Sunday, October 18, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: Shang-Chi Master of Kung Fu

I gave my review of Rampaging Wolverine a few weeks back. Now its pseudo-sequel has hit the stands. While the previous one-shot was inspired by Marvel’s seventies era magazine Rampaging Hulk, Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu holds its inspiration in the classic martial arts magazine Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. And unlike the previous book, this one proves a bit weaker.

The opening story by up and coming writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Kody Chamberlain (whose last name is missing the second A). You might expect some kind of kung fu masterpiece. Instead we get a Deadpool/Shang-Chi team up involving a motorcycle race against multiple criminal organizations. It features an oddball storytelling style in the vein of Deadpool’s own title. Very little of Shang-Chi’s own personality is allowed to shine through.

The second story by novelist Mike Benson and the Marvel Noir alumni team of Tomm Coker and C.P. Smith takes an interesting track. Set in Hong Kong, the captions are completely in Chinese with English subtitles running along the bottom of the page. This is clearly done to increase the cinematic feel of the story. In it he comes in to conflict with another master warrior. The young fighter wants him dead and much of the next several pages is spent in a brutal kung fu battle. A much more solid update of the Master of Kung Fu.

The final comics story, “The Vaccuum [sic] of Memory”, is by former Moon Knight writer Charlie Huston and Spanish comic artist Enrique Romero. Romero has a knack for channeling a classic Marvel style and it shows here in Shang-Chi’s battle with his old friend Midnight (a.k.a. Midnight Sun). The story handles the history of both characters surprisingly well, as Midnight continues his appearance and enhanced abilities from old issues of Silver Surfer. (Don’t ask me to explain; it would take too long.) The two friends battle before Shang-Chi ultimately embraces his old friend.

The final four pages are devoted to a prose piece by Dark Tower co-writer Robin Furth. Instead of a short piece of prose as in Rampaging Wolverine this is instead anecdotes told by Shang-Chi about his own life. While not much to write home about, it does feature excellent spot illustrations from classic Shang-Chi artist Paul Gulacy.

All in all, I think Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu is much weaker overall than Rampaging Wolverine. Shang-Chi has proven himself a much better character for long form fiction than short pieces like this. That shows quite well here, although the debacle that is the opening story couldn’t be made in to a good Shang-Chi tale with any amount of padding. I understand Deadpool is a hot commodity at Marvel now, but that is no excuse to make Shang-Chi play second fiddle in his own (rare) book. While I hope this doesn’t mark the end of Marvel’s black and white magazine-inspired books, I can only give Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu a Mild Recommendation.

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