Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Master of Kung Fu

While at MegaCon a few weeks ago, I was walking by one of the many booths selling $1 back issues. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone flipping through the issues in a box beneath a table. That young man was looking at issues of “The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu”. When the guy was done looking, I took over. I bought twenty issues. They are awesome.

Now, I suggest you homeboys (and possibly homegirls) go check out the wikipedia article on Shang-Chi ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shang-Chi ). It’s an interesting character. Basically, because of Bruce Lee, Gordon Liu (36th Chamber of Shaolin star), and the “Kung Fu” TV series, there was an explosive martial arts craze in the ‘70s. Marvel Comics, of course, wanted to capitalize on this. Thus, Shang-Chi was born, essentially.

The issues I purchased were published between 1978 and 1980.
The series, on the surface, is half Bond movies (also popular at the time, of course) and half kung fu exploitation. Beneath the surface, there is some excellent dramatic exploration, thanks to the skillful and passionate writing of Doug Moench. The art is well done, especially by Paul Gulacy and then Mike Zeck.

The dramatic exploration deals with romantic relationships, fragile friendships, and familial loyalty. There is also the “fish out of water” problem, as Shang-Chi has to deal with this new, western and modern world.

Of course, it was the seventies, so some of it seems very tame and cheesy, but the overall quality is self-evident.

As both a martial artist and comic book fan, I greatly enjoyed the issues I bought and read. This was not my first introduction to the character, as I had known of him in general, and he was featured in a few issues of “Ultimate Spider-Man”. But before he was seen in the pages of “Ultimate Spider-Man”, he was the feature character in a couple of issues of “Ultimate Marvel Team-Up”. These issues are some of the finest martial arts-related comics I have ever read. And, being written by Brian Michael Bendis, they make up a good story in general.

I suggest that anyone with any interest in either comic books or martial arts check out “Master of Kung Fu”. Shang-Chi stands up there with Iron Fist, Richard Dragon, Lady Shiva, and other great comic book martial artists.

(Also, for me, bonuses with these old comics are all of the old ads for muscle building courses, x-ray specs, selling seeds, and assuredly crappy at-home karate courses. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to grow up in that era.)

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