Mike Benson, Writer
Tan Eng Huat, Pencils
Craig Yeung, Inks
I hadn’t even noticed there was a new Deadly Hands of Kung Fu title until I was going for my week’s comics and noticed Misty Knight on the cover of issue #2. I immediately went back and bought issue #1 so I’d be able to come in and see the Daughters of the Dragon with context for their appearance.
The opening issue of the series features a woman whose name we don’t find out right away.We see her running. We see her outnumbered by nasty Kung Fu types. We see her put on a brave face, talking smack to the bad guys. Then the artist shows her getting impaled by a sword, and then literally torn in half. Lovely.
Title splash: “The State of No Mind”
Then we get to the meat of the book — this title is Shang Chi’s, and we get to see him waxing faux-poetic about the state of No Mind and what it’s like to fight in that state — in a James Bond-esque fight on a mountain with helicopters and skis.
He comes back from the mission only to be told by a solemn and grave Captain America that a former friend (and lover) of his, Leiko, has been killed by Shadow Ghosts while working undercover for MI-6. Shang opts to simply mourn the loss of the woman we saw torn apart, rather than seek vengeance. He goes to his dojo, where his boys disagree. Shang simply retrieves a katana she left in his care and takes it to bury with her and pay his respects. From there, he feels a pull to visit London, where Leiko drew her last breath.
There, he meets up with a bunch of Kung Fu badasses who appear to be ordinary, up until they attack him. Shang shows he is as much decent person as master of martial arts, between telling his assailants help is coming, only to snatch the cyanide tooth out of another one shortly thereafter. Kung Fu dentistry! There’s more of his weird pseudo-koan narratives, too.
Old Kung Fu acquaintances begin to come out of the woodwork. His old friend is now a high pocketed bigwig in MI-6 who warns Shang away from looking too close at Leiko’s death, knowing that Shang will likely do the opposite, and lead him to the underworld. The next issue blurb even says “Shang Chi Will Return” a la James Bond. I’m not quite sure why the genre-blending. It’s not like Kung Fu movies don’t offer plenty of story fodder and tropes without having to lean on misogynistic, sexist Ian Fleming’s creation.
As issue two begins (note Misty on the cover like a Bond girl in a Bond movie’s opening credits), Shang has started canvassing bars in the seediest parts of town, showing the photo of the White Dragon — the man responsible for Leiko’s death. Proving what a good guy he is, he orders water. He doesn’t even ask for a dirty glass! The bouncer throws Shang out, but it takes more than a buff white guy to stop the Master of Kung Fu!
Title splash: “No More Warnings” is it a theme that the word “no” is appearing in each title?
On the way to finding his quarry, Shang meets Skull Crusher, an old enemy who confesses he and the dead woman were once lovers. Shang doesn’t want to hear it, and refuses to believe, but we’re treated to a flashback of Leiko cheerfully climbing into bed with the old enemy, and one of her having cold-bloodedly slain dozens to prove herself while undercover. Did I mention the old enemy still dresses like it’s China in 1970?
Skull Crusher leads Shang to a brothel in a penthouse. The madam leads the White Dragon’s bruisers into Shang’s trap. Shang gets what he wants from the bruisers and leaves the sex workers to extract personal vengeance for having been forced into service. Oh, and the number for the Avengers so they can get out of the line of work if they so choose. Credit where credit is due; though he is pretty much saving the damsels in distress, Shang respects the agency of the women, and calls them upstanding, even as he allows them their revenge. He does not treat them as sullied for being sex workers.
It is two thirds of the way through the second issue before the Daughters of the Dragon show up. (“What are they doing here? Can’t let it distract me” — there’s that odd phrasing again).
They help him out from being attacked from behind by the same bad guys who killed Leiko, and quip that he didn’t thank them, nor did he apologise for messing up their stake-out (which he knew about how?). Shang narrates on the urge to watch their lethal beauty, going back into that faux-poetic narrative about how beautiful they are, and what a delight it is to watch them in action. (“Hand to hand combat is like a stormy sea. Raging, unstoppable waves of violence, and the tide can turn quickly.”)
Misty Knight is whitewashed, and her bionic arm is silver — does Marvel editorial not have a skin color consistency chart for their colorists to use? Despite being an amazing Kung Fu fighter, Misty takes a hit in her vibranium bionic arm in such a way as to lose the fingers. I’m not sure how vibranium could take a hit from a sword that was not identified as anything unusual but still break. At least the artist did give Misty an appropriate Afro-Latina hairdo: cornrows and afro rather than straight or curly bangs and afro. For this I am very thankful. Any woman of color who wears her hair natural can tell you exactly how ridiculous straight or curly bangs with an afro is.
Shang watches the pair do their deadly ballet until he steps in to help Colleen; instead of the two best friends having each other’s back, the hero has hers. Colleen is written as whiny and petulant. The art is excellent where Shang and martial arts are concerned; there are diverse male characters for days — African-American, Latino, Asian, and white. Unfortunately the art is not so great where the women are concerned. (Note: Breasts are not conical.)
Shang then takes over for the duo, sending them back to MI-6 — because Misty’s arm is damaged? And because the situation needs to be handled delicately. Right. Gilligan cut to Shang kicking the door down and shouting the name of White Dragon. The Daughters of the Dragon’s appearance was almost more of a cameo.
It’s really a shame to see the book looking thrown together with such quavery . Shang Chi was obviously created as an homage to Bruce Lee, and the more philosophical approach to martial arts is a refreshing change. Maybe the book needs more time to catch its footing, but I’m not sure I have the patience for two martial arts books with rocky starts and a propensity for misogyny.
2 out of 5.