Back in the 70s, martial arts were all the rage. Bruce Lee was dominating at the box office and elements of kung fu were found in all aspects of entertainment including television and music. To capitalize on the popularity, Marvel Comics introduced such characters as Shang Chi, Iron Fist, White Tiger, and Misty Knight and brought them together in a book called ‘Deadly Hands of Kung Fu’. Originally published as a magazine with comic stories, movie reviews, and tutorials, the book ran for 33 issues and was printed by short-lived Marvel imprint Curtis Magazines. Now, the title has been resurrected as part of All-New Marvel NOW as a solo limited series starring recent Avengers addition Shang Chi as he seeks vengeance for the murder of his first love.
In a story described as Bruce Lee meets Jason Bourne, writer Mike Benson temporarily takes Shang away from Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to let him shine on his own in this four-issue series. After the mysterious death of MI6 ally and former lover Leiko Wu, the Master of Kung Fu travels to London in search of clues to aid in his search to find the killers. Along the way, Shang encounters many of his former allies that we haven’t seen in the pages of Marvel Comics in quite some time including Black Jack Tarr and the Sons of the Tiger, Lin Sun, Abe Brown, and Robert Diamond.
One thing that I’ve always loved about Marvel is that their comics cover a wide range of genres, yet they all mesh incredibly well to form one cohesive universe. That allows us to get awesomely diverse books like ‘She-Hulk’, ‘Young Avengers’, ‘Ms. Marvel’, ‘Black Widow’, and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ that cover variations on courtroom dramas, coming of age stories, spy thrillers, and science fiction. Now, with the release of ‘Iron Fist: The Living Weapon’ and ‘Deadly Hands of Kung Fu’, the modern Marvel reader has yet another option when it comes to exploring another corner of comic book history with a contemporary twist.
As an Asian American, it also makes me really happy that an Asian is starring in his own Marvel comic. When Jonathan Hickman added Shang to the Avengers, that was such a great moment in diversity. Then, when ‘Avengers’ #11 and ‘Avengers World’ came out, we got to see how much of a boss Shang is. Now, Benson offers a great homage to the martial arts comic genre by resurrecting ‘Deadly Hands of Kung Fu’, while simultaneously representing a section of the superhero fan base that hasn’t been seen very much over the past few years. Not all heroes need to be straight white males with huge muscles and I’m glad that my favorite comic book publisher is actively presenting stories that support that.
Moving on to the book itself, the first issue was certainly solid. There was a good about of kung fu fighting and plenty of nods to the storied history of Shang Chi. Benson comes off as a huge fanboy of the character and the genre, as seen in all the intricate details contained in this issue. At the same time, there’s enough exposition that a first time reader could pick this up and be drawn in. Basically, there is a good amount of balance in this book for old and new readers and it lays the groundwork for what’s to come very nicely.
In terms of the artwork, Tan Eng Huat’s style lends itself well to all the action contained in this book. Paired with the inks of Craig Yeung and the colors of Jesus Aburtov, the fight sequences come off as fast and furious. However, I feel like Huat’s Shang looks like a combination of Morph from ‘X-Men: The Animated Series’ and Ken Jeong of ‘Community’ and ‘The Hangover’. It’s not exactly my favorite incarnation of the character, but as a whole, the artwork is pretty good.
Overall, ‘Deadly Hands of Kung Fu’ #1 was an enjoyable first issue. It hit all the targets necessary for an introductory issue and it left me wanting more. And most importantly, it took a very engaging and badass character and put him front and center. I look forward to following Shang Chi on this adventure and I hope more people from his past like Danny Rand or Misty Knight make appearances in this series before it wraps up.
DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU #1
Written by Mike Benson
Art by Tan Eng Huat, Craig Yeung, & Jesus Aburtov
Cover by Dave Johnson