In 1973, Marvel Comics added to the Kung Fu craze that gripped pop culture with "Special Marvel Edition" #15 by writer Steve Englehart and artist Jim Starlin, which introduced readers to Kung Fu master Shang-Chi. The character quickly graduated to his own ongoing series, "The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu," which detailed his exploits as an agent for British Intelligence and his battle against his father, the legendary pulp villain, Fu Manchu. "Master of Kung-Fu" would last 125 issues and during that run Shang-Chi would appear in other titles as well like the black and white "Deadly Hands of Kung Fu" magazine. In 1983, Shang-Chi's ongoing series came to an end but he recently stepped back into the spotlight as a member of Jonathan Hickman's "Avengers."
Shang-Chi's membership in Earth's Mightiest Heroes has embroiled him in a number of high profile battles with powerful and otherworldly menaces, but this May the character will return to the dark and dangerous world of espionage and intrigue when writer Mike Benson ("Moon Knight," "Deadpool Pulp") and artist Tan Eng Huat ("X-Men: Legacy") kick off the four issue "Deadly Hands of Kung Fu" mini-series.
CBR News spoke with Benson about his background with the character, how his "Deadly Hands of Kung Fu" miniseries serves as a love letter to the Marvel series from the '70s and more.
CBR News: Mike, "Deadly Hands of Kung Fu" seems like a love letter to the old Marvel martial arts comics of the '70s. Why do you think readers who have tracked down back issues of books like "The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu" fall in love with them? What was it about Shang-Chi and the Marvel martial arts books that first captured your imagination, and what is it about the character that keeps you intrigued today?
Mike Benson: You are a 100% correct. This mini is a true "love letter" to "Deadly Hands of Kung Fu" and to the other '70s Kung Fu films I watched as a boy. I grew up on this stuff. I remember being something like 12 years old and sneaking into New York City with my friends and going to Kung Fu movies in Times Square. And Time Square was not the Times Square we know today, so that in itself was pretty crazy, but I caught the Kung Fu bug early on.
The "Deadly Hands" books were like the crème dela crème of martial arts comics at that time. The art was off the charts amazing. It immediately captured my imagination. And at that time my walls were covered in Bruce Lee posters and Shang Chi had a lot of similarities to Bruce Lee for me. He was this wonderful combination of Bruce Lee from "Enter the Dragon" and James Bond. It was taking two of my favorite characters and mashing them up into this wonderful peaceful warrior type character that did everything he could to avoid conflict, yet it always found him. You could see a lot of Shang Chi in David Carradine's Kane character in the "Kung Fu" TV series too. I loved that show and in preparation for writing this mini, I watched the entire box set and surprisingly a lot still holds up.
Shang-Chi was just one of a number of interesting characters in his old ongoing series, which introduced readers to supporting players like Leiko Wu, Black Jack Tarr, Clive Reston and Shen Kuei AKA the Cat. Who were some of your favorite supporting characters from the old Shang Chi comics? What did you find most interesting about them? Is there a chance that some of them will appear in your "Deadly Hands of Kung Fu" mini-series?
Yes a few of the characters you named will be making appearances. Unfortunately I can't say exactly who, but like the "Moon Knight" book I did a bunch of years back, what I like so much about Shang's supporting cast is they are like a dysfunctional family to a degree. Together they made up an epic "kung fu" style soap opera and I thoroughly enjoyed how my favorite writer at the time, Doug Moench, weaved stories that pitted these characters at times against each other, even when they were working on the same side. Each of the characters served a distinct purpose whether it be an antagonist or ally for Shang who was always at the center.
Shang-Chi's ongoing series also featured an interesting collection of
antagonists like his villainous father who -- because Marvel no longer has the rights to Fu Manchu -- was recently reintroduced into the Marvel Universe as Zheng Zu, Zaran the Weapon Master and Razor Fist.
Which of Shang-Chi's villains did you find most appealing? What types of villains do you think make the best antagonists for Shang-Chi?
My favorite villains are Razor Fist, Boomerang, Cat, Midnight Sun, Skull Crusher and of course his evil father. I must admit, like "Moon Knight," some of my affection toward these characters started with costume design and the more flawed and menacing the villains were the more they got my attention.
Razor Fist is one of those characters -- great stylistic design and a character filled with a sadistic wickedness that made him worthy of being a Shang Chi foe. Some of Razor Fists speeches were so cruel and filled with such malice it made the hairs on my arm stand. He reminds me of one of those great Tarantino type bad guys you just love to hate and you hang on to their every word.
I think the attributes that make a great Shang Chi villain are a lack of honor, morality and a spark that makes them stand out of the pack -- a character like Razor Fist possesses all these traits. Cat is another character that has a very complex history with Shang Chi but unlike Razor Fist, Cat and Shang had a true mutual respect for each other, not to mention liked the same women.
Shang-Chi met many of these characters during his stint as an agent for British Intelligence, a role which some people might not be aware he had. For new readers and people who discovered Shang-Chi via "Avengers," what do you want people to know about his time as a spy? What was your sense of his adventures in his old series? Were they more cinematic super spy style adventures, or was there a darker and harder edge to them?
Let's face it, when Shang Chi's "Deadly Hands" came out it was right in the middle of the Kung Fu boom -- everyone had Kung Fu fever. Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon" really turned the heat up and showed the world that a non-traditional Asian man can be a hero with sex appeal and a coolness. Forget Steve McQueen, Bruce Lee was the true "Cooler King."
Shang was the Asian James Bond with his own set of Eastern philosophies, where Bond was flashy and had his "too cool for school" attitude and charm that he could always back up, Shang was a peaceful warrior who worked the spy angle with a different approach – he was humble, honorable and fought with his hands, and the occasional martial arts weapon. I loved when Shang had nunchucks in his hands. It just made him look so hardcore and the way he was drawn in black and white made the stories really pop. That's some original art I wouldn't mind owning.
Can you talk discuss the plot of your "Deadly Hands of Kung Fu" series? What sets the story in motion? What kind of stakes is Shang-Chi dealing with?
Shang Chi goes to London when someone very close to him is killed. That's really all the details I can give about that. It's what starts the story and when Shang goes to pay his respects he is sucked into a much larger web of intrigue.
What can you tell us about the antagonists you're pitting Shang-Chi against in "Deadly Hands of Kung Fu? Is this story primarily about Shang-Chi's battle against one particular foe, or will the Master of Kung
Fu have his hands full dealing with a number of villains?
Shang is going to be pitted against a number of his old foes and a couple of new ones. This is a big story for a mini but one I think the readers will respond to. I only say that because I am a big fan of the character and this is something I want to see and I believe there are many like-minded Shang Chi fans out there so we shall see.
Will Shang-Chi have any allies to help him deal with the adversaries he faces in your story? Back in the '70s he also appeared in the "Deadly Hands of Kung Fu" magazine along with several other martial arts oriented characters like Iron Fist, the Daughters of the Dragon, and the Sons of the Tiger. Will we see any of these characters in your series?
The Daughters of the Dragon and the Sons of the Tiger were staples in the old "Deadly Hands" book and I see it fitting that they show up in the mini. I very much enjoy keeping to the tradition of old "Deadly Hands" title, trying to respect the vibe it had but at the same time giving Shang a contemporary feel and that's why I'm leaning more towards a Jason Bourne comparison as to a James Bond in how Shang will represent himself.
Let's start to wrap up by talking about Tan Eng Huat's work on "Deadly Hands of Kung Fu." What do you feel he brings to the book as an artist?
Honestly, I've been a little out of the loop and have only been buying a select handful of titles as of late -- so I was not familiar with Tan's work until the art started coming in and it's so damn good. I can't wait for everyone to see his work on this title. He has a real fluidness to his style that compliments the way Shang Chi moves, fights and looks. Tan's made a new fan out of me.
Finally, if "Deadly Hands of Kung Fu" resonates with readers, would you be interested in telling more tales with Shang-Chi?
If the book is a success, and fans like the way I'm writing Shang, than of course I'd love to do an on-going "Deadly Hands" book. What could be cooler?
"Deadly Hands of Kung Fu" #1 hits stores in May.