Master of Kung Fu (comics)

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Master of Kung Fu
Cover of Master of Kung Fu #16
Publication information
Publisher Marvel Comics
Format Ongoing series
Genre Superhero
Main character(s) Shang-Chi

Master of Kung Fu was a comic book title published by Marvel Comics from 1974 to 1983.

Publication history[edit]

The character Shang-Chi first appeared in Special Marvel Edition #15 (December 1973) by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin.[1] Shang-Chi appeared again in issue #16, and with issue #17 (April 1974) the title was changed to The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. Amidst the martial arts craze in the United States in the 1970s, the book became very popular, surviving until issue #125 (June 1983), a run including four giant-size issues and an annual.

The series began by introducing Shang-Chi as a man raised by his father Fu Manchu to be the ultimate assassin for the would-be world conqueror. In Shang-Chi's first mission, he kills one of his father's old enemies, Dr. Petrie, and learns of Fu Manchu's true, evil nature. Disillusioned, Shang-Chi swears eternal opposition to his father's ambitions and fights him as an agent of British intelligence, under the orders of Nayland Smith.

The series was an instant sales success. Though Englehart and Starlin soon left as the creative talent for the title, its success grew once writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy, began collaborating in issues #22. Comics historian Les Daniels observed that "Ingenious writing by Doug Moench and energetic art by Paul Gulacy brought Master of Kung Fu new life."[2] Their critically acclaimed run continued with short gaps until #51 when Gulacy was replaced by artist Jim Craig. Craig was later succeeded by Mike Zeck who became the regular penciller in issue #64 (1978).

Prologue from Master of Kung Fu:

"Call me Shang-Chi, as my father did when he raised me and molded my mind and my body in the vacuum of his Honan, China retreat. I learned many things from my father: That my name means 'The Rising and Advancing of a Spirit', that my body could be forged into a living weapon through the discipline of kung fu, and that it might be used for the murder of a man called Dr. Petrie.

Since then I have learned that my father is Dr. Fu Manchu, the most insidiously evil man on earth...and that to honor him would bring nothing but dishonor to the spirit of my name."

–Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu

Gulacy was a film buff, and modeled many characters after film stars: Juliette on Marlene Dietrich, James Larner on Marlon Brando, Clive Reston (often broadly hinted at as being the son of James Bond as well as the grand-nephew of Sherlock Holmes) occasionally looking like Basil Rathbone and Sean Connery, and a minor character Ward Sarsfield (after the real-life name of Sax Rohmer) resembling David Niven.[3] Moench introduced other film-based characters, including ones modeled after Groucho Marx,[4] and W. C. Fields.[5]

Moench continued for a long tenure, though the title did not again receive the same level of acclaim as the Gulacy period until Gene Day, who had previously been inking the book, took over penciling in #100 (1981). Despite critical success, sales lagged. Day died of a heart attack after finishing issue #120, and Moench left the book after #122. The character's long-running battle with his father ended with #118 and with the main storyline resolved, the book was canceled with issue #125 as Shang-Chi retired to a passive life as a fisherman in a village. In 2010, Comics Bulletin ranked Moench's work on Master of Kung-Fu with artists Gulacy, Mike Zeck, and Day sixth on its list of the "Top 10 1970s Marvels".[6]

In 1988, Marvel published a new Master of Kung Fu story in Marvel Comics Presents #1-8. It reunited Shang-Chi with most of the original supporting cast and featured Moench again writing, with Tom Grindberg penciling.[7]

Supporting characters[edit]

The series, especially as written by Doug Moench was notable for its strong supporting characters. As they evolved these characters became nearly as integral to the series as Shang-Chi himself:

  • Fu Manchu is portrayed in a manner mostly consistent with the Sax Rohmer novels. He is a brilliant and calculating master-villain who aspires to rule the world. As the series progresses the character deteriorates, gradually losing his nobler qualities. By the end of the series he is a pathetic figure, reduced to stealing his son's blood to preserve his immortality. He is currently known as Zheng Zu. Other notable aliases include: Mr. Han, The Father, The Devil Doctor, Chang Hu and Wang Yu-Seng.
  • Sir Denis Nayland Smith is Fu Manchu's nemesis from the novels. In the comics he retains this role, his obsession with the villain often bringing out the dark side of his own character. In his better moments he becomes a sort of surrogate father to Shang-Chi. Ultimately, he is too caught up in what Shang-Chi calls 'games of deceit and death' and fails in this role. The relationship the two finally form is that of two flawed characters who feel strong friendship in spite of deep differences.
  • Fah Lo Suee is the daughter of Fu Manchu and is the final character from the novels to appear in the comic. She is a villainess in her own right, though she is not interested in the misguided idealism of Fu Manchu. She is a pragmatist, seeking the best way to power. As such, she shifts alliances often. Usually she is an enemy of Shang-Chi and his friends but sometimes she is an ally. When last seen she had become a highly ranked official in MI-6. She is currently known as Zheng Bao Yu.
  • Black Jack Tarr is Smith's aide-de-camp and a powerful giant of a man with a gruff manner. Though he is initially an enemy of Shang-Chi, the two become close friends over time. He exhibits the most bigoted traits of any character and invariably addresses Shang-Chi as 'Chinaman' rather than using his name. It is one of the successes of the series that readers are drawn to feel for Tarr while the writing never turns a blind eye to his politically incorrect attitudes.
  • Clive Reston is a British spy who resembles a younger and more vulnerable version of James Bond. Where Bond is a successful womanizer and seems unaffected by heavy drinking, Reston struggles with alcoholism and a romantic rivalry with Shang-Chi. The resemblance to Bond is intentional. Reston's dialogue makes it clear that he is Bond's son, and the grand-nephew of Sherlock Holmes. By the time of Wisdom, he's the director of MI6 and has been knighted; he believes MI-13 to be a doomed organisation and that MI6 should handle the "weird happenings", to the extent of keeping things from the rival agency. After this attitude helped lead to a Martian invasion, he has become more cooperative, and worked with MI-13 and MI5 against Dracula.
  • Leiko Wu is introduced as a femme fatale like those in the Bond films. She is a beautiful Chinese-British woman who is torn between her history with Reston and her growing attraction to Shang-Chi. Though initially sarcastic and self-possessed to the point of arrogance (Leiko is actually a Japanese name meaning "arrogant") her relationship with her new lover causes her to become more contemplative.
  • Midnight is an African child named M'Nai adopted by Fu Manchu, and raised alongside his son Shang-Chi. Fu Manchu, impressed with his stoic nature, trained him as one of the Si-Fan's elite assassins. Due to his badly disfigured face he always wore a mask. Fu Manchu sent him to kill Shang-Chi after his son turned his back on him, even though Shang-Chi and M'Nai considered themselves brothers. Midnight died as a result of their second battle, but was later resurrected as "Midnight Sun" by the alien Kree in a cloned body and gifted with cosmic powers strong enough to challenge the Silver Surfer. After a couple of battles with the Surfer he settled down to a peaceful life in the Blue Area of the Moon where he was accepted by the Inhumans.[8]
  • Rufus T. Hackstabber is a memorable character who appeared only twice in the series; he keeps referring to Shang-Chi as "Chang-Shee". The character strongly resembles Groucho Marx and his fast-paced nonsensical patter plays well off Shang-Chi's laconic seriousness. Hackstabber's name is a play on Rufus T. Firefly, Groucho's character in Duck Soup.
  • Shen Kuei or "Cat" is a master thief whose skill in martial arts equals Shang-Chi's. The meaning of the character's name is both similar and opposite to Shang-Chi's name. He is a sort of mirror image, a 'good bad guy' in opposition to Shang-Chi's 'bad good guy'. While they share mutual respect, the two always find themselves in opposition. He has recently appeared in Cable & Deadpool working as a mercenary for Cable. He has also defeated Deadpool, who looks at him as a Rock God among mercenaries and has also referred to him as "The Keith Moon of spy trade" and "The Justin Timberlake of the Cherry Pop Club".
  • Rufus "Super Midnight" Carter is an African-American kickboxing champion and antiques dealer who secretly works for the CIA. He is a light-hearted character who helps to draw out Shang-Chi's sense of whimsy in his several appearances. Carter's unusual nickname is accounted for by his origin. A colleague challenged Doug Moench to write a story using "Carter's Super Midnight" (the name of a brand of carbon paper) as a title.

Collected editions[edit]

  • Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu Omnibus
    • Vol. 1 collects Special Marvel Edition #15-16, Master of Kung Fu #17-37, Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #1-4, Giant-Size Spider-Man #2 and Iron Man Annual #4, 696 pages, June 2016, ISBN 978-1302901295
    • Vol. 2 collects Master of Kung Fu #38-70 and Master of Kung Fu Annual #1, 664 pages, September 2016, ISBN 978-1302901301
    • Vol. 3 collects Master of Kung Fu #71-101 and What If? (vol. 1) #16, March, 2017, ISBN 978-1302901318

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cooke, Jon B. (2005). "Everybody was Kung Fu Watchin'! The Not-So-Secret Origin of Shang-Chi, Kung-Fu Master!". Comic Book Artist Collection: Volume 3. TwoMorrows Publishing. pp. 6–7. ISBN 1-893905-42-X. 
  2. ^ Daniels, Les (1991). Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics. Harry N. Abrams. p. 159. ISBN 9780810938212. 
  3. ^ Cooke, Jon B. (February 2000). "A Master of Comics Art: Artist Paul Gulacy and His Early Days at Marvel". Comic Book Artist. TwoMorrows Publishing (7): 32. Archived from the original on February 15, 2008. CBA: Did you ever get any other flak? Nowadays, I don't think you could get away with it, because you had Sean Connery, for instance, for a period of time. There were a lot of recognizable characters, James Coburn, and people like that...
    PAUL: Marlene Dietrich...
    CBA: Yeah, right. [laughs] You were grabbing them from all over!
    PAUL: Don't forget David Niven [laughter]—who the hell cares about David Niven?—but we found a place for him in there.
     
  4. ^ Christiansen, Jeff (August 13, 2004). "Rufus T. Hackstabber". The Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Archived from the original on October 14, 2013. 
  5. ^ Christiansen, Jeff (August 11, 2004). "Quigley J. Warmflash". The Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Archived from the original on July 4, 2013. 
  6. ^ Sacks, Jason (September 6, 2010). "Top 10 1970s Marvels". Comics Bulletin. Archived from the original on August 3, 2013. Retrieved August 3, 2013. 
  7. ^ Comtois, Pierre (December 2014). Morrow, John, ed. Marvel Comics in the 1980s: An Issue by Issue Field Guide to a Pop Culture Phenomenon. TwoMorrows Publishing. p. 209. At first, the comic was seen as ... a place where fan-favorite strips could be brought back with one or more of their original creators on the job but without much financial risk to the company. In fact, the first issue of the series featured a Man Thing serial by Steve Gerber and Tom Sutton and a Master of Kung Fu serial by Doug Moench and Tom Grindberg. 
  8. ^ Christiansen, Jeff (October 10, 2004). "Midnight Sun". The Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Archived from the original on November 2, 2012. Retrieved January 31, 2013.