This, sadly, is why it seems unlikely that we will ever get a Masterworks or Essential series reprinting the early Master of Kung Fu stories. Darn you, copyright laws. Darn you all to heck!
Well, the idea of tossing Fu Manchu into the mix did produce a book that was both unique and pretty gosh-darn cool. Shang-Chi soon teamed up with Sir Denis Nayland-Smith, the aging protagonist from the original Rohmer novels. The end product was a clever combination of the martial arts genre and James Bond-esque spy stories. Doug Moench took over writing the series fairly early on in its run and regularly produced complex, action-driven story arcs filled with nifty plot twists, making good use of both Shang and his supporting cast.
Paul Gulacy was the artist through much of Moench's run as artist. Gulacy's clean and energetic art was complemented by his ability to choreograph incredibly fun fight scenes, in which the action flows in a logical and understandable manner while still looking awesome.
For instance, let's take 1974's Giant Size Master of Kung Fu #1. Nayland-Smith and the other supporting cast members are absent from this one, but it's still a good example of the strengths that both Moench and Gulacy brought to the book. There are three Shang-Chi stories (and a reprint of a Yellow Claw story from 1956).
The first story involves Fu Manchu sending a series of assassins after Shang-Chi. It's his wayward's son's
Shang takes out several of the assassins, then sneaks into Fu's secret HQ to fight the rest of them. Fu gets away, but his plans are thwarted for the moment.
It's a fun story. The premise of the hero being stalked by a cult of assassins is an old trope, but Moench uses it well here, depending on Gulacy's great art to effectively carry the story along while it builds up to its violent climax.
The other two Shang stories each have different artists. One (drawn by Ron Wilson) involves Shang being refused a room by a racist landlord, then attacked by hitmen. The fight ends when he has to save the landlord's life. The anti-racism message is a little heavy-handed, but Shang's actions towards the landlord are part of the character's appeal. He's a hero and he'll save even the jerk who hates him for being Chinese.
The other (drawn by Craig Russell) involves Shang foiling a robbery at a museum. It's another fast-paced and entertaining story, but it also highlights the one thing about this series that sometimes annoyed me. This happens when Shang enters the museum and a guard calls him out for being bare-foot.
Shang comes back with what's supposed to be a wise and philosophical reply: "Why do you fear touching the Earth? Does not the concrete separate you from it enough?"
Gee, Shang, good point. Wearing shoes separates us from Mother Earth and thus is evil. Of course, in a big city, it also separates us from shards of broken glass and used drug needles. But that, apparently, is beside the point.
|Just shut up and put some shoes on, will ya?|
Moench is a good writer, but he sometimes over-wrote and his efforts to make Shang-Chi seem wise sometimes backfired. This only happened occasionally--most of the time his take on the character gave us a compassionate and clever hero. But there were moments like this where poor Shang said something that was supposed to sound deeply philosophical but was really just really pretty dumb--and you are left wondering why the other characters in the story look so impressed.
Oh, well, as long as Shang remains a likable character who can kick butt and act as the centerpiece for awesome fight scenes and complex stories, then we can put up with little faux-philosophy.