This is a Shang-Chi comic, make no mistake about it. Though it might be tied to the Spider-Island event stemming from Marvel’s flagship character, this is an independently styled comic in almost every respect. Antony Johnston has touted this mini as something that completely stands alone and, as a reviewer who is not reading Spider-Island, I can attest to this autonomous vibe. This book is just a wacky kung fu mystery, and a damn good one at that.
Shang-Chi is not the most popular nor relevant character in the Marvel stable. A kung fu exploitation character who barely made it into the 80s, many fans state their love and yet still won’t vote with their wallets for a book headlining this master of the deadly arts. Maybe that’s because not all of the books featuring Shang-Chi have been any good. If that’s been holding you back then prepare to invest $2.99 this week because Johnston delivers one of the most enjoyable and believable Shang-Chi depictions ever. The captioned narrative doesn’t try to ape any sort of pulp noir or gritty comics; we are simply given access into Shang-Chi’s mind and the results are fantastic. This voice over catches people up on the basics of this character, it shows his connection to the main premise of the event tale, and then it takes this story forward in leaps and bounds. Shang-Chi finally reads like a real man and shows how he can carry an entire mini on his own back.
The heart of this tale isn’t Spider-Island-centric. It uses that premise to springboard into a darker mystery set within the parameters of New York. The motivations behind the Bride of Nine Spiders and her interaction with Iron Fist aren’t clear, but they make for great action set pieces. Johnston applies plenty of kung fu moves to his script. While it is a method stolen from the Matt Fraction/Ed Brubaker/David Aja run on “The Immortal Iron Fist,” it is very effectively used here. Johnston doesn’t try to go for the snarky cool moves of the previous title and instead delivers some very classically mystical sounding noun groups.
The art team of Sebastian Fiumara and John Lucas are astounding in these pages. There’s a kinetic rawness that feels like it would be more at home within an old “Deadly Hands of Kung Fu” anthology than gracing the pages of a Marvel event tie in, and that’s exactly why this works. The fighting pages are raw enough to hurt and clear enough to marvel at. Coupled with the sublime colors of Dan Brown, each impact of a foot to the face melts off the page with toxic glee. It is delightful to see Marvel experiment with allowing this sort of art in one of their books. It is a complete win to see the art then be such a success on all levels; small panels excel as well as one of the most glorious and powerful fight scene double page spreads in a long time.
For those with a gap in their heart for the great kung fu days of comics, this book is exactly what you need. The fights are worth the price of admission alone, but then Johnston weaves the hint of a story behind it that will have you coming back for more in 30 days. There’s murderous kung fu afoot and Immortal Weapons versus just one man (now with Spider powers) is going to make for one hell of a brawl. The mystical arts are back and they’re being told better than they have been in a long time.