Writer Haden Blackman opens “Master of Kung Fu” #1 with an elaborate recounting of K’un Lun’s history as it lies upon Battleworld. Dalibor Talajic provides stylistic interpretations of the aforementioned history with help from Goran Sudzuka, Miroslav Mrva and Travis Lanham.
The biggest hurdle K’un Lun’s history faces is that, apparently, our orator is drunk — drunk enough that Lanham freckles his word balloons with bubbles and gives the balloons a sickly amoebic border that telegraphs the uncertainty of mind consistent with too much alcohol. Initially, this seems like a stereotypical maneuver, with a fallen, drunk master beset upon by demons, ready to prove himself once again, but Blackman stacks humor and action around and through the story, giving readers plenty to absorb as he introduces K’un Lun and the Thirteen Chambers.
Blackman filters recognizable concepts and characters through those Chambers, including the Ten Rings, the Red Hand, the Panther Clan and the House of the Jade Tiger, setting up a battle royale to hit in future issues. Blackman manages to keep the exposition flowing in this issue but, once the initial three page introduction is complete, the pace of “Master of Kung Fu” #1 picks up and the story barrels forward, adding ancillary characters and unfurling tendrils of the plot for the duration of the issue.
Talajic’s art is meticulous, yet unpretentious. He provides detail for setting and story’s sakes, not to simply embellish. Mrva’s colors, likewise, are steady and true. The colorist adds texture and vitality to the artwork through subtle shading variations, giving the final look of “Master of Kung Fu” #1 a watercolor appearance. Talajic choreographs the fighting sequences nicely, guiding readers through complex confrontations filled with characters that readers have only just met. Through it all, no one gets lost, and all of the characters carry themselves distinctively.
Like Mike Grell’s “Green Arrow” work from the 1990s, “Master of Kung Fu” #1 delivers a briskly paced story filled with levels of detail and churning plot construction. The book moves faster than its twenty pages but, upon further review, it packs more in than most modern twenty-page comic books, and in a tale with no splash pages that includes an introduction to a land, its conflicted people and the danger rising over the horizon at that. “Master of Kung Fu” #1 is a smart introduction to what appears to be a high-octane adventure filled with the unknown and unexpected, as Shang-Chi must figure out how to best the Thirteen Chambers in order to reclaim his honor.