October 2, 2020

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Quick Hit: Shang-Chi 1


Shang-Chi returns ahead of an upcoming featured film adaptation. While all of what comes out of Marvel Studios seems to turn to gold, Shang-Chi will definitely represent a different type of adaptation. Though not necessarily an obscure character, Shang-Chi is not exactly a household name, even within Marvel fandom. To that extent, Gene Luen Yang and company have their work cut out for them. There is precious little time to waste with only five issues to re-introduce and contextualize a character while also providing a complete adventure. Fortunately, Yang has emerged as one of our best graphic storytellers, whether as a writer as in this role or as a cartoonist in his OGN work. 

Consequently, a book like this is tailor-made for Yang, a cartoonist who knows how to layer narrative while incorporating established mythological backstory with original concepts. Certainly, such a notion is at the heart of two of Yang’s most renowned creations, American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints. But it’s also his experience with licensed properties that serves him here. Yang’s foray into superhero books following years of success as a indie/YA cartoonist brings him from DC to Marvel, and specifically to a character tailor-made for a Yang narrative. At DC, Yang assumed writer responsibilities for The Terrifics, and has written different iterations of Superman, including his own creation, the Chinese New Super-Man, Kong Kenan. Yang’s work at DC helped to both stretch his skills and help him hone in on the thematic undercurrents that define all his work. Between his time at DC and his time scripting Dark Horse’s Avatar: The Last Airbender series, Yang has learned how to manage licensed properties without sacrificing his voice. 

And that voice is important for Shang-Chi. It’s commendable that Marvel has launched this new title with an Asian creative team, three of whom possess Chinese ethnicity. Yang, along with art duo Philip Tan and Dike Ruan, and colorist Sebastian Cheng, certainly have a task ahead of them as they bring Shang-Chi back to the forefront with a high profile book. Shang-Chi has been incorporated into a few team books over the years, and has graced a handful of mini-series, but he hasn’t had this high a profile in decades.

Tan functions as the flashback artist, opening the book and giving readers a crash course in some of the Marvel history in Shang-Chi’s backstory. The use of flashback was a nice touch, and I hope the mini-series continues with this concept. It’s a smart way to provide weight to Shang-Chi’s character, and Tan handles it with both speed and precision. Honestly, I stepped into this book with very little knowledge of Shang-Chi, but I came away intrigued. Yang has a way of using the past to make the present more relevant, and Tan executes that vision well. His style differs just enough from Ruan’s that his sections of the book feel a tad “older.” Cheng picks up on that and allows for some of Tan’s darker shades to flow. Ruan’s art feels shinier if not newer. He handles some bombastic fight scenes with just enough comic exaggeration. 

I mentioned above that I didn’t know much about Shang-Chi prior to picking up this book, and I feel that I left with both the requisite amount of backstory and intrigue. Packing this amount of info and story into a first issue is usually a recipe for disaster. It would be easy for such an issue to feel overloaded, burdened by its content, if not ambition. But Tan, Ruan, and Cheng bring a cinematic quality to Yang’s multilayered narrative, allowing it to truly excel. Shang-Chi #1 is exactly what a debut issue should be.

Shang Chi 1 (of 5) written by Gene Luen Yang, with art by Dike Ruan, Philip Tan, and Sebastian Cheng, and letters by Travis Lanham.