The second part of a Spider-Island tie-in starring Shang Chi sees the character infiltrating the house of one of the Immortal Weapons to rescue Iron Fist – only to discover that the fight isn’t as easily won as he’s expecting.
Shang Chi’s role in the crossover has been surprisingly peripheral, given the character’s recent role as a supporting character in “Amazing Spider-Man,” but as with Spider-Girl’s miniseries, the intent appears to be to tell a character-appropriate story that spins out of the overarching narrative of the event. That’s fair enough; at least the premise is more interesting than the “Hero fights enemy with Asgardian hammer” template so prominent in the “Fear Itself” tie-ins.
Johnston’s habit of naming the martial arts techniques on-panel is an interesting one, but it can also be distracting. Are these genuine techniques? Are they fictional ones which have been assigned to Shang Chi, like when Dr. Strange’s spells are named in “New Avengers?” It isn’t clear. While they do make the fight scenes marginally more intellectual, there’s only so far you can take the idea before it loses its charm. As a reader, I don’t know whether I’m supposed to be applauding the research, enjoying the creative naming, or divining hidden meaning behind the choice of move. That said, there is at least one moment when Iron Fist joins the fight which uses the device to great effect, which almost justifies the rest of it.
The book maintains the deliberate, calculated pace of a martial arts movie, throwing pace to the wind only when the fighting begins. Chi’s exploration of the Bridge’s mansion is creepy and psychological, contrasting with the almost instinctual approach to the action shown later on. The sketchy pencils of Fiumara and Fernandez certainly help, with the texture helping to convey both speed and movement during the fight scenes, and giving an indistinct, dusky vibe to the more atmospheric moments.
Ultimately, though, there’s nothing here which is likely to win fans over to the idea of either a martial arts comic or a Shang Chi-fronted comic. As a crossover tie-in, it makes its excuses but never feels essential, and almost works better if you forget that there’s any tie-in at all. You probably already know whether you’re interesting in reading a Shang Chi comic with notional tie-ins to “Spider-Island,” and by the end of this issue, there’s nothing I can say that should put you off the idea — but there’s also no praise I can offer which might convince you to try it out either.