Shang-Chi has always been a character that has been waiting for his breakout moment to reach that next level. He’s had time to shine many instances over the years but unfortunately he has largely been relegated to a secondary hero, most of the time playing a supporting role in various stories. But now with Marvel Studios getting ready to debut Shang-Chi to the mainstream with a live-action movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that can all change. To get ready for that Marvel has tapped Gene Luen Yan to tell a new story starring Shang-Chi in his own mini-series. Yang has done a lot of great work over in DC Comics so I’m excited to see what he does to show why Shang-Chi is one of Marvel’s great heroes. Let’s see how it begins with Shang-Chi #1.
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Artists: Dike Ruan and Philip Tan
Colorist: Sebastian Cheng
Story Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: Back in the early Quing Dynasty the Imperial Government targeted the Five Weapon Society for execution in China’s Tianjin Prefecture. The Sorcerer Brothers saved the Five Weapon Society leaders from execution. Master Zheng Zu (who is Shang-Chi’s father) reveals to the governor that the Imperial Government’s building they are at was built on top of Fin Fang Foom’s land.
Fin Fang Foom suddenly appears. The Sorcerer Brothers and Five Weapon Society team-up to defeat Fin Fang Foom.
Afterwards Zheng Zu led the Five Weapon Society along with his brother to protect China. Zheng Zu would go on to develop a longevity spell to extend his life even though their country did not recognize Zu’s rule or power. Eventually Zheng Zu would meet his end at the hands of his own son, Shang-Chi.
Now in the present the Brother Staff finishes the telling his followers at the House of the Sister Staff this origin story of Zheng Zu.
The Sister Hammer suddenly appears and says she is going to be taking over command of the Five Weapon Society. As they fight Brother Staff is able to knock Sister Hammer down. As Brother Staff offers her to fall under his rule Sister Hammer strikes him with a deadly blow to his gut.
Brother Staff tells Sister Hammer that even though he has been taken out their father, Zheng Zu, fire has chosen Brother Hand to lead the Five Weapon Society. Sister Hammer says that Brother Hand was casted out a long time ago and smashes Brother Staff with a killing blow.
Deadly Hammer then announces to everyone in the House of the Deadly Staff that the Five Weapon Society is now under her command.
Over at Wang Bakery in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Shang-Chi is helping out the owner, who everyone calls Grandma Wang, after she gave him a place to live in the upstairs apartment of the bakery. Shang-Chi is able to impress everyone with how quickly he gets orders out.
As things slow down Grandma Wang goes to bake more pineapple buns.
While running the shop alone Shang-Chi meets Delilah, Grandma Wang’s niece. Shang-Chi is happy to interact with a normal woman who isn’t trying to kill him. As they connect Delilah gives Shang-Chi her number before going to talk to Grandma Wang.
Shang-Chi notices someone on a nearby rooftop and goes to check out who is spying on him.
Shang-Chi is surprised to see Leiko Wu (his old partner when he worked with MI-6 and former love interest). Leiko says she wants to talk to Shang-Chi about something in private.
In Shang-Chi’s apartment, after she flirts with Shang-Chi for a bit, Leiko reveals that MI-6 has detected movement from the Five Weapon Society.
As soon as Leiko says this members of the House of the Deadly Staff break into Shang-Chi’s apartment. Shang-Chi and Leiko make quick work of their attackers.
The two members of the House of the Sister Hammer ask if who they are fighting is Shang-Chi. Shang-Chi confirms his identity. The two then reveal their real identities as Brother Sabre and Sister Dagger, taking out the rest of the attackers from the House of the Deadly Staff to prove it.
Brother Sabre and Sister Dagger reveal that they need Shang-Chi to return to the family because Sister Hammer has illegitimately taken over as Supreme Commander of the Five Weapon Society even though Zheng Zu’s spirit has selected Shang-Chi for the role. Shang-Chi isn’t sure about all this as he has never met Brother Sabre and Sister Dagger before.
Hearing this Sister Dagger tells Brother Sabre that they’ll have to take care of Sister Hammer themselves. They then disappear with smoke bombs.
Leiko tries to go after Sister Dagger and Brother Sabre but Shang-Chi stops her. Shang-Chi says he knows who Sister Dagger and Brother Sabre were talking about his mother’s only other child and first best friend: his little sister.
Over at the House of the Deadly Staff, after hearing the news that her followers failed Sister Hammer says she is going to kill her big brother herself. End of issue.
The Good: Shang-Chi #1 does exactly what it needs to do to bring in new readers into the world of the character. In the process Gene Lue Yang showed an understanding of Shang-Chi’s history that showed he is not rebooting the character. Rather, Yang is using what’s already been established to enhance this new story revolving around Shang-Chi.
Kicking things off with a history lesson of the Five Weapon Society and how Shang-Chi is directly related to their leader Zheng Zu was a smart choice. This immediately shows the reader that there is more to Shang-Chi’s character than just being one of the best fighters in the Marvel Universe. There is history behind where he comes from and the skills he has that new fans can learn more about by reading other Shang-Chi comics after this mini-series. At the same time Yang present all the information that you need about this history to so you don’t have to do that dive to understand what is going on.
Having the story around a power struggle within a family makes the story easy to understand while giving real stakes because of what Yang shows us about the power of the Five Weapon Society. In the brief opening pages we are shown how powerful they are as we saw that they are able to take down the likes of Fin Fang Foom back in the day. Having the type of set-up leads us to believe that under someone with truly terrible intentions can use the power of the Five Weapon Society to become a major villainous force.
Which all help set-up Sister Hammer as someone to be terrified of. The lack of mercy she shows in her fight against Brother Staff put over that she won’t let family ties hold back her desire for power. Which is an important set-up since we learn that Sister Hammer is Shang-Chi’s little sister and they did grow up together as kids. That all makes for the upcoming family reunion between siblings to be even more explosive when it happens.
In the process Yang also does a good job in making this whole conflict feel like a true family affair. Even though they recognize Shang-Chi as the one who killed their father it was refreshing that Brother Sabre and Sister Dagger don’t hold that against him. This allowed Yang to give Brother Sabre and Sister Dagger more of an individual personality than if the focus was on their anger about Shang-Chi’s believed actions. So while the interaction was short there we get enough of a hint of who they are and their chemistry to make there future appearance be something to look forward to.
Through all of this Yang does a very good job writing Shang-Chi’s character. Opening up with Shang-Chi recognizing how he has been drifting from one place to another was good self-awareness. Shang-Chi has been playing mostly supporting roles over the last decade that it can be said that he doesn’t really have a place of his own like other heroes.
Starting out with Shang-Chi looking to build a life in San Francisco and working at a bakery was a good reset for him. The interaction Shang-Chi has with Grandma Wang showed that he has been looking to have normal interactions. There was a sense of relief with how Shang-Chi had a fun back-and-forth with Grandma Wang. That extended to the interaction with Delilah as Yang once again shows how Shang-Chi has been in the superhero world for so long that it is a big sigh of relief when he can meet a normal person he is attracted to without worrying about possibly fighting later.
This all makes Shang-Chi a character you understand and want to root for. Which all makes the fact that Shang-Chi is going to have to fight his little sister even more personal. It’s clearly not something that Shang-Chi wants to do. But given how he reacted, Shang-Chi does know that he at least needs to confront his sister over what is really going on before fighting her.
Leiko Wu’s addition to the story was a nice addition to show that Shang-Chi has a history working with the MI-6. Yang played into Shang-Chi and Leiko’s past relationship well to show there was more than just a simple partnership there in a fun way. At the same time, this goes back to tying into how Shang-Chi has been working to fight his father for a long time as the MI-6 helped him in the past.
Dike Ruan and Philip Tan turned in some solid artwork throughout Shang-Chi #1. Tan’s artwork for the flashback opening worked well to get into how this was a story being told by another character. Ruan’s art for the main story also worked to get over where Shang-Chi is in the present. The action was smooth and showed the different skills of all the fighters that we saw during the course of this issue
The Bad: Nothing.
Overall: Shang-Chi #1 was a solid start to get into the world of Marvel’s best fighter. Gene Luen Yang presented Shang-Chi’s history in an inviting way to bring new and long-time readers into the world he is crafting around our lead character. That history enhanced the overall world-building that Yang does for Shang-Chi and the cast of this series.
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