu?

This week, I'm in the mood for a little foot-on-face action, and where better to look than the very first appearance of The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu? Judging from the cover, no better place, really.

Shang-Chi is another of those unlikely to be reprinted classic from the 70s thanks to Marvel losing control of certain properties. In this case, Shang-Chi is Marvel's, but his father is Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu is not. Fu is one of those characters even Alan Moore couldn't use the name of in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, like Sherlock Holmes still a protected property. And in this first issue (actually Special Marvel Edition #15), we even find out the fate of Smith and Petrie, two of Rohmer's opponents for his Fu Manchu.

And yet, in popular comics folklore, Master of Kung Fu is still regarded as THE kung fu comic. Folk memory or truth? Well, by page 2, Shang-Chi's already broken someone's spine!
But like Steve Englehart's story, we're getting ahead of ourselves. Flash back some days before as young Shang-Chi ends his training and is given a mission by his honored father to go and kill the world's most evil man, long-time enemy Dr. Petrie. When Shang-Chi gets there, he hesitates. Does this 90-year-old relic of a man really need to be murdered, an act Shang's philosophy finds revolting?
I guess so!

But he's surprised by Rohmer's other hero, Sir Denis Nayland Smith who, wheelchair-bound and holding him at gunpoint, tells him the truth about his evil father. Fu Manchu is many things: manipulator or rats, spiders and beautiful women; the leader of a vast criminal underground; made a cruel immortal by the oil of life; mad scientist; and inspired the likes of Egg Fu. The last drop is what he did to Smith:
Harsh. At some point, there must be payback. So after a quick Hamlet-like "how could you?" talk with his American mum, Shang-Chi infiltrates his father's house. May I just say here that I was quite surprised at Jim Starlin's artwork. First, because I've long held the belief that he was overrated, and quite bad at anatomy and scale, but is rather inventive here. And second, because he gives Master of Kung Fu a visual style inspired by chinese comics and japanese manga/anime.
I'm willing to revise my opinion on his 70s work.

Ready for the fight? Ok. Starting with a classic: The giant knee to the torso!
And now... MORE!
Oh, oh. It's the infamous ponytail grab!
Satisfying! And if the comic's climax had been this defeat of the japanese giant, I would have been happy. Except it doesn't. No, there's also a sequence where Shang-Chi FIGHTS A GORILLA!
It can only end one way:
With animal cruelty. But it's all Fu Manchu's fault, right? For turning the gentle beast into a killer? Yeah. And that's him coming into frame at the end and declaring war on his son. Ladies and gentlemen, that's what I call a really cool set-up.
Tomorrow: More ponytail action!


snell said…
Just for the record, this wasn't Doug Moench's story, it was Steve Englehart. He and Starlin co-plotted. Moench didn't come onboard until the back half of issue #20.
Sleestak said…
Some great martial arts comics. As a long time comic book fan I can appreciate how one of the conceits of Shang was that talking during a fight makes one a fool, as it distracts from the art. it was part of his characterization that i sadly missing as now days he won't shut up when throwing a punch.

The Shang-Chi series was amazing all the way up to the end.
Siskoid said…
Snell: Is that right? My eyes have deceived me (possibly because I was rifling through a number of issues).

I'll double check when I get home, and make the appropriate repairs.
Marc Burkhardt said…
Nowadays, that single issue would be an 8-part miniseries.
snell said…
A lot of people asusme that because of his epic run, Moench wrote them all...same with Marv Wolfman and Tomb of Dracula...
Siskoid said…
Which was started by the great Gerry Conway, gotcha.
Anonymous said…
I have one issue of this series, and I don't remember how I got it, besides it was legal. :) It pretty much proved that Shang-Chi was better off an orphan.