Shang-Chi’s always been the more interesting part of the Iron Fist/Shang-Chi duo. One of them was born and raised in a cult, rebelled against his father, and has a whole cultural background that separates him from almost every other Marvel character. The other is just your average white billionaire superhero with dead parents. So it’s really satisfying to see Shang-Chi get his shine in an upcoming MCU movie while Iron Fist was relegated to the Netflix TV shows. Gene Luen Yang and Dike Ruan’s Shang-Chi was announced with the intention of coinciding with the film’s release, but due to the pandemic everything got a little topsy-turvy. But while the film’s been delayed a good while, the comic is finished — and now it’s collected in trade for the best reading experience.
There are fairly easy parallels to draw between this run and some other comic runs on white superheroes, like Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Green Arrow or (poignantly) Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, and David Aja’s Immortal Iron Fist. But what those runs lack that Shang-Chi brings to the table is this incredible sense of cultural authenticity — which makes sense, given the creators are finally representative of the focal character instead of just white dudes. On that front, this book’s already head and shoulders above pretty much anything like it.
Unfortunately, the book falters a bit on a pacing level. Yang’s put out some of the best comics I’ve ever read between Superman Smashes the Klan and American Born Chinese, but this one was poorly paced in a way that felt almost amateur at times. There are great character moments and dialogue, but they’re immediately followed by rushed dialogue to get to the next plot beat. It’s mostly frustrating because it keeps alternating between really strong storytelling and this awkward rush to the next strong bit. The good news is this is really the only real problem with the book — while its connective tissue isn’t the best, the meat is still great.
The actual story is really touching in its own way: Shang-Chi is targeted by his sister Zheng (who he thought dead), because their dead father chose Shang-Chi over her. Shang-Chi is filled with compassion for her and wants nothing more than to be done with the tainted legacy his father left behind, but it’s not possible. The whole thing is centered around the idea of family and how Shang-Chi can’t throw it away. In the Western world, there’s a pretty big contingent of people who are very in favor of cutting out family members, but this is where that cultural authenticity comes into play. In Asian cultures, that’s just not feasible. Not out of simply some sense of obligation, but because our families are a part of who we are. That’s what this story is about: coming to terms with who we are and finding our way to support those we love.
Dike Ruan’s art is a very solid part of the book, too. I have a few quibbles with regard to storytelling — the penultimate issue ends on a slow zoom in on a character at the end of a battle that seemingly goes nowhere and is generally pretty confusing, but for the most part he does a good job with everything. The way he draws and depicts the all-Asian cast of the book is great as well — a lot of white artists do a poor job coloring Asian characters and even drawing them, but the authenticity Ruan brings to the work really helps bring the whole thing together. It helps that he’s really good at drawing both character expression and action sequences.
Overall, this book is a really genuine and touching addition to Shang-Chi’s library, and a charming look at how the character works for people who aren’t white. At the very least, it’s a solid primer for the upcoming ongoing series – I can’t wait for that.
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