If you’re wondering why there are more Shang-Chi comics today than a year ago, that’s because the major motion picture by the same name was due to release in February 2020. Alas, the pandemic shifted all of Marvel Studios films a year, but that didn’t stop Marvel Comics from publishing their Shang-Chi reprints! Out today, Shang-Chi: Earth’s Mightiest Martial Artist collects some of Shang-Chi’s more modern adventures from 1997, 1998, and 2013.
As if Marvel wasn’t sure how to integrate this classic character originally created in 1973 by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, this collection features team-up style stories. Opening with X-Men and closing out with an Avengers adventure, this collection serves as an example of how Shang-Chi is a roaming hero similar to James Bond. I wrote all about how Shang-Chi could be Marvel’s 007 back in 2019. It’s a surprising element given the cover of this book features the classic 1970s Shang-Chi!
The first story arc is a three-parter that first appeared in X-Men #62-64. Written by Scott Lobdell (plot) and Ben Raab (script) with art by Carlos Pacheco, this is an interesting attempt at weaving Shang-Chi into a mainline title, but it doesn’t do enough. Shang-Chi is dragged into the exploits of the merry mutants as it has come to their attention the Elixir Vitae, a magical life-giving element Shang-Chi’s father created, is being used to create a cure for the Legacy Virus. Thus, Cyclops, Storm, Jean Grey, a devolved Wolverine, Cannonball, and Shang-Chi head to China to find the elixir.
The story barely uses Shang-Chi — he’s resorted to commenting on the love Logan and Jean have or the leadership of Cyclops during battles — and also has an ending that makes the entire journey pointless. There are fun additions like Sebastian Shaw and Kingpin, but largely this is not a Shang-Chi story. One element Shang-Chi fans will appreciate however is the reminder that he’s part of MI-6 at the time and a seasoned super spy. Sadly, however, that’s not used beyond referencing it in the start of the story.
Next up is the two-issue story arc in Heroes for Hire #18-19 by John Ostrander and Paschalis Ferry. This story has Shang-Chi join Iron Fist and the Heroes for Hire on a mission in Madripoor. Once again, Shang-Chi is more of a supporting character. After he’s introduced as a new element, he is almost immediately brushed aside with the introduction to Wolverine. In fact, Wolverine treats the Heroes for Hire like second-rate heroes, which further disrespects the character. Further making Shang-Chi’s inclusion pointless, the character is literally questioned on his stance during a battle near the end of the story and then is never seen again. It’s as if the creators forgot to add him into the end of the fight sequence and the last scene.
Wrapping up the book are three one-shot tales starting with Shadowland: Spider-Man #1 by Dan Slott and Paulo Siqueira, which drops readers into a Mr. Negative attack on Spidey and Shang-Chi. Actually, it opens with Shang-Chi going to a place of peace, which shows the metaphysical ability of the character. This story does well to capture Shang-Chi’s purity and pureness as a good person. It also ties well into his story as Mr. Negative reminds Shang-Chi of his father. Slott does a great job supplying Sider-Man with plenty of quips, and the story ends well as Peter must sacrifice himself to save Shang-Chi.
The next one-shot is Secret Avengers #18 by Warren Ellis and David Aja, which is largely a wonderful read thanks to Aja’s art. Captain America and Sharon Carter and running about a topsy turvy evil lair while Shang-Chi takes out numerous guards. It’s said more than once Shang-Chi is breaking bones and snapping these baddies in half, but he’s doing it with the utmost calm. At one point Shang-Chi confronts Captain America for bringing him into a mission that requires he be a thug, which comes to a nice resolution as Shang-Chi proves he’s more useful than a kicking machine.
Wrapping up the book is Avengers #11 by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Deodato, which further carries the theme that Shang-Chi is the calmest but most badass fighter ever. This is a great one-shot as it has multiple heroes doing covert ops in different ways, but only Shang-Chi comes away with a successful mission. We’re talking heroes drinking with A.I.M. agents till they puke to get intel, torturing and killing, and playing poker. It’s a nice reminder Shang-Chi’s style is all about poetically entering a fray and coming away as humble as ever.
So what does this odd collection of loosely connected Shang-Chi stories tell us? Marvel Comics didn’t know what to do with Shang-Chi for much of the ’90s, but things started to click in the 2000s. The last three one-shot stories hammer home a humbled and poetically written master fighter who was mysterious, but also incredibly wise. It’s an interesting collection because it’s quite obvious creators wanted to use him, but nailing him was years in the making.
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