25th May2021

‘Shang-Chi #1’ Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by Gene Luen Yang | Art by Dike Ruan | Published by Marvel Comics

With the imminent release of the upcoming Shang-Chi movie, I was expecting to see a lot of ‘push’ on the character, and I wasn’t wrong. For me, the Shang-Chi I know and love was the one from the late 1970’s/ early 1980’s. He was originally created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin in 1973, to take advantage of the current martial arts craze then, and taken to near perfection by Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy. He started life as the unknown son of Fu Manchu, but when Marvel lost the licence to Fu all that was swiftly swept aside, with vague references to imposters and resurrected replacements. What’s important, though, is that Shang-Chi was such a strong character, developed and written and drawn by such good creators, that he outlasted both the craze that spawned him and the licenced property from which he sprang.

Shang-Chi has had some changes over his nearly 50 years of existence, and as we pick up with the opening issue here, he has discovered that his (not Fu Manchu) father’s criminal organization the Five Weapons Society is still active. Throw in some long lost siblings, and the fact he’s apparently now the organization’s leader, and we have a whole new ball game. Or dramatic opportunities, if you are the writer. Shang-Chi is determined to use his father’s old organization to actually do some good, it’s just a question of if he will be given the chance, by both the organization itself and the wider Marvel Universe as a whole. The first test will be convincing a certain webhead, as a certain Peter Parker swings by on a case that crosses over with Shang-Chi’s own. Spidey and him go way back of course, though his sister Esme, or Deadly Dagger as she prefers, doesn’t really care. Spidey, though, wants a team up.

Shang-Chi, then, must juggle the most Frasier-like of scenarios. Teaming up with Spider-Man to crack a drug cartel/ weapons ring without letting Spidey know he’s now the head of a major criminal organisation, while making his sister Esme feel they are not doing ‘good’ but just taking down rival gangs for their own benefit. A comedy of errors. He juggles it pretty well to be fair, until they have to bump heads with King Wild Man, a Chinese herbalist who can use the Yeren root to transform into a beast-like state. He was bad enough, but when he attaches the root to Spidey, we see a return of the mutated four-armed Spider-Man. Shang-Chi and Esme make a good team, though, and Spidey is quickly returned to normal.

As with all comedies of deception, truth wills out, and by stories end Shang-Chi comes clean. He tells Spidey the truth, he’s now the head of his father’s old organization. This begs the question, as Spidey realises, for which side does he now bat? Shang-Chi is non-committal. Is that just because he doesn’t want his organization to know he’s really a good guy, or is that he isn’t so sure anymore himself? It’s all left suitably vague. For now, things end as they began. Shang-Chi leads a criminal organization, for better or worse. Will he turn it good, or will it turn him bad? It’s all set up very nicely to find just that out. This issue sets that status quo nicely. The wring overall was very good, though I found some of the light heartedness a little out of place. Puns and witty asides were thrown in at every opportunity. Leave that to Spider-Man. The art was in a lightly tinged manga style, which was nice enough, though Shang-Chi did look as though he should be in a Capcom game rather than a comic book.

This was a pretty strong first issue overall, I liked it but didn’t love it. The world building was nice, the new set up promising, it’s just the light hearted tone I’m not convinced by. Maybe it will grow on me after a few more issues.

I’d be more than happy to be proven wrong by such a feel-good book.

**** 4/5

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