Classic Comics Cavalcade: Deadly Hands In ‘Shang-Chi Vol. 1: Brothers & Sisters’

by Tony Thornley

Marvel’s newest movie star is perhaps one of the most unexpected to date. Shang-Chi was a big star in the ’70s but ever since he’s been a team member at best. He’s never seen the same sort of success but with his movie already a massive hit, he’s on his way to stardom again.

Cover by Jim Cheung & Laura Martin

With the movie on the way, the character received a self-titled miniseries late last year from creators Gene Luen Yang, Dike Ruan, Phillip Tan, Sebastian Cheng, and Travis Lanham. Now this was obviously intended to have a collected edition on bookshelves in time for the movie but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good book. In fact, just like any of Yang’s work, it’s actually very good.

The problem with trying to make a long established character a solo character is that they don’t have an existing structure around them. The most successful of the bunch create a rogue’s gallery and supporting cast quickly. For example, Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye brought in Kate Bishop and Lucky, and gave Clint several interesting new and existing threats. 

The issue Yang and Ruan had was that Shang-Chi also needed to have his continuity fixed, as his debut was inexorably tied to a licensed character that Marvel no longer published and had been through multiple retcons due to that. They jumped into the challenge with both feet though. They introduce a new support staff, an interesting conflict and make sure the retcons stick.

Immediately, Shang-Chi is drawn back into a world he left, as he’s supernaturally chosen as the next leader of his family’s Kung Fu cult. It’s a perfect comic book premise, that gives Shang plenty of room for conflict, while also supplying him with the supporting cast he needs. HIs three new siblings- Takeshi, Esme and Shi-Hua, all step on the page fully formed, and rife for sibling conflict and antagonistic tendencies (which we’re already seeing in this miniseries’ now-ongoing follow-up).

This series is also a great example of how an artist can grow. Though Tan, on flashbacks, is strong, Ruan’s pencils are rough at the opening. However, over the course of 5 issues, he grows from a clearly talented young artist to a star in the making. I don’t know that I’ve seen an artist grow quite this quickly before.

This series is an incredibly fun intro into Shang-Chi’s new world. It’s multi-layered and introduces several interesting new elements into the Marvel Universe. This is absolutely a story you should check out.

Shang-Chi Vol. 1: Brothers & Sisters is available now from Marvel Comics.

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