One of the first comics I have a really strong memory of reading was the Master of Kung Fu Annual #1 from 1976. Sure, I’d been reading comics for a while before that but that particular issue had an impact on me for reasons unknown. It starred Shang-Chi, the titular Master of Kung Fu and his often partner in the martial arts, Danny Rand, Iron Fist. I’ve always had somewhat of an affinity for the characters and so when this new four-issue mini-series starring an updated Shang-Chi came along, I knew I had to read it. Unfortunately, this isn’t the Master of Kung Fu of my youth…
And it’s unfortunate because, as interesting as this new take might potentially be, I just kept comparing it to other stories and this new version didn’t come up favorably. But first, the story behind Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu. When an MI-6 agent is killed in London’s Chinatown, Shang-Chi is dragged into the fray because the agent, Leiko Wu, is a friend and former lover. All signs point to the involvement of a crime boss named White Dragon. The leader of another criminal clan, known as Skull Crusher, offers to help, Wu was a lieutenant in his gang and, yes, his bed buddy too. Together they discover that there’s dangerous magic afoot as White Dragon seeks to take out all of the other crime family heads in a black magic ritual that will guarantee him ultimate power.
Artwise, as I’ve said before, it really isn’t my thing, I find it a little too cartoony for my tastes but after a while, it grew on me enough that I didn’t really notice. Artist Tan Eng Huat, with inker Craig Yueng, are a decent team who put a lot of energy and action into the book but I’d really have preferred someone else on the book, someone with a bit more artistic panache. Given a choice, a lot more realism and a bit more consistency when it comes to character models would have made the book better in my opinion. While the story isn’t great by any means, at least Mike Benson puts in some decent dialogue, particularly between Shang-Chi and Skull Crusher. There was so much here that I really wanted to like that by the end of issue four and I realized I really didn’t, it was a serious disappointment. Oh sure, there was a twist ending but by the end, I really didn’t care all that much.
It’s really too bad because I’d love to see Marvel put some more effort into some of their non-superhero titles, they really don’t spend much time on characters that don’t fly and shoot laser beams out of their asses, but if this was meant to kick start some interest in martial arts comics, it just didn’t hit the mark. Sorry Marvel, but do give it another shot one of these days.