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Comic Review: Shang-Chi – A Story about Family

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The publication history surrounding the character of Shang-Chi can for a lack of a better
term be described as problematic.

For close to 46 years Shang-Chi was portrayed to be a caricature of Chinese people merged with different stereotypes that surround the general Asian
population.

While the character was created with the intent to appreciate the kung-fu craze that
occurred during the 70’s and even he was even modeled after the legendary Bruce Lee. There
was a clear lack of understanding and appreciation for the culture that played into the kung-fu
craze at that time.

However, that has all since changed with the release of the Shang-Chi
(2020-2021) series by Gene Luen Yang (well known for: Superman Smashes the Klan and
American Born Chinese.) Following that brief 5 issue mini-series there came this recently
concluded 12 issue series also titled Shang-Chi from the same writer as a continuation to that
mini-series.

The 12 issue series contains the following arcs titled: “Shang-Chi vs. the Marvel
Universe”, “Family of Origin” and “Blood and Monsters.

Shang-Chi vs. the Marvel Universe (Issues #1-6; Vol. 2):

With this being the first arc of the relaunch with a new #1 this most likely could have
been the general public’s first introduction to the comic book version of Shang-Chi seeing that it
came out so close to the release of Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings.

Keeping such a factor in mind this was a very interesting method of showing off what Shang-Chi
could accomplish in comparison to the grand pantheon of much more notable heroes within the
Marvel comics universe for new readers who might think that all he can do is kung-fu. Seeing
Shang-Chi take-on the likes of Wolverine, Spider-Man and Thor was quite the spectacle in the
books, and as surface level as the story could have been by having the story solely be Shang-Chi
taking on the superhero community it decides to tell a deeper story.

It takes the chance to examine what family and friends mean to Shang-Chi and what happens when the two come into opposition of each other. This premise is also further elevated by seeing how unstable his family dynamic with his siblings can be and how volatile the superhero community can be when there is
even the slightest hint of distrust between them and Shang-Chi. To the superhero community’s
defense, Shang-Chi is running a secret organization that was known for being a major crime
organization.

Family of Origin (Issues #7-8; Vol. 3):

In the first appearance of Shang-Chi (Master of Kung-Fu #15) it is seen that Shang-Chi’s
mother was allegedly a white woman who fell in love with Zheng Zu due to his power, wealth
and influence. This has since been retconned and it is revealed in this 2 issue arc that his real
mother (Jiang Li) is a warrior from the mystical land of Ta Lo. This retcon was most likely
inspired by the film’s iteration of Jiang Li. As retcons go, this is one that is for the better seeing
that Shang-Chi’s alleged mother at the time lacked any autonomy and was not much of a
character. Seeing that this was a 2-issue arc that primarily acted as a focus piece for how the
relationship between Jiang Li and Zheng Zu (Shang-Chi’s father) developed and helped set-up
the conflict of the next arc involving Shang-Chi’s grandfather it was quite good, but is noticeably
rushed. The story also tells the reader that Zheng Zu’s had motivations for going to Ta Lo, but it
is not explored or told until the end of the next arc. The main highlights of this story evidently
lies with the relationship between Jiang Li and her father, Chieftain Xin. Seeing how Chieftain
Xin drove his daughter away from him was an excellent decision on Yang’s part and it acts as a
way to add more family dysfunction to the Shang-Chi lore, which has been the overall theme of
Gene Luen Yang’s time on the character.

Blood and Monsters (Issues #9-12; Vol. 3):

Now that the final arc of this run has been set up, these final 4 issues of Shang-Chi takes
on the responsibility of paying off the last 8 issues to this run and the prior 5 issues from the last
run. Does it properly pay off 13 issues of comics? At the mere scope of this arc it can easily have
been more than 4 issues under most writers, but it is a surprisingly well balanced story, capable
of making long time readers satisfied who were with Yang since his 2020 run. While it is a very
satisfying read for long time readers, this one arc is still a very approachable story for new
readers as well. Assuming the reader jumps in at issue #7 or #9. Focusing on issues #9 and #10.
The story does a tremendous job at reestablishing the family dynamic of the Five Weapons
Society and reunites the five children of Zheng Zu, while also giving a tantalizing taste of how
much of a threat Chieftain Xin is with his army of Qilin Riders (Qilins are mythological Chinese
dragon deer creatures.) These 2 issues lead into the final confrontation between Shang-Chi and
his grandfather and it is quite the sight to behold.


Slight spoilers for the last 2 issues of this arc going forward. It is revealed that Zheng
Zu’s motive for going to Ta Lo was to gain possession of the Ten Rings. While a different set of
Ten Rings exist in the Marvel Universe, these are a whole new iteration of the Ten Rings from
the previous versions that some comic book fans are familiar with. These new
ones are very much inspired by the MCU’s interpretation of the Ten Rings where they take
influence from rings that would be used in the martial arts style of Hung Gar. It is not known if
these new Ten Rings have any ties to the already previously established Ten Rings best known for being
used by the Mandarin. However, it is revealed that the rings are linked to the lore that surrounds
Ta Lo and quite possibly back to Shang-Chi.


The final confrontation between Xin and Shang-Chi is quite the artistic spectacle and
while it feels obvious that Shang-Chi is not in any immediate risk the story is still fueled to the
brim with emotions and stakes for the character. From whether or not the Ten Rings would take
hold of Shang-Chi and turn him evil, the attack on the House of Deadly Hand, the threat of Xin
exterminating Zheng Zu’s entire bloodline and the perception that Shang-Chi faces from the
superhero community. This last arc is a testament to Yang’s skills as a writer and is such a
fantastic story that anyone who has an interest in Shang-Chi as a character should check out.

Conclusion:

While this series’ relaunch was most likely made with the intent of being a fresh jumping
on point for new readers who might have gotten pulled in by the release of the Shang-Chi film it
still satisfies this long time reader from 2020. However, that should not be an intimidating factor
for anyone who might have the slightest of interest in jumping into this run of Shang-Chi comics.
All volumes to this on going run is indeed new reader friendly, but if there were to be a volume
to pick-up as a starting off point then it would have to be Shang-Chi Vol.1: Brothers & Sisters.

If reading trade paperbacks are not your thing though and there are no available single
issues left for you to pick-up then luckily this series is coming back with a new title called
“Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings.” So there are still jumping on options for anyone who might be
interested in grabbing the single issues and it will most definitely be a continuation of this
recently concluded series.

Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Artists: Dike Ruan and Marcus To
Cover Artists: Sunny Gho and Leinil Francis Yu
Editor: Darren Shan

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