When it was announced Gene Luen Yang was taking over Shang-Chi, most got extra excited for the property. Sure, the series was likely kickstarted by Marvel due to the upcoming movie, but Yang is so incredibly good at creating stories that feel relatable and come with a strong message. He’s joined by Dike Ruan and Philip Tan for a new miniseries that aims to show that even though Shang-Chi may have left his past behind, it still won’t let him go.
This is a series that’s clearly steeped in ancient history, but also lost history. The preview shows a selection of pages throughout the book, but in the first few we see Yang is drawing off history. In this respect, the series is about Shang-Chi coming to grips with his past, his family, and who he is today. Tucked away in the elaborate organization names of kung-fu groups is a story about a young man who can’t and probably shouldn’t run away from his past. He needs to embrace it.
That’s a story tucked away amongst the fight comic we’ve come to expect elevating the narrative to something more. You see it in a key scene involving language — specifically how well you speak — that is interesting and layered. That gives this first issue, and likely the series as it goes on, more purpose.
This issue is very much a setup issue, establishing the history, the villain, and more before we even get to Shang-Chi. Once he’s introduced, the creative team does well to capture the fun and positivity of the character. Dike Ruan draws the scenes in the now and he’s quite good at making you like Shang-Chi just by his positivity. He’s also very quick, and Ruan’s style helps convey flashes of movement. Philip Tan draws the flashbacks with an edgier look to them, as if decayed. Both artists have a grittier style that’s not quite as hyper-realistic as one might see in superhero books, but in a lot of ways, this lends to the realism of the story. Take a look at the epic kick in the image below — you can see there is a lot of raw energy thanks to the artistic style.
Colors by Sebastian Cheng keep the raw and realistic tone with nothing too flashy and a more realistic look to the book. The colors don’t scream fun, which is maybe why Shang-Chi’s positivity shines through so strongly. When it comes to energy powers, however, they pop, and Cheng does well to capture mystical elements too.
Possibly the strongest element of this first issue is a relationship introduced between Shang-Chi and Leiko. You get to see them interact in one of the preview pages and they have a likable way about them. They’re almost like siblings as they care about one another but are also indifferent. It’s an interesting relationship, especially given the cliffhanger, that should pan out well. Leiko also gives the book an espionage feel which aids in moving things along for the next issue.
Shang-Chi is a good first kick in the series, revealing a lot of information as it prepares readers for Shang-Chi’s epic journey. Shang-Chi is likable, believably great at fighting, and a hero you’ll want to stick around with. The art is a little rough, though, and it takes a while to get going.