REVIEW: The Legend of Shang-Chi #1 Doesn’t Land the Blow

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With the release date for the Shang-Chi movie moving closer, I was excited to read a new comic centering on the character. The Legend of Shang-Chi puts the titular hero at the heart of a kind of anti-heist, going toe-to-toe with an equally capable thief. As a solo story, I hoped to see what made him so legendary.

The Legend of Shang-Chi #1

Alyssa Wong (writer), Andie Tong (artist and cover), Rachelle Rosenberg (colors and cover), VC’s Travis Lanham (lettering)
Marvel Comics
3 February 2021

Cover for The Legend of Shang-Chi #1
Cover for The Legend of Shang-Chi #1 art by Andie Tong with colors by Rachelle Rosenberg

The issue places Shang-Chi back in England at the request of Leiko Wu who has a special assignment for him. After a series of mishaps, an artifact from the British Museum is going to be auctioned off as it was deemed too dangerous to remain in the collection. This object, a magical katana known as the Equinox Blade, seems to do a lot more than sit on a shelf.

A gelato bribe and some intel later, Shang-Chi goes in to steal the sword before the auction. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one to have that idea. Lady Deathstrike has already appeared on the scene and utilized the special effects of the sword.

Their fight scenes are fun and Tong does an excellent job making those scenes feel like they have motion. My favorite is a panel from later in the fight. As Shang-Chi pursues her through the museum, there’s a panel that captures the rapidity of Shang-Chi’s strikes. They appear in an arc in front of Lady Deathstrike, each fist illustrated slightly differently, capturing Shang-Chi’s martial arts skills. The scenes also utilize the panel layouts to give the feeling of seeing the fights from multiple angles, making each bout feel immersive.

Overall, the art and coloring are typical. They don’t add that much to the dialogue of the book but they don’t detract from the story that Wong tells. Though there are a few odd things that bothered me about the words and art. Specifically, Alyssa Wong writes an excellent joke about Shang-Chi being a man who’s good with his hands. Maybe I’m being picky, but the move that Shang-Chi executes in the panel that goes with that joke has more to do with his hips and overall arm strength rather than his hands. Rather than a punch or a jab, or something more dexterous, the panel has him executing a throw. Which, yes, involves his hands, but with panels further in the issue doing such an excellent job highlighting his handiness it was a frustrating visual mismatch.

My second annoyance is that the colors and art reminded me of comics from the aughts. While the colors fit within a modern setting, there’s a shiny quality to some of the clothes and skin tones that make me think everything is made of vinyl. They pulled focus from the action. More significant is that I found myself distracted by the fact that Shang-Chi and Lady Deathstrike’s fashions feel dated. She wears tight pants that only go to her hips and they only seem useful to show off some butt crack in one panel.

This might be specific, but high-waisted pants have been the norm for femme-presenting folks for a long time now. They cling nicely to the body (see athleisure) and would complement her villainous crop top. In contrast, Shang-Chi is in cargo pants and, while not out of date, I hate cargo pants. He doesn’t carry anything in those pockets so why not put him in some form-accenting masculine athleisure?

Anyways, I got to the end of the comic and felt that it was fine. I hoped that there’d be something more epic in coming issues. Unfortunately, that is not the case because this is a one-shot. So I had to rethink The Legend of Shang-Chi #1.

There were some cool things. I loved the magic soul-sucking katana, the excellent jokes, the gelato, and some well-drawn and colored fight scenes. I also really love the cover. Sadly, none of this made me think of Shang-Chi as legendary. Rather this story feels more like an unsung hero tale. More similar to the assignments he was part of in Heroes for Hire. I hope that “The End?” at the close of the issue is more open than we think.

Paulina Przystupa

Paulina Przystupa

Paulina (aka @punuckish) is a Filipine-Polish archaeologist and anthropology graduate student who grew up in the Pacific Northwest and loves comics and pop culture. Her academic work focuses on how buildings and landscapes aid or impede the learning of culture by children. In general, she is an over-educated fan of things; primarily comics, comics-related properties, cartoons, science-fiction, and fantasy. This means she takes what she knows and uses it to critique what she loves. Recently, she has brought such discussions to the public by organizing and moderating panels at comic cons centered on anthropology/culture related topics.