You have to hand it to Ed Brubaker: he managed to tell an entire story about “Shang Chi’s father” without ever hinting who, precisely, the man himself was supposed to be. By my count, that puts him in a club with Alan Moore, which isn’t exactly a bad place to be (unless you’re afraid of snake-worshipping wizards, or beards).
In any case, the story wraps up the only way it could, with the Secret Avengers preventing any copyright-infringing resurrections from taking place and an audience being surprised to realize that they just read a Shang Chi story that wasn’t completely tedious. Admittedly, Brubaker dressed it up a bit with a lot of peripheral characters, but it’s still by far the best use of the so-called “Master of Kung Fu” in the last 15 years, if not longer. That has to count for something.
It’s a shame, then, that Brubaker’s about to leave the series. There’s one issue left to go, but in an 11-issue tenure, it feels as though he’s barely scratched the surface of the cast. Issues like this one point to the chief failing of Brubaker’s tenure — too much Steve Rogers, not enough everyone else — but one suspects that would have changed as the book progressed. Now we’ll never know.
Between Brubaker’s writing and Deodato’s artwork, the title is still incredibly high-quality espionage-tinged superheroics. Strangely, Steve Rogers seems far more interesting out of the Captain America uniform than in it, particularly when he gets scenes with John Steele, as in the climax of this issue. Perhaps the difference is that it feels as though he’s facing Steele as himself, rather than as Captain America, the icon. That makes me look forward to the next issue even more, when we’ll finally see where their paths diverged in what is bound to be a very personal disagreement in philosophies.
That said, the relationship between Steele and Rogers is also the source of one of the issue’s better moments, in which Valkyrie faces Steele instead of Rogers. As you may have noticed, though, such moments push Shang Chi’s plot into the background. The segue into next issue’s Rogers vs. Steele issue suggests that it’s all a little rushed on Brubaker’s part due to his exit from the title.
Pacing aside, there’s little to complain about, though. It’s still the best of the relaunched Avengers books, and I suspect it’s going to read even better as a collection. With one more issue to go, all we can do is hope that Brubaker makes the most of it.