Shang Chi: Master of Kung Fu #1

It's strange to see a black and white comic from Marvel these days -- and stranger still to discover that the book is an anthology about Shang Chi, the Master of Kung Fu. Even with 70s Marvel characters enjoying a new renaissance, it never seemed likely that Shang Chi would get a look in, so it's quite surprising to find that not only is he being given some serious pagetime, but that it's actually pretty good too.

The lead story, co-featuring Deadpool, seems like a shameless grab for readers - Deadpool is quickly becoming the new Wolverine in terms of guest star appeal -- but under Jonathan Hickman's masterful writing, it's hard to deny that the pair-up makes an incredibly fun story, despite the unusual matchup. If the promise of a story that has Shang Chi and Deadpool motorbiking across the country while fighting the Hitler Twins makes you smile, this is the comic for you. The ridiculous title is almost worth the entry price alone.

Which is lucky, because the next two stories are both far more pedestrian. If you picked up this comic expecting traditional martial-arts action, then good news: you've got two.

Mike Benson and Tom Coker produce a brilliantly choreographed kung fu fight, with "subtitled" Chinese text for that extra-authentic gritty cinema feel. It's a visual feast, but compared to the opener there's little to recommend it, and the shift in tone is almost disappointing after the craziness of the first story -- only the ultra-indie feel prevents it from being entirely generic.

However, there are no such redeeming features for the last strip in the issue. Charlie Huston and Enrique Romero's story is an even blander take on the character, as Shang Chi fights his "brother", M'Nai. It's appears to be a deliberate period piece -- it certainly looks and reads like it's from the 70s -- but that leaves the appeal limited to those with nostalgia for such comics, and I have none.

The book ends with a text piece written by Robin Furth, with illustrations by Paul Gulacy. It's a welcome addition that fits the experimental nature of the anthology. The mentality of Kung Fu is explored in a way the comics can't do as well as text, and for that reason Furth's choice of subject matter is a smart and enjoyable one.

At $3.99 for 48 pages of story, it's certainly a rare bargain, and if Marvel wanted to extend the black and white anthology format to other characters, I can imagine it performing well. Standard anthology rules apply, but the issue is more good than not, and that, combined with the fact that the issue offers something unique in Marvel's output, means that it's well worth supporting.

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