Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 review

One of my favourite comics of the Seventies and early Eighties, Master of Kung Fu featured Shang Chi, son of Fu Manchu, in psychologically complex, ornately drawn yarns. 

Since then Marvel has lost the rights to use Sax Rohmer’s villain and original characters, but Shang Chi, being a creation of Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, has continued to pop up, most recently as a member of the Avengers. 

Now he’s back in a new mini-series and I really wish writer Mike Benson and penciller Tan Eng Huat hadn’t bothered. Shang’s old love, MI6 operative Leiko Wu, is killed in the first few pages, a fridging of the like I thought we’d long since seen the back of. Shang is unrecognisable as the young martial artist he was – OK, the red kung fu pyjamas are long gone, but under Huat and inker Craig Yeung he looks nothing like he did in the classic days. Instead of the distinctive Chinese features, he looks like … I dunno, a middle-aged Welsh accountant, maybe. And colourist Jesus Aburtov doesn’t help, changing his hair colour from black to brown midway through the issue. It’s like none of the artists realise Shang is an existing character. 

After the initial downer of Leiko’s death, the script doesn’t get any better, with Shang Chi besting Captain America bad guy Crossbones ridiculously easily before learning of the tragedy and jetting off to London. He meets old pals the Sons of the Tiger – which new readers would never know as Benson provides neither proper namechecks nor context – and collects a memento. This motivates a thoroughly exciting page, representing 1/20th of your $3.99 experience.  

There’s a fight on the streets of a vaguely rendered Chinatown, the reappearance of old MoKF colleague Black Jack Tarr – happily, Benson lets the reader in on his identity and status – and that’s it. Benson does a decent job with Shang’s internal monologue, making it introspective but not self-indulgent, and seems to have a story worked out, but I won’t be back for more. Kicking off a tale with the casual killing of a character who was hugely important in the original series puts my back up. 

And artwork that fails to respect what’s gone before and is, frankly, awkward where it should be elegant, doesn’t encourage me to spend any more money on this series. 

I hope this comic finds its audience. Me, I’ve been reminded of how much I enjoyed Shang’s original run and will be hitting my back issue boxes at the first opportunity. 

17 thoughts on “Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 review

  1. Sadly, this issue turned me off so much that I decided to drop it as soon as page 4, which is quite an accomplishment.

    It is acceptable for a new team to take a book/character in a new direction. It is not so for the new team to show so little knowledge and respect for the book's history that they dismiss Leiko Wu in such a fashion.


  2. This series – even going by the title of it alone, or by the fact it's from someone who wrote for Entourage and The Bernie Mac Show – sounds like it should be the funnest thing ever, but your review makes it sound most like a po-faced take on a blaxploitation chop-socky, and even blaxploitation chop-socky makers knew better than to go down that route.

    It's a shame they couldn't fish around for someone with an interest in the material, or even someone who fancied a crack at a property with such broad scope for storytelling – the son of a pulp supervillain who battles mad science, spies, pirates, and ninjas to counter the evil of his father is a really wide canvas even before you get to throwing Marvel universe villains or Hong Kong cinema into the mix.


  3. Yeah, with so many interesting characters being given a shot, with so many different treatments apparently possible, why give Shang such a depressing, banal tone. It's a rotten shame.


  4. Good on you for packing the comic in, Snell, it's a lot less frustrating that way. I always liked Leiko and even if she comes back quickly, it's a horrible way to treat her.


  5. I remember the sons of the tiger they were some cool cats I read about them in essential marvel team-up vol 3 or was it vol 2 anyways that was a great story it feature spiderman the human torch and for the villain side the crime master the big man the enforcers and sandman and it was only two parts but still a damn good tale


  6. I made a bee-line for this comic when I saw it in Forbidden Planet in Glasgow as like yourself was a massive fan of the original series but oh dear on having a quick scan and read of the first few pages I decided not to bother …. seems like I was right. Can't understand Marvel letting this go, especially as Shang Chi has been handled mostly pretty well in the Avengers (especially under Mike Deodato's amazing art) Marvel Max released a nice mini series with Paul Gulacy's art around 2002 (Hellfire Apocalypse) thats worth a look (you can probably find it in bargain bins, like I did for £1 an issue – far better than this fair).

    “…a middle-aged Welsh accountant,” says it all (no offence to Wales or Welch accountants lol


  7. Oh, lord, this sounds awful. Leiko Wu gets killed just so Shang Chi can avenge her death? What is this, 1991? Women in Refrigerators is right. My only consolation is that this is comic books, no one stays dead forever, so inevitably someone will bring her back.

    Honestly, after reading this review, I do not think anyone besides Doug Moench should be allowed anywhere near Shang Chi. Yes, I know Steve Englehart & Jim Starlin created the character, but they were both gone after a handful of issues. It was Moench who really defined the character, working with artists Paul Gulacy, Mike Zeck and Gene Day.

    And speaking of those three artists gents, any one of them could draw circles around Tan Eng Huat.

    Is this is a miniseries? If not, and it's an ongoing, then I hope it dies a quick and merciful death.

    Instead of Marvel wasting their money churning out this crud, they should spend it negotiating with Sax Rohmer's estate to obtain permission to reprint the original, classic issues of Master of Kung Fu.


  8. Thanks for the tips, Paul. I shall look out for that Gulacy material, I'm sure it's just my cup of tea.

    And yes indeed, I really do wonder just why Marvel thinks this is a good presentation of MOKF.


  9. I'm not sure of someone out there besides Doug Moench can handle Shang Chi, but while Moench is still around, I wish he were writing Shang Chi. He'd certainly be able to think of a storyline that didn't depend on killing off a rich character.


  10. what was your favourite marvel team up mine was spidey's time travel saga and the wraith hunt featuring iron man and Dr strange


  11. I think FVL would make a good tale or heck james asmus would i mean look at quantum and woody the current arc features robo crime and voodoo crime


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.