Lin Lie has just received a mysterious puzzle box and a magical sword that his late father left to him. This is just the first in a series of wild magical shenanigans that will lead to him joining the Marvel Universe as Sword Master!
In an interesting choice, this collection only reproduces the sections of the first six issues of Sword Master that feature Greg Pak’s adaptation of Shuizhu and Gunji’s original introductory story for the character. This allows us to follow the origin story in a straight line, but it comes at a cost: the trade doesn’t include the series’ backup stories by Pak and artist Ario Anindito, which features a Sword Master and Shang-Chi team-up.
The decision to excise the Shang-Chi portions of each issue brings with it certain strengths, but weakens the book as a whole in other ways. On the one hand, it helps to better ease new readers into Lin Lie’s world. As I mentioned in my review of the first issue of the series, Sword Master found itself in an odd position due to the book’s nature as a quasi-spinoff of War of the Realms. Though Sword Master is something of a known commodity in China, his stateside debut occurred somewhere other than the first issue of his book.
This isn’t normally an issue in comics, where every crossover is meant to introduce new concepts and new characters to the universe at large. However, since half of each Sword Master issue was an adaptation of Lin Lie’s origin story and the other half picked up after the events of War of the Realms, the main book kind of plays in this odd middle ground where we are meant to be familiar with Lie and also be invested in watching his origin play out. It’s an odd balancing act that the individual issues of the series mostly pull off, but which may feel slightly alienating for newer readers. It’s completely understandable that this collection aims to streamline things and give us Lin Lie’s origin story first.
The drawback here is that this makes the collection as a whole feel rather slight. Aside from a couple of exposition-heavy chapters, we don’t get much of a feel for Lie as a character. Those backup stories gave us a clearer look at the hero he’d become, so the brief check-ins to his origin didn’t feel quite so underserved by a smaller page count. As it stands here, it feels like the story is just getting started when the book ends. So that’s the one problem with removing the backup story for the trade; it makes the book as a whole feel somewhat slight.
Otherwise, it’s a total blast to read. Lin himself is a lot of fun as a character, even if a lot of his time is spent reacting in shock and running away from the latest threat. There are glimpses at his potential that are incredibly tantalizing, as well as some fun appearances from some of Marvel’s other magical characters.
Pak’s scripting makes the story significantly more accessible for western audiences, yet it never feels like anything is taken away from the book’s (and the character’s) Chinese roots. The humor works and the mythology behind Lin’s sword is explained rather well, leaving some interesting unanswered questions for future installments.
Gunji’s artwork is gorgeous and perfectly suited for the larger than life story. Everyone is constantly making dramatic poses that stand in an amusing contrast to Lie’s confused and overwhelmed body language. Creature designs are particularly fantastic, with one major highlight being the shuffling monster that delivers Lie’s package toward the beginning of the story.
While the decision to remove the Shang-Chi portions of the story sticks out to me as someone who has read the individual issues, I still think this collection will be a swift and fun read for folks who are new to Sword Master.