With all of the genre and niche foci the recent slate of Marvel launches have had, the prospect of a new Shang-Chi miniseries was one that had me as intrigued as Nicolas Cage finding a treasure map under the president’s toilet. Unfortunately, the final execution of Mike Benson and Tan Eng Huat’s “Deadly Hands of Kung Fu” #1 left me feeling as disappointed as Nicolas Cage waking up as John Travolta.
Dave Johnson’s cover and the logo for the book set a tone and expectation that the interior product just does not deliver. There’s a throwback in design and staging that remind one of old ’70s kung fu films that would have played in Times Square. After a quick prologue sequence, Benson’s script sets up Shang-Chi as a character who is far more capable than we are used to — he takes down Crossbones in about 4 pages! The guy that killed Captain America is stopped by an armbar and a jump into a snowdrift. I was arrested in college and the police in my town used more force than that to take me down and my only superpower is lack of organization. Shang-Chi is then called in to meet with Cap, who is nice enough to ignore that Shang is far more efficient at dealing with his enemies than he is. The character models throughout these scenes are all over the place. Tang Eng Huat turns in art that shifts styles from scene to scene, and even panel to panel to no benefit to the story. Cap looks at turns gaunt, then muscular, then horsefaced, then with a face in desperate need of a washcloth, all across a single page. Many faces look like inker Craig Yeung spilled his inkpot on the page and tried to just make it work.
Shang-Chi heads to London to pay last respects to an old friend, and he has more trouble with the randos he confronts here than he did with Crossbones earlier in the issue, proving that America’s deadly educational system is falling behind in teaching our children quality deadly skills. We are left with a mystery to be solved, but no real reason for the audience to invest. Black Jack Tarr reappears in Shang-Chi’s life, looking both shiny and blotchy, to tell him that he should leave well enough alone, but why? He’s coy for no reason. Tarr then jumps back in his whirlybird with the hopes that Shang-Chi will lead them to the clan of foot soldiers that killed Leiko. If he knows so much about the situation, why doesn’t he just go find them himself? It feels like a frustrating plot contrivance just to pull in old characters.
I went in to this book hoping for some awesome kung fu action and real gritty genre fun. I was disappointed to get a confusingly drawn tale where the cliffhanger is Shang-Chi walking down a really clean alley. Getting this character away from the Avengers action is a smart idea but where he is taken doesn’t feel particularly exciting. Here’s hoping that this is a good place to build from for the rest of the book.