Shang-Chi, the Master Of Kung Fu, under the direction of Madame Web/Julia Carpenter, has recently been training Spider-Man in his own style of Kung Fu - The Way Of The Spider!
As the events of Spider-Island unfold, Shang-Chi finds himself involved in the Spider-Men riot (Amazing Spider-Man #668) and has also been infected with spider-powers!
But is he ready for his next challenge?
Shang-Chi dreams that he is a spider, compulsively attacking one of the Immortal Weapons, Fat Cobra, and cocooning him in silk! He wakes, screaming and ponders the meaning of these nightmares that have been plaguing him all week. As he leaves his apartment, he wonders if they are something to do with the new spider-powers that he now possesses!
Later, Shang-Chi and Madame Web/Julia Carpenter watch the Spider-Men riot (see Amazing Spider-Man #668) from above. She cannot help him understand the natures of his nightmares but tells him that he will not face this challenge alone: she sees two women, dwelling in dark and light, and a man who is not a man and a spider who is not a spider. Confused, Shang-Chi turns his attention to the battle and spies journalist Peter Parker on the scene. Shang-Chi does not want to stand by any more and enters the battle once again!
As he fights, showing his skills as the Master Of Kung Fu, he delivers a sequences of moves upon his opponents – “Golden Salmon Leaps Upstream”, “Double Split Dragon Kick (High)” and “Fiery Dance With Two Partners”! He joins his friend Iron Fist in the fight and it turns out they are both having the same nightmares! They deliver “Dragon And Tiger Move As One” on two Spider-Men and send them crashing to the ground! They agree to talk once the fighting has stopped. Shang-Chi finds his spider-powers seductive, making him faster, stronger and more agile than ever but realises that he must focus on the Kung Fu and not the powers. He takes out two more Spider-Men with “Startled Monkey Lashes Out” and “Thundering Bullseye Strike”! Another of the Immortal Weapons, Bride Of Nine Spiders, arrives on the scene and joins the fight, delivering the powerful “Irresistible River Of Shadows”! She talks with Iron Fist and they leave… Shang-Chi feels he must follow. Keeping his distance, he watches their exchange on a nearby rooftop.
Iron Fist wants to know what Bride Of Nine Spiders knows about the nightmares. He begins but she suddenly attacks him with “Unseen Venom Strike (Third Variation)” and “Swarm Of A Thousand Young”! He is knocked unconscious enough for her spiders to begin cocooning him! She is the assailant from the nightmares! Shang-Chi leaps to the rooftop and demands she be brought to justice! He lands “Blacksmith’s Jealous Kiss” but she counters with “Sweeping Hands Of The Clock”! He begins to rely on his spider-powers and hits “88th Dragon’s Reckless Tail” and “Footsteps Brush Away The Past” but she is too deadly! Calling him naïve, she uses the mystical “Hellguardian’s Unbreathing Mask” and “Considered Venom Strike (Fifth Variation)” to knock him out! She makes off with the cocoon of Iron Fist, knowing her master will be pleased!
You can probably tell from my careful reconstruction of the Kung Fu moves that Antony Johnston captures the power and grace of the discipline to perfection. In a book entitled Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu, this is exactly what I want: creative moves, awesome names and plenty of them and all beautifully drawn by Sebastian Fiumara. Each move is well named and fits with the physical depiction - “Thundering Bullseye Strike” is thundering and hits the opponent bullseye in the chest.
The problem that Johnston has is that, as Editor Alejandro Arbona confesses, Shang-Chi is a character with tremendous potential but he’s dated. The spirit of Kung Fu gladly lives on in Iron Fist and Shang-Chi but they need more than this to make them maintainable. Immortal Iron Fist worked incredibly well because Iron Fist was given a facelift and the Kung Fu was part of it. Shang-Chi has no powers and is solely about Kung Fu. As a mini-series, this probably has legs (with Johnston cleverly giving Shang-Chi spider-powers) but there isn’t the potential that Cloak, Dagger and Spider-Girl have.
Those harking back to the excellent stories of Immortal Iron Fist would not be disappointed here. Quick reminders of Fat Cobra, Bride Of Nine Spiders and the naming of the moves all entertain and hark back to the precision storytelling and style of Kung Fu. Johnston just needs to inject the plot with a little more juice and character though to maintain a high level of intrigue and involvement.
As far as a Spider-Island tie-in goes, this has deviated very quickly into a story far from the events of Amazing Spider-Man. Whilst the Spider-Men riot is a great opportunity for Johnston to show off Shang-Chi’s abilities, there isn’t enough exploration of his reaction to his new powers. The problem may be that, not know Shang-Chi very well, I don’t know what he’s capable of before powers and therefore can’t see a growth or change in the character.
The style of Sebastian Fiumara fits the nature of this comic perfectly. The sketchy, loose pencils depict the speed, agility and grace of Shang-Chi but it is his choreography and storytelling of the action that is magnificent. The visuals fit the writing well, the moves look realistic but completely spectacular and there aren’t any glaring jumps between panels. In a book that is mostly action, this is an achievement.
It is a great Kung Fu comic, a good comic but only an average Spider-Island tie-in so far.