Shang-Chi, The Master of Kung-Fu
Prologue from Master of Kung Fu:
“Call me Shang-Chi, as my father did when he raised me and molded my mind and my body in the vacuum of his Honan, China retreat. I learned many things from my father: That my name means ‘The Rising and Advancing of a Spirit’, that my body could be forged into a living weapon through the discipline of Kung Fu, and that it might be used for the murder of a man called Dr. Petrie.
Since then I have learned that my father is Dr. Fu Manchu, the most insidiously evil man on earth…and that to honor him would bring nothing but dishonor to the spirit of my name.”
–Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu
The Bronze Age of comics was full of influences from black magic to motorcycle gangs and even kung fu. In an effort to expand their catalog of characters and take advantage of current trends, Marvel Comics unleashed Shang-Chi on their readers in Special Marvel Edition #15. Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin took the popular trends of the time and created Shang-Chi, a hard-hitting, high-kicking super hero with a twisted past.
Yes, he does look exactly like Bruce Lee.
Built on a combination of Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu and the Kung Fu Tv program (both of which Marvel had acquired the rights to at the time), Shang-Chi is one of the most unique action heroes in comics. The son of one of the most wicked villains in the world, Fu Manchu, Shang-Chi vowed to carve out his own destiny in the world as an agent of British Intelligence in MI-6.
A popular hero, Shang-Chi shared the page with many other martial arts characters at the time including White Tiger, Iron Fist, and Daughters of the Dragon. An over-sized Marvel Special Edition called Fists of Kung Fu was also released collecting several stories of the kick-crazy heroes.
While the tight writing of the series by Engleheart and later Doug Moench is phenomenal, it is the art by Paul Gulacy that many remember most. This was a truly magical moment at Marvel with Frank Miller on Daredevil, Klaus Janson on Moon Knight and Gulacy on Master of Kung Fu, creating some of the most thrilling and cinematic action comics that readers had ever seen. Later artist Mike Zeck (of Secret Wars and Punisher fame) is no slouch either. Thanks to Gulacy’s moody artwork, the phenomenal fight sequences jump off the page.
The series was a roaring success and ran for over 80 issues before the fire went out and lagging sales led to the eventual cancellation and a quiet retirement for the man who was meant to inherit the legacy of Fu Manchu. Shang-Chi appeared again in the pages of Black Panther and in a Marvel MAX solo series reuniting the character with Moench and Gulacy who updated the comic for a modern audience.
I’m hoping that Marvel will see the light and release an Essential collection of this character in the coming years but seeing as how we are only this week seeing an Essential Sub-Mariner that may be a long wait!
But that is not the end of the tale for Shang-Chi!
This week sees the triumphant return to the comic book scene with a special black & white one-off issue featuring work by ‘some of Marvel’s hottest writers’ (no other word is available in the preview) and co-starring Deadpool, the Merc with a Mouth.
Currently a film is in development with Woo-ping Yuen (fight choreographer from the Matrix films) and Bruce McKenna (scriptwriter from Band of Brothers) attached with a possible 2011 release date.
Who knows what the future holds for this dynamic hero… look in your tea-leaves, true believer, and you may see the truth!
… or you could just read my blog for updates.