Master of Kung Fu #17 (Marvel)


Rating: 3.5/5 – Finally reading what so many others hold in high regard.

The character Shang-Chi who first appeared in Special Marvel Edition number fifteen, launched to an overwhelming response by readers.  The reaction was so strong that Marvel re-named the book with issue 17 to simply Master of Kung-Fu (but Shang-Chi’s name still remained on the cover).  In 1972 Marvel Comics acquired the rights to Sax Rohmer’s creation Dr. Fu Manchu.  While at the same time, Marvel also had the rights to publish comics based on the TV show Kung Fu starring David Carradine.  Marvel, looking to cash in on the martial arts craze in the US at the time decided to mix the two elements together and come up with something new, hence Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu was born.

Shang-Chi was never a part of the show, or Sax Rohmer’s novels for that matter.  In this series, writer Steve Englehart made it clear that he was the unknown son of Fu Manchu.  Raised and deceived by his father to kill an innocent man in his first appearance, Shang-Chi is now in New York trying to find himself, while at the same time trying to earn back his honor.  Shang-Chi searches New York for Nayland Smith to apologize for killing his friend, and explain his actions and the deception he was part of.  Eventually he finds Smith and his bodyguard, Blackjack.  Smith’s home is filled with deadly traps which Shang-Chi has to fight through, all leading to a final confrontation with Blackjack and Nayland Smith himself.

I just started reading this series as I’ve heard so many positive things about it.  Although this particular issue was weaker than the two before, it still has intelligent writing and some fantastic art by Jim Starlin.  He’s able to make Shang-Chi move fluidly, and gives you the sense that you’re watching an older kung-fu movie, or TV Show.  This is some of Starlin’s earlier work though so his facial expressions at times come off as stiff and blocky, but overall it’s still strong.

Because of Fu-Manchu being involved and Marvel not owning the rights anymore, it may be some time before we ever see this series reprinted.  Over the past year I’ve purchased most of the back issues in this 125 issue series.  You can find some pretty decent deals on the majority of these issues, although the first couple appearances still command a fairly decent price.  As mentioned previously, I’m hoping this series continues strong as the first few appearances of this character have been enjoyable.  I’m looking forward to reading more, and seeing why so many fans revere this series.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas – Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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