Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 (Marvel)

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

Rating: 3/5 – Doesn’t live up to the high standards of the original.
by ComicSpectrum Reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

There’s a rich history to the story of Shang-Chi. Not only in terms of his history as a character, but also in the creative teams that have worked on his solo series from years past.  Since the end of his original series in the early 1980’s, Shang-Chi has been seen here and there in specials, as a guest star, or most recently as part of the Avengers team when it was relaunched under the Marvel NOW banner. Since the character has a lot of appeal and has had some great moments in the Avengers books, I was pleased to see a new solo series starring this character titled Deadly Hands of Kung Fu.

Going back to re-read the Master of Kung-Fu series from the 1970’s is a pleasure, and still holds up quite well, but modern readers won’t find those comics in reprint volumes due to copyright and legal reasons. Shang Chi’s back story and many of the key characters in those old comic were licensed from the Sax Rohmer Fu Manchu novels that Marvel no longer has rights to.  Those supporting characters that were integral to the old Shang-Chi mythos (like his father, Fu Manchu, sister, Fah Lo Suee, and main contact in MI-6, Sir Denis Nayland Smith) can no longer be used and Marvel Marvel has retconned Shang Chi as the son of long-time Marvel bad-guy The Yellow Claw instead of Fu Manchu.  They have worked to clearly establish him in the Marvel Universe by having him interact with many of Marvel’s established heroes and other characters.

This current series may unfortunately fall flat due to the fact that writer Mike Benson brings back some characters and ideas from the original run that carry an impact only if you have that prior knowledge, which is less likely for modern readers due to the lack of availability of the series in reprint format. The story opens with the brutal killing of a former love interest of Shang-Chi. As he travels to Europe to pay his respects, he uncovers a bit more than he expected and begins to look for answers for the reasons behind her death. It’s a solid setup.

I think this issue misses the mark due to a guest appearance that many may not be familiar with, and art that really disappointed me.  Tan Eng Huat’s pencils are inconsistent throughout, and unfortunately that made the overall package less enjoyable for me. Of course it may be a bit unfair to compare this to the original series, but that run had an artist in Paul Gulacy who had a way of making the character exude energy. He gave Shang-Chi a lithe yet powerful frame that fit and made sense. Here, Huat is able to move the character well, but the inconsistency in his frame and body from one panel to the next doesn’t do the character justice. Adding to that, in some panels he looks like Shang-Chi, in others he looks a bit like Peter Parker. In some panels his hair is true black, others it’s clearly brown as colorist Jesus Aburtov is just as inconsistent with the colors as Huat is with the art.

Unfortunately this first issue didn’t grab me. Hopefully this book can turn it around quickly as Shang-Chi has proven that he can hold a series on his own in the past.  Mike Benson needs to build the series on the core of the character and not rely on touchbacks to old stories that are not easily available to modern readers.  The art needs to significantly improve if this is going to survive as an ongoing concern and not just be a throwaway 4 issue mini-series.  Nothing here made me think that this is a “must read” comic. This does not live up to the high standards of the original series and unfortunately does not stand well on it’s own either.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
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