There's been considerable buzz building up to the release of Kagan McLeod's monster of a book, "Infinite Kung-Fu," and with its wide release this past week, it proves that all of that buzz and hype was completely on the money. Expansive, entertaining, and full of pretty much everything you could love about kung-fu stories, "Infinite Kung-Fu" is a page turner that's hard to put down. And, when you do put it down, it won't be for very long.
The story that McLeod tells is painfully simple yet allows for many detours and tangents, creating an expansive world that's easy to dip in and out of without losing sight of the larger plot. Eight Immortals want to prevent the ghost of the Emperor from recovering his armor, resurrecting himself, and destroying the world. Each Immortal has a student, five of whom have turned bad thanks to the teachings of 'poison kung-fu.' One is dead, one still fights the good fight, and the final one, the pupil of the chief Immortal, has just been recruited. Lei Kung is our window into this world as he follows the path set out for him, grows stronger at kung-fu, and slowly figures out everything the Immortals haven't told him. The simple quest allows for a lot of smaller steps along the way, giving the story a strong flow.
While most of the story seems to take place in a medieval China setting, McLeod doesn't allow that to limit him, wanting to include everything about kung-fu and the culture that surrounds it in this expansive story. A big surprise is the introduction of the one remaining good student of the Immortals, Moog Joogular, an afro-sporting blaxploitation-esque character that lives in a city straight from the '70s. When Lei Kung first visits the city, we see him go from a robe to a suit and sunglasses with his hair slicked back. It's a fun inclusion in the book that captures the tone perfectly.
The breadth of characters in the story is wonderful. Lei Kung is the primary focus and protagonist, but McLeod never backs off a chance to stick with another of the pupils, showing how they aren't all completely evil, merely misguided and led astray by the poison kung-fu they've learned. That this world is also overrun with zombies -- because the land of the dead is too crowded -- provides more chances for fighting and for scenes to take on a greater urgency. A lot of talking head scenes become expansive fights thanks to the slow-moving zombies.
With so much action, you'd expect page after page of splashes or two panels, and McLeod avoids that, preferring to pack a lot into his pages. This is a 450-page book that reads like 450 pages of content. It says a lot about his skill as an artist that he can construct these dense pages without them feeling crowded or constrained. There's a very natural ease to his pages and the way that they flow and present action. Part of the way he captures the speed of movement in kung-fu is in pages with a lot of panels and, yet, he never sacrifices clarity or storytelling in the process.
The book begins with two pages showing the Immortals, telling their personal history and saying who their students are, which gives the impression that those two pages will be needed as reference as you read. Wrong. McLeod juggles the large cast of characters while giving them all distinct, recognizable looks. It may take a little bit of time to remember some names, but there's never any confusion of which character you're looking at, because he makes sure they all stand out.
"Infinite Kung-Fu" is so entertaining and big and just plain fun to read that its large scope never drags it down. It's like the best kung-fu movie you've ever seen, unimpaired by time or budget constraints, willing to take everything about kung-fu that everyone loves and throw it all together. McLeod basically shows how it should be done here.