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Shang-Chi: How Marvel's Master of Kung-Fu Comic Introduced the MCU Star

Shang-Chi Master of Kung Fu feature

Of all the upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe films announced at this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego, one of the most talked-about is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, finally marking the Marvel martial arts master's live-action debut.

The character has been a fan-favorite part of the Marvel Universe for almost half a century, with his own long-running title that ran for over 100 issues before its eventual cancellation. Before the Master of Kung-Fu hits the big screen, we're taking a look back at Shang-Chi's high-flying history as a solo hero with the Marvel Universe.

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WHO IS SHANG-CHI?

Shang-Chi Nunchaku Marvel Comics

The origins of this Marvel Comics martial arts hero are a convoluted story that's deeply tied to the martial arts boom of the '70s. The publisher attempted to gain the licensing rights to adapt the popular television series Kung Fu into comics before being denied. Instead, Marvel acquired the license for the Sax Rohmer pulp literary character Fu Manchu and created its own martial arts superhero linked to the character's legacy, Shang-Chi, translated from Mandarin as "rising spirit."

The character debuted in 1973's Marvel Special Edition #15 by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, and due to his success, was made the star of the series which was retitled Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu starting with issue #17. Published at the boom of East Asian martial arts films making their way to the United States, the ongoing series ran for a full decade, ending with issue #125 in 1983 while receiving four giant-sized specials with all-new stories and an annual across its run.

Son of Fu Manchu

Shang-Chi Master of Kung Fu Homeless Drifter

The son of criminal mastermind Fu Manchu and a Caucasian-American mother, Shang-Chi was raised isolated from the outside world in his father's remote compound where he was trained in a variety of martial arts forms since infancy. Upon reaching adulthood, Fu Manchu had his son assassinate a target in London, with Shang-Chi learning the true extent of his father's villainy after completing his assignment. Vowing to atone himself for the murder, Shang-Chi set out to systemically dismantle Fu Manchu's criminal empire around the world.

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Along the way, Shang-Chi would ally himself with MI6 operatives Black Jack Tarr, Clive Reston -- hinted as being the son of James Bond and grandson of Sherlock Holmes -- and Leiko Wu, who later becomes his major romantic interest. Shang-Chi would face many of his father's associates across the series, with his adopted brother Midnight Sun among them, while his half-sister Fah Lo Suee would lead her own criminal enterprise that would oppose him. Occasionally, more established Marvel characters would appear to solidify Shang-Chi's presence within the wider Marvel Universe, including Spider-Man and Man-Thing on separate adventures.

The End of the Road

Allied with Fu Manchu's longtime enemy Sir Denis Nayland, Shang-Chi eventually discovered that his assumed murdered target Doctor James Petrie had survived, and Petrie joined their mission to stop Fu Manchu once and for all. The ensemble founds Freelance Restorations, Ltd., an independent intelligence agency based out of Scotland dedicated to stopping global crime. By issue #118, Fu Manchu is successfully defeated and killed though Shang-Chi is guilt-ridden from watching his father die and retires to become a peaceful fisherman in China.

Following the conclusion of the ongoing series, Marvel Comics lost the licensing rights to Fu Manchu, meaning future appearances of Shang-Chi could legally not go into specifics regarding his father. Instead, the character would appear sporadically from then on, either as an occasional Avenger, guest-star or supporting character; occasionally starring in his own miniseries and specials, with later stories retconning his father to be an entirely different character named Zheng Zhu would had been using an alias during the classic series.

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