The tournament is underway, and now Shang-Chi must face Rand-K’ai and Red Sai before he is able to face his father, Emperor Zu. Readers want to know, “is it good?” Master of Kung Fu #4 has the perfect proposal to find out: Let them fight!
Master of Kung Fu #4 (Marvel Comics)
Endings are tough, especially for mini-series that have had less time to develop their characters and plot. It’s hard to deliver an affecting conclusion in a small space, and even more difficult in the shadow of a larger event. And though it’s flown under the radar of a lot of readers, Master of Kung Fu #4 has managed to do just that. Writer Haden Blackman and artist Dalibor Talajic have delivered a fitting conclusion to their martial arts title.
Master of Kung Fu #4 opens with a myth of Shang-Chi’s birth and training. The story tells of how Emperor Zu used various mystical artifacts to bestow Shang-Chi with life and power, and then trained him to be the best fighter in the world. While these stylized sequences have always opened the issues, the art team deserves a huge amount of credit for the beautiful sequence that appears here. Not many artists can so drastically switch the styles of their linework, but penciller Dalibor Talajic has captured the style of ancient Chinese artwork with this sequence. Inker Goran Sudzuka does a great job throughout the main portion of the issue, highlighting the muscular structure of the martial artists with darker inks and shadows, but here delicately follows Talajic’s pencils, giving the images an ethereal quality. This sequence is also a shining point for colorist Miroslav Mrva. While the bulk of the issue deals uses a more natural color style, these stylized openings allow Mrva to show of his talent with a palette that evokes a canvas painting.
Nants ingonyama bagithi baba!
Shang-Chi, the narrator, quickly brushes off this tale and prepares to square off against his rival, Rand K’ai, and Emperor Zu’s assassin, Red Sai. Having already faced the other masters, Shang-Chi tries to negotiate his way past his opponents. After all, they all share the goal of defeating Shang-Chi’s father, Emperor Zu, and ending his rule. Unfortunately, Rand K’ai sees in Shang-Chi a chance to avenge his master and his school. While a past between the two has been hinted at, the reveal of the shared history between Shang-Chi and Rand K’ai is a little clunky in the execution, especially when Red Sai reveals her part in it. While writer Haden Blackman delivers the information swiftly, it may have been best to reveal some of this information earlier in the series so that it felt less like an exposition dump. That being said, Blackman shows a great sense of Shang-Chi’s voice, and the moments of humor in the combat are a nice way to keep the issue from becoming self-serious.
While Master of Kung Fu has always been a Shang-Chi story, his newly adopted students have played a significant role throughout the series. It’s a bit disappointing then, to see them relegated to the background in the finale. Even Kitten, who has been the one true supporting player, takes a backseat this issue. While the final duel is righfully between Shang-Chi and Emperor Zu, it would have been nice to see Kitten contribute in a more direct manner during the opening bout.
The final battle between Shang-Chi and Emperor Zu is a blistering one. Haden Blackman and Dalibor Talajic do a great job implementing the powers of the Ten Rings into Shang-Chi’s fighting style and Talajic avoids going overboard, recognizing that readers are looking for some hard hitting martial arts to go along with the superpowers. The way the fight comes to a fitting end that calls back to earlier developments in the series. The final pages of the issue call back to the stylized art that has appeared at the front of each chapter, adding a mythic feel to the tale.
Is It Good?
Master of Kung Fu #4 proves to be just the combination needed to close out this Secret Wars tie-in. While there are some missed opportunities and relationships that could have been further developed, Haden Blackman and Dalibor Talajic have crafted a wonderful four issue mini-series that stands as one of the highlights to the Secret Wars event. When it comes to hard-hitting action, Master of Kung Fu is the undisputed champ.
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