Prior to last year, the world of Shang-Chi was fairly sparse — a spy-versus-spy family drama with kung-fu thrown in. Since the current creative team took over, a much more interesting world has been built around Marvel’s Master of Kung-Fu, but now it looks like it’s all about to be knocked down like a line of dominoes.
In the penultimate issue of this opening arc, our hero and his family seem to be face-to-face with a weird twist on a familiar Marvel figure. Yet, not all is as it seems, as we see from Gene Luen Yang, Dike Ruan, Triona Farrell, and Travis Lanham.
When the Five Weapons Society are approached about a black market weapons’ deal, Shang-Chi plans to say yes just to shut it down. But when the weapon is a decommissioned Iron Man armor, he has no choice but to accept it for real. Of course, it’s going to be more trouble than it’s worth when Tony Stark himself shows up to reclaim it…
One thing that has impressed me so far about this series is how much mythology Yang is putting into the world around Shang-Chi. He went from a loner just trying to fly under the radar in last year’s miniseries to a leader of a multinational organization, surrounded by his family and trying to put that organization on a heroic path. In just ten issues, we’ve seen him grow so much that he feels like a fully formed long-term A-lister rather than a cool character who hadn’t had a series in decades. Even better, this whole new status quo doesn’t feel that divorced from where the character was before the series launched; it just feels like a natural progression.
In this issue, we see that on full display. Shang-Chi’s motivations for taking the meeting and reclaiming the armor make sense. Naturally, it would summon Iron Man as well, leading to another conflict within the Marvel Universe. The guest stars each issue could have felt like the series was just going for a boost, but Yang plays it smart and makes it clear that it’s just to integrate the new status quo with the larger universe and give it staying power. Plus, the way he’s written all these guest stars makes me hope for a big deal book from him — like a flagship title or event series.
Ruan’s line art and Farrell’s color art continues to be a secret weapon Marvel has on the book. Ruan has gradually cut loose more by the issue. His style is extremely fluid and his action scenes seem natural. He’s also very good at guiding the eye through the page, keeping the reader engaged. Farrell sets a tone with her colors that feel a little noirish, but filled with a quality of light which comes off as equal parts mystical and cyberpunk. It also evokes such a great emotional connection to the story that it’s impossible not to get pulled into it. Lanham contributes to that too, with lettering work which invokes the sensation of actual spoken dialogue instead of words on a page, creating a reading cadence and shifts in tone to go with it.
This series might be flying under some radars, but it’s one of my favorite reads every month. It’s a great read for any Marvel Universe fan, and it looks like it’s pointing towards some big things for the characters and, maybe, the universe as a whole.
Shang-Chi #5 is available now from Marvel Comics.
After ten issues together, this creative team has built a rich and exciting world around Shang-Chi. This is a book that’s starting to fly under the radar but should be on the top of everyone’s must-read pile.