Retro Omnibus Review: Shang-Chi, Master Of Kung Fu Vol. 1 For Marvel Comics!

Columns, Top Story

Contains Special Marvel Edition #15-16, Master of Kung Fu #17-37, Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #1-4, Giant-Size Spider-Man #2, Iron Man Annual #4 (December 1973 – February 1976)

Written by Steve Englehart (Special Marvel Edition #15-16, Master of Kung Fu #17-19), Gerry Conway (MoKF #20), Doug Moench (MoKF #20-37, Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #1-4), Len Wein (Giant-Size Spider-Man #2), Roger Stern (Iron Man Annual #4)

Penciled by Jim Starlin (Special Marvel Edition #15-16, Master of Kung Fu #17, 24), Paul Gulacy (MoKF #18-20, 22, 25, 29-31, 33-35, Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #1-3), Ron Wilson (MoKF #21, 28, GSMoKF #1), Al Milgrom (MoKF #23-24), Alan Weiss (MoKF #24), Walter Simonson (MoKF #24), Keith Pollard (MoKF #26, 36-37, GSMoKF #4), John Buscema (MoKF #27), Ed Hannigan (MoKF #28), Aubrey Bradford (MoKF #28), Sal Buscema (MoKF #32), P. Craig Russell (GSMoKF #1), Ross Andru (Giant-Size Spider-Man #2), Jeff Aclin (Iron Man Annual #4)

Inked by Al Milgrom (Special Marvel Edition #15-16, Master of Kung Fu #17-21, Giant-Size Spider-Man #2), Dan Adkins (#22, 30-31, 33-35, Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #1), Klaus Janson (MoKF #23), Sal Trapani (MoKF #24-26, 28, 36-37, GSMoKF #4), Frank Springer (MoKF #27), Paul Gulacy (MoKF #29), Mike Esposito (MoKF #32, GSMoKF #1), P. Craig Russell (GSMoKF #1), Jack Abel (GSMoKF #2), Vince Colletta (GSMoKF #3), Don Newton (Iron Man Annual #4)

Coloured by Steve Englehart (Special Marvel Edition #15), Linda Lesmann (SME #16, Master of Kung Fu #23), George Roussos (MoKF #17, 20, 26, 32, 35), Petra Goldberg (MoKF #18, 22, 24, 36, Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #1-2), Stan Goldberg (MoKF #19, 21), Bill Mantlo (MoKF #25, GSMoKF #3), Janice Cohen (MoKF #27, 29-31, 33-34, 37, GSMoKF #4), Phil Rache (MoKF #28), Glynis Wein (Giant-Size Spider-Man #2), Neil Yomtov (Iron Man Annual #4)

Spoilers from forty-seven to fifty years ago

I’ve basically spent my entire life reading Marvel comics, but somehow, I never owned an issue of Master of Kung Fu until a few years ago, when I decided that years of admiring the covers meant I should probably try reading the book.  This was before I heard that there was a movie in the works (I don’t pay a lot of attention to MCU news), and I started gathering up back issues, mostly because I wanted to read the Gene Day issues at the end of the run.  Later, after reading that book by the guy who read ever Marvel comic, I decided I wanted to read the entire run, as well as the Deadly Fists of Kung Fu magazines, so I thought it was time to start buying omnibuses (omnibi?), which I’d not done before.  There was no way I was going to afford to buy, or to spend the time hunting, for a complete run.

As a kid, I wasn’t all that interested in martial arts (except for the months after Karate Kid came out), so I didn’t see much appeal in this character.  He didn’t seem to interact with the rest of the Marvel Universe much, aside from a memorable appearance in an issue of ROM.  The covers always looked nice, but for whatever reason, I didn’t know much about this character until he became more integrated with other heroes in the 2000s.  

I’m coming to this book with the expectation that it will be racially and ethnically uncomfortable, but I’m also really excited to experience Paul Gulacy’s most highly regarded work.  Let’s see how it all plays out.

This book features the following characters:


  • Fu Manchu (Special Marvel Edition #15-16, Master of Kung Fu #17-19, 21-24, 26-28, Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #1-4, Giant-Size Spider-Man #2)
  • Tak (Special Marvel Edition #15, Master of Kung Fu #17, Giant-Size Spider-Man #2)
  • Midnight (M’Nai; Special Marvel Edition #16, Iron Man Annual #4)
  • Satma (Dacoit; Master of Kung Fu #18)
  • Jekin (Master of Kung Fu #18-19)
  • Dahar (Master of Kung Fu #18-19)
  • Demmy Marston (Master of Kung Fu #20-21)
  • Korain (Master of Kung Fu #20)
  • Wilhelm Bucher (Master of Kung Fu #23-24)
  • Fah Lo Suee (Master of Kung Fu #26, 28)
  • Shadow-Stalker (Master of Kung Fu #28, Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #3)
  • Carlton Velcro (Master of Kung Fu #29-31)
  • Razor-Fist (Master of Kung Fu #29-31)
  • Pavane (Master of Kung Fu #31, 35)
  • Therese Berwick (Master of Kung Fu #32)
  • Mordillo (Master of Kung Fu #33-35)
  • Brynocki (Master of Kung Fu #34-35)
  • The Warlords of the Web (Master of Kung Fu #36-37)
  • Darkstrider (Master of Kung Fu #37)
  • Ducharme (Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #1-2, 4)
  • Phansigars (Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #3)
  • Tiger-Claw (Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #4)
  • Half-Face (Iron Man Annual #4)

Guest Stars

  • Man-Thing (Master of Kung Fu #19)
  • Spider-Man (Peter Parker; Giant-Size Spider-Man #2)

Supporting Characters:

  • Dr. Petrie (Special Marvel Edition #15, Master of Kung Fu #29-34, Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #3-4)
  • Sir Denis Nayland Smith (Special Marvel Edition #15, Master of Kung Fu #17-19, 22-26, 28-34, 36, Giant-Size Spider-Man #2, Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #2-4)
  • Shang-Chi’s Mother (Special Marvel Edition #15)
  • Black Jack Tarr (Master of Kung Fu #17-19, 22-25, 28-36, Giant-Size Spider-Man #2, Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #2-4)
  • Lu Sun (Master of Kung Fu #19)
  • Clive Reston (Master of Kung Fu #28-36, Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #3)
  • Leiko Wu (Master of Kung Fu #33-35)
  • Moon Sun (Master of Kung Fu #36-37)
  • Pan Sing (Satyr, Master of Kung Fu #36-37)
  • Cinnabar (Wulff, Master of Kung Fu #36-37)
  • George (Angel-hawk, Master of Kung Fu #36-37)
  • Sheena/Seena (Seamaid, Master of Kung Fu #36-37)
  • Rynor (Unitaur, Master of Kung Fu #36-37)
  • Sybilis and Snake (Serpent, Two, Master of Kung Fu #36-37)
  • Tiko (Moon Sun’s daughter, Master of Kung Fu #36-37)
  • Rufus T. Hackstabber (Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #4)

Let’s see what happened in the comics, with some commentary as I go:

  • There are two introductions, one by Steve Englehart, and the other by Doug Moench, which explain how they came to create and then write Shang-Chi’s adventures, respectively, which also explain how Roy Thomas suggested that the kung fu character that Englehart wanted to write should also make use of Fu Manchu, the villain from Sax Rohmer’s novels.
  • The character first appeared in Special Marvel Edition, with art by Jim Starlin.  It’s clear from the beginning that there was a distinct aesthetic they were going for with this book, and the splash page makes it clear that Shang-Chi is Fu Manchu’s son.  The story opens with action, as Shang-Chi fights four men.  He evades a samurai’s sword, and knocks down a man with steel covering his feet and hands.  He dispatches the swordsman with a backwards kick, and is soon left facing a large man.  Shang-Chi identifies himself as the son of Fu Manchu, and that takes us to a flashback.  Shang-Chi, at nineteen, kneels before his father, a tall thin man with the long moustache that came to be named after him.  Fu Manchu explained that he wanted Shang-Chi to start working for him, after being trained his whole life, and to begin, he should go kill a man named Dr. Petrie, whom Fu described as an evil enemy of his.  Shang-Chi traveled to England and entered the home of Petrie.  He was surprised at how old and frail the man was, but completed his duty and killed him with a karate chop.  As he turned to leave, he saw that another old man, in a wheelchair, was holding a gun on him.  The man, Sir Denis Nayland Smith was swiftly disarmed by the younger man, and then turned to apologize to his old friend.  Shang-Chi was surprised to see someone weep over an evil man, and this prompted Smith to explain how he, Petrie, and an American named Tony McKay fought Fu Manchu for forty years, trying to stop his evil machinations.  Smith showed Shang-Chi that a large sumo named Tak injured his legs, and Shang-Chi took off.  He went to see his mother, a white woman who isn’t named, and she explained how she was seduced by Fu Manchu’s power, and the notion that their child could rule the world one day.  Returning to the present, Shang-Chi continues his fight with Tak, the sumo, which looks spectacular.  He manages to toss the larger man through a door, and then continues through his father’s lair.  He discovers a lab where he has been working on strange experiments, and then as he continues to move, he is attacked by a gorilla that has been trained to defend the lair.  That fight ends when Shang-Chi sets the gorilla’s fur on fire and it runs off.  Fu Manchu reveals himself to his son, and explains that he’s always wanted to restore China to its former glory, and then after the communist revolution there, to create his own empire.  He tells his son that he controls evil across the world, and that he is now going to turn them against his son.  He leaves, and Shang-Chi exits the citadel, which is somehow hidden within an office building in Manhattan.  We are off to a strong start.
  • Since leaving his father, Shang-Chi has been sleeping in Central Park. As he forages for food to eat in the park, he attracts the attention of some standard tough guys on motorcycles who decide to give him a hard time.  He gets in a fight with them, and takes down all of them.  He notices that a shadowy figure is watching him, and when that person calls him brother, realizes it’s his friend, Midnight.  We see through a flashback that when Shang-Chi was pretty young, his father took him to an African village that the British had burned because the people there were nurturing some kind of fungus for Fu Manchu.  There was an infant named M’Nai, who was disfigured by the fire, who caught Fu Manchu’s eye because of the hate within him.  He took the child and raised him alongside Shang-Chi, training them both, and they saw each other as their only friends.  In the present, Midnight returns to Fu Manchu who reminds him that he is his master (Midnight even refers to himself as his slave, which is uncomfortable given the racial politics), and promises to kill Shang-Chi.  Shang-Chi walks through the streets of New York, and is harassed by a cop who doesn’t like how he’s dressed.  The cop realizes that he’s matching the description of someone the cops in London are looking for.  Midnight turns up on a nearby rooftop and tosses a bamboo tube behind the cop.  Realizing that it’s a note, Shang-Chi knocks the cop out with one punch and reads the message – a challenge to fight to the death on the corner of Broadway and Houston.  Shang-Chi can see the fight ending with either of their deaths, and does not want that to happen.  Still, he goes to the meeting place, where his friend reveals himself to him.  They begin to fight, and Midnight sheds his cape.  They don’t talk much as their fight continues, but when they do speak, Shang-Chi tries to make M’Nai realize that Fu Manchu has been indoctrinating him.  The cop shows up again, and Shang-Chi takes off.  Midnight finds him again, and they fight on a rooftop.  Shang-Chi tries to cross the street on a wire, and Midnight pursues him.  They end up in a construction site, where Shang-Chi finds a pipe to help him counter Midnight’s bo.  Shang-Chi climbs a crane, still wanting to avoid killing the man he’s now abandoned as a friend.  They fight near the top of the crane, and M’Nai declares he doesn’t need friends.  He kicks at Shang-Chi, trying to knock him off the crane.  Shang-Chi dodges, and Midnight falls.  As he falls, the crane’s hook catches his cape, causing his neck to break.  Shang-Chi walks away, giving up on the idea of sneaking a peek at his friend’s face, which he’s never seen.  (It’s kind of wild that Englehart remembered and brought Midnight back in the pages of Silver Surfer a decade and a half later, turning him into an outer space villain).
  • With issue seventeen, Special Marvel Edition was renamed Master of Kung Fu.  It opens with a parallel structure.  On the left side of the first pages, three men with dope habits decide to rob Shang-Chi as he walks through New York, and he defeats them easily.  On the right side, a man named Black Jack Tarr practices throwing knives at an effigy of Shang-Chi.  We learn that he’s a retired British agent who moved to the US and has prepared his ‘murder mansion’ to lure and kill Shang-Chi.  He’s friends with Denis Nayland Smith, who is there for his revenge on Shang-Chi.  Shang-Chi sees that Nayland Smith’s trip to the US made the front page of the Daily Bugle, and he feels the need to seek his counsel, as he feels guilty for having killed Dr. Petrie.  He hops on the back of a truck, heading for Rye, New York.  The truck takes him past Fu Manchu’s building, within which his father speaks to his sumo wrestler, Tak, about how Nayland Smith is in town.  Shang-Chi arrives in Rye and is surprised by how calm it is, compared to Manhattan.  He can’t find Nayland Smith in the phone book, so he asks a man on the street for directions (the man works for Black Jack Tarr).  He overhears the man informing Black Jack that he’s coming, so he manages to avoid the guards around the house.  He enters secretly, but trips an alarm and finds himself trapped.  Some men attack him but he gets past them, and manages to avoid a trapdoor.  Nayland Smith tries to drop a chandelier on him, but he avoids that too, and then escapes a room filled with gas.  He finds himself in a large room where he is attacked by four men in suits of armor.  He struggles to fight them, but once he realizes they’re really robots, he cuts loose and destroys them.  Tarr dismisses him because of his race, and moves to intercept him.  Shang-Chi tries to explain to Tarr that he’s there to talk to Nayland Smith, but Tarr wants to fight.  Their fight is brutal, and ends when Shang-Chi pushes the larger man through a balcony railing so he falls to the floor below.  Shang-Chi hears Nayland Smith behind a door, and punches through it to disarm him.  Shang-Chi tries to explain that he was misled when he killed Petrie, but the older man doesn’t believe him.  Shang-Chi changes tactics and convinces Nayland Smith that his legs would still work if he believed that he could stand.  Nayland Smith rises out of his wheelchair and stands.  Shang-Chi tells him to think about how his belief that he couldn’t stand was wrong before they see each other again, and he leaves.
  • Issue eighteen is the first of Paul Gulacy’s on the book, and while this was his first big job, he came out the gate with his work already looking very fluid and exciting.  Shang-Chi is fighting a dacoit, who is trying to strangle him with his looped garrote.  When he gets the loop around Shang-Chi’s neck, and starts to choke him, our hero remembers sneaking into the building where Fu Manchu’s ‘international palace’ is hidden.  He made his way to the entrance of the part of the building modeled on ‘Old China’ where the dacoit attacked him.  Shang-Chi snaps out of his reverie and manages to knock the dacoit out; he leaves a note on him saying ‘first move!’ and leaves.  Outside, he finds Nayland Smith and Black Jack Tarr waiting for him.  The older man is coming around to the idea of working with Shang-Chi, but Tarr doesn’t trust him at all.  Smith tells Shang-Chi that Fu Manchu has a shipment of cargo coming into Florida that night and offers to fly him down, but Shang-Chi decides to do it on his own.  He stows away on a plane, and once he gets to Florida, he follows Smith’s instructions to find the cove.  He’s entranced by the flora and fauna of the area, and then sees Fu Manchu’s ship approaching the shore.  Fu Manchu has his monkey, Peko, on his shoulder, and they both feel ill at ease.  There is a delay; his trucks haven’t arrived yet, so he orders his men to keep watch.  Shang-Chi is able to avoid them and gets into the ship’s hold.  He’s surprised to learn that his father is smuggling in barrels of gasoline, but then he notices that it’s mixed with mimosa, the hallucinogen that his father has developed (and weirdly named after a drink that maybe wasn’t so popular in the 70s).  Shang-Chi hallucinates a bit, and when he returns to his right mind, he’s tied up.  Fu Manchu explains that he wants to go into business with an oil combine, and sell his hallucinogen-laced gas in stations across America to make the people of the company easier to control.  He brings out the dacoit that Shang-Chi fought at the beginning of the issue, and gives him a chemical that speeds him up and destroys his mind.  He turns him loose to attack Shang-Chi, and our hero struggles to fight him, especially with his hands tied behind his back.  The dacoit is upset that he was defeated, and that he’s now in so much pain, so he uses a torch to set his own head on fire before running into a building labeled ‘gunpowder’ (they are fighting in an old Civil War era fort).  Shang-Chi manages to grab a burning torch and kicks it off a cliff, so it lands in the hold of Fu Manchu’s ship, blowing it up.  Shang-Chi falls into the ocean, but his father doesn’t believe he’s dead.  Two of his men swear to find Shang-Chi before he can get to the authorities to report what’s happened.
  • Shang-Chi finds himself facing the Man-Thing in the swamp.  He thinks back to how he got there, and we see that after he escaped his father last issue, he swam a way down the coast, but when he came to shore, he was attacked by two of his father’s men, Jekin and Dahar.  He fled into a swamp and tried to hide, but they found him.  He fought them and ended up knocking them both into the water with a tree stump.  Thinking them dead, he continued on his way, and found himself in front of the swamp monster.  Not sure what’s real or not (the mimosa is still in his system), Shang-Chi finds himself stuck in the middle of the monster.  As it walks away, a man comes out of the swamp and pulls on Shang-Chi’s ankles, helping free him.  The man then goes to check on the monster before returning to Shang-Chi.  He introduces himself as Lu Sun, and he takes Shang-Chi somewhere to rest.  They notice that the monster is following them, and come to a place where they can sit.  Shang-Chi talks about how his father lied to him, and recounts a story about another student who tried to tell him the truth when he was a child, and who then disappeared after he told his father about him.  Lu Sun talks about finding peace within himself, and how even if Shang-Chi overthrows his father, the world will be mostly unchanged.  Elsewhere, Fu Manchu is in the lead of a convoy of four trucks, returning empty from their rendez-vous.  Nayland Smith, Black Jack Tarr, and some local and federal law enforcement are waiting in ambush, but somehow Fu Manchu escapes them.  In the swamp, Lu Sun is hit by two arrows in the leg – Dahar and Jekin have tracked them down.  Shang-Chi fights them, but manages to get stuck in quicksand and starts sinking.  One of the men is about to cut him with his sword, but it’s grabbed by the Man-Thing.  Lu Sun warns them to not touch the monster, but when they do, they burn.  Shang-Chi has freed himself from the quicksand, and picks up his new friend.  He asks him to join his fight but gets a non-answer, suggesting that Lu Sun doesn’t think Shang-Chi should continue the fight with his father.
  • Issue twenty is odd because the first half was written by Gerry Conway, who was set to take over the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine’s Shang-Chi feature, and the back half was written by Doug Moench.  Shang-Chi is walking along a beach in Florida when three men in diving suits carrying long knives emerge from the water and attack him.  He takes them down, and learns from one of them that they were sent by Demmy Marston, who runs a floating casino in Miami.  We see that Marston learns his men failed, and sends his number two to get an assassin named Korain.  After Bufford, the aide, leaves, Marston takes out his anger on his girlfriend Diana, smacking her in the face.  We watch as Bufford approaches a private island in the Keys.  There he finds Korain, a guy dressed in a pro wrestler’s idea of a samurai suit.  Korean swings his sword, cutting Bufford’s shirt, and then receives his job, to kill Shang-Chi.  In Moench’s half of the story, Shang-Chi climbs onto Marston’s casino ship and takes out his three guards.  Marston talks to Diana about how he has a business operation in effect that should make him very rich.  Shang-Chi approaches him, and Marston pulls out a gun and starts shooting at him; he’s surprised that none of his muscle comes to his aid.  After Shang-Chi disarms Marston, Korain comes busting into the room with two swords drawn.  Shang-Chi recognizes him from his childhood, but is surprised to see that he appears younger now than he did a decade before.  Korain is a good match for Shang-Chi, and pins his tunic to the wall with one of his swords.  Before he can kill Shang-Chi, though, he experiences pain and stops to pull out a small bottle of Fu Manchu’s immortality elixir.  He is immediately restored, but as he jumps at Shang-Chi, his heart gives out and he dies.  As he dies, his sword flies from his hand and kills Diana.  We learn that Marston decided to order the hit on Shang-Chi in the hopes of receiving a reward from Fu Manchu.
  • By the time Shang-Chi’s reached the shore, he has decided to ‘leave death behind’.  On the gambling yacht, Demmy continues to impress on his underling the importance of tracking down and killing Shang-Chi, whom he blames for the death of the girlfriend he himself liked to knock around.  Wandering and thinking, Shang-Chi breaks into Marine Land, not understanding the purpose of the place.  He’s amused by a dolphin or porpoise that starts to jump into the air for him, but then he notices a gunman in the stands who opens fire on him.  Shang-Chi dodges the bullet, but it hits his new fishy friend, which makes him angry.  A half dozen more men appear, and they all shoot at our hero. He evades them, but as more arrive, decides the best way to get away is to jump into one of the large tanks.  Inside it, he’s attacked by a shark that he has to fight.  He manages to stun the creature, but when he emerges from the tank, Demmy’s men are waiting for him and they knock him out.  When he comes to, he’s tied to a palm tree and Demmy tells him that his girl’s death is his fault.  He starts to beat Shang-Chi with a branch.  Shang-Chi sees a bunch of men emerge from the surf; a half dozen of Fu Manchu’s Si-Fan have arrived, and they quickly take out Demmy’s men.  Demmy offers to pay them all off, but a helicopter lands, and Fu Manchu exits it.  He tells Demmy it isn’t his place to kill his son, and takes a snake out of his sleeve.  The snake bites Demmy, and its venom kills him.  Fu Manchu frees his son, and tells him that he is the one that is going to be the one to finally kill him one day.
  • In 1974, Marvel started the quarterly Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu, the main story of the first issue of which was made by Moench and Gulacy.  As Shang-Chi walks through the streets of New York, he’s surprised to find a sawdust-filled effigy of himself hanging from a lamppost.  A dagger is thrown at him, and he sees there’s a message wrapped around its hilt.  He chases his assailant, and is about to question him when another assailant, in the same outfit, jumps at him from a rooftop.  The two men remove their robes, revealing they are Si-Fan assassins.  Shang-Chi fights them (Gulacy is good at this stuff), and when he bests them, they both kill themselves with gas capsules between their teeth.  The message recognizes that it’s Shang-Chi’s birthday, and that his father wants to kill him on this day.  Fu Manchu talks to his servant, Ducharme, and learns from another servant that his assassins failed.  He enters a secret room and addresses five members of his Council of Seven.  Two replacements come out for the men that just died, and Fu Manchu tells them he wants to talk about killing his son.  Shang-Chi examines his effigy, and feels suspicious of a young woman on a street corner.  He decides to head to his father’s base, but a manhole cover opens behind him and he is dragged into the sewers.  There, he faces another Si-Fan, who attacks him with a mace.  They fight, and when Shang-Chi defeats the silent assassin, he kills himself just as the other two did.  The woman he saw before helps him out of the sewer, but is struck with a shuriken in the leg.  Shang-Chi goes after the person who threw it, who also kills himself. He returns to the woman and helps her home.  They end up embracing, but when she goes to kiss him, she slips a garrotte around his neck.  He manages to free himself and she jumps through the window to her death.  Another effigy drops in front of Shang-Chi, with the same message.  Angry, he heads straight to his father’s base and moves through it quietly.  Fu Manchu talks to Ducharme about how he doesn’t hate his son, but does want him dead.  He learns that the third assassin died, and calls for his Council of Seven to convene again.  Shang-Chi watches from a balcony as the robed figures assemble.  When they enter Fu Manchu’s presence, in darkness, he starts to talk about how he enjoys games, but it’s time for the one with his son to end.  At that point, he learns that two of the Council were knocked out outside the chamber.  Shang-Chi reveals that he and a third effigy he found took their places, and he attacks the assassins.  We get some great fighting, but he takes them all out and hears his father mock him over a loudspeaker.  He rushes to his father’s private room, but only finds Ducharme there; we see Fu Manchu leaving in a helicopter.
  • The first backup story in this issue (drawn by P. Craig Russell!) has Shang-Chi back in Miami, where he goes to a museum to see a statue.  He hears three men talking about how they’re going to come back and steal it, and sell it to the religious sect that worships it.  After they leave, Shang-Chi contemplates the statue until it is time for the museum to close.  He tries to tell a guard about the plot he overheard, but the man thinks he’s on drugs.  Later, Shang-Chi confronts the thieves, fighting them for a couple of pages.  When the fight is over, he realizes someone else stole the statue, and assumes it was his father, whom we see flying off in a helicopter.
  • The second backup story (there are two pages on Shaolin Temple Boxing as well) has Shang-Chi looking to rent a room in a destitute (and based on the way people are dressed, cold) part of Miami.  The racist landlords turn him away, and he stands in the street wondering what to do.  A blind panhandler approaches him, but the man is shot in the back.  A sniper on the building across the street is aiming at Shang-Chi.  He rushes into the building, followed by two others who are after him.  He reaches the third floor and decides to climb out a window rather than take the stairs to the roof. His pursuers reach the roof, and they’re confused until Shang-Chi comes up behind the sniper.  He fights the men, and one tries to escape by jumping across to another building, where he falls through its skylight.  Shang-Chi pursues, and finds the man holding the racist landlord hostage with a knife.  Shang-Chi pulls the rug out from under the man, and the landlord wonders why he would save him.  As Shang-Chi leaves, he says that his father doesn’t want him to have lodging.
  • Shang-Chi featured prominently in the second issue of Giant-Size Spider-Man, so it got included in this book.  Spidey stops some men from robbing the Guggenheim, and after he fights them, he interrogates one to learn that he’s working for Shang-Chi.  The man claims he’s there to distract Spider-Man while his master, Shang-Chi, destroys the power plant near 59th Street.  After Spidey finishes talking to him, all of the men are electrocuted by their suits and die.  We learn this is part of a plot by Fu Manchu, who intends to keep Spidey and Shang-Chi fighting one another while he executes his real plans on the top of the Empire State Building.  Shang-Chi comes across three men wearing half-Spider-Man masks beating up an older Asian man.  He fights them, and the men make reference to working for Spider-Man.  After Shang-Chi disarms the men, he realizes the old man is still alive and speaks to him.  The man was heading to see Sir Denis Nayland Smith.  Shang-Chi takes him to Nayland Smith and Black Jack Tarr; the man tells them that Fu Manchu is working with Spider-Man to destroy the power plant, and then he dies.  Shang-Chi heads out to face Spider-Man.  For his part, Spidey arrives at the plant and heads to the generator room, where he finds Shang-Chi.  The two start to fight in classic hero fight manner for a few pages.  They fall into a series of ducts, and are separated.  As they fall away from one another, Shang-Chi says something about stopping Spider-Man, which makes him realize that he’s been played. When they find each other again, Spidey asks for a truce, but Shang-Chi attacks him.  He refuses to fight back, so Shang-Chi avoids kicking him and they finally realize they have been tricked.  They leave together as the guards finally arrive.  Somehow they find one of Fu Manchu’s men chasing some guy.  They take him out, and learn that his quarry is one of Nayland Smith’s men.  He tells them that Fu Manchu is at the top of the Empire State Building, and the heroes send him on his way while they rush to the landmark.  We learn that Fu Manchu is replacing the television aerial (it was damaged in a fight between Daredevil and Mandrill) with one that will send out mind control radiation.  Spidey and Shang-Chi take the elevator to the 86th floor, and then continue on the stairs.  They come across Tak, Fu Manchu’s sumo wrestler, and start to fight him.  Spidey stays with Tak, while Shang-Chi heads to the roof where he starts to fight Fu Manchu’s men.  Spidey joins them, and Black Jack Tarr arrives in a helicopter with reinforcements.  Fu Manchu slips away, and the heroes head down the stairs trying to catch him.  They just miss the elevator that takes Shang-Chi’s father to the ground.  They realize the only chance they have to catch him is to jump out the window.  They beat the elevator to the ground, but Fu Manchu is already gone.  As Nayland Smith and Tarr join them, Spider-Man is shocked to learn who they’ve been fighting, because he believed him to be a fictional character.
  • In Master of Kung Fu #22, Shang-Chi, having labored for a day to earn some money, goes to a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan, hoping for some comfort food.  He notices that things are a little different from what he expected, and is surprised by the arrival of a fortune cookie.  It warns him, by name, that someone close to him will seek his death.  A Si-Fan assassin with a sword attacks from behind a plant, and they fight.  After Shang-Chi knocks him out, the waiters attack.  Shang-Chi’s own waiter is stronger and more skilled than he would have expected, but he puts him on a cart and wheels him through the front window.  Angry, Shang-Chi decides to go confront his father again.  He’s interrupted by the arrival of Nayland Smith and Tarr, who came to warn him.  They say they are also headed to Fu Manchu’s headquarters to confront him, and ask Shang-Chi to come with them.  He tells them not to go and they drive off.  When Shang-Chi arrives at his father’s building, he realizes the two older men went anyway.  He sneaks in and realizes that they’ve been captured.  Shang-Chi sneaks his way to the top level, and sees the Si-Fan loading the two men into a plane.  Shang-Chi gets into the hold of the plane, which is filled with dynamite and nitroglycerin.  Once they arrive, the explosives and prisoners are taken into a cave.  Shang-Chi watches as Fu Manchu tells Nayland Smith and Tarr that their death will be symbolic.  They are tied up and surrounded by the explosives.  Shang-Chi jumps in to save them, and Fu Manchu lights the trail of gunpowder that will set off the explosives.  Shang-Chi takes out all the Si-Fan and just manages to stop the detonation.  He frees the two men (his father’s already taken off, as usual).  Nayland Smith notices that the nitro is falling over; Shang-Chi grabs the bottle and tosses it towards one opening of the cavern they’re in.  It explodes but they’re all fine.  Nayland Smith goes to the cave’s other opening and they realize that they are inside Mount Rushmore.  The letters page to this issue (I love that these are included in this omnibus) talks about how the character of Lu Sun, in the Man-Thing issue, is meant to be David Carradine’s character in the Kung Fu TV show.
  • The second Giant-Size MoKF opens with Shang Chi being accosted by a drunk in the street.  Shang-Chi avoids his attempts to fight him, but the guy falls through the window of a kung fu dojo.  The woman who runs it comes on to Shang-Chi, and takes him out for dinner, making Shang-Chi miss a rendez-vous with someone.  Shang-Chi eats pizza for the first time, and then he and Sandy walk through the park.  The drunk reports to Fu Manchu – he’s a Si-Fan operative who was watching our hero.  Shang-Chi and Sandy start to make out on a park bench, but then are attacked by two waves of Si-Fan fighters.  They manage to stop them all, and Shang-Chi admits that his belief, taught by his father, that women shouldn’t be trained to fight is wrong.  Nayland Smith and Black Jack Tarr approach them in a horse-drawn carriage, and the older man chastises Shang-Chi for missing their appointment.  They go to leave, but Sandy inserts herself in the carriage.  Nayland Smith tells Shang-Chi he needs him to go to China to help a scientist defect with a secret.  Sandy leaves, and Shang-Chi heads to the airport.  He’s told that many of the passengers on the plane will be Nayland Smith’s agents, and that they will tell him his next moves.  While on the plane, the stewardess attacks Shang-Chi, and he learns that many of the other passengers are Si-Fan.  He manages to take them all out and heads to the cockpit where he frees the pilots.  The captain is Nayland Smith’s man.  Once in Peking, Shang-Chi walks through the unfamiliar streets and realizes he is being followed.  He takes off his tunic and prepares to fight, but even he is surprised to learn that he’s surrounded by about a hundred Si-Fan fighters.  He pulls nunchaku from his belt and starts to fight for a few glorious pages, defeating them all.  He notices the onlookers that do nothing to help him, just like in New York.  He reaches his rendez-vous site, and follows a cloaked figure who is there to meet him.  It’s Sandy!  It turns out the defecting scientist is her father, and she takes him to their palatial home.  Once there, the professor sends her to brew tea so he can tell Shang-Chi his secret.  The next morning, Sandy and her father’s assistant leave (it turns out he’s Si-Fan and he takes her to Fu Manchu), and Shang-Chi spends an idyllic afternoon watching insects.  He realizes that he hasn’t been paying attention, and finds the Professor dead by his own hand.  Fu Manchu is there, and he has Shang-Chi knocked out.  When he wakes up, he’s in his father’s base and has been dosed with a truth serum.  He refuses to share the Professor’s secret with his father, so he’s dropped into an elaborate death trap involving an hourglass, spikes, and acid.  When he escapes it, he finds himself in a maze and starts to fight his way through it.  We get some awesome splash pages, one of which shows Shang-Chi moving through the maze and fighting assassins around most corners.  He’s attacked by a woman with a skull for a face, but it turns out to be Sandy.  He punches her hard and leaves her for dead, but believes it’s a hallucination.  He reaches a dead end and punches his way through a wall.  His father shines a bright light on him, and he decides to share the Professor’s secret – that the thing he was working on, synthetic nourishment, was a failure.  Fu Manchu is angry to learn that this prize has no value for him, and he revels in telling Shang-Chi that he killed Sandy.  He sends more Si-Fan to kill his son, but that’s when Tarr and Nayland Smith’s men attack the compound.  Fu Manchu escapes again, and Nayland Smith has to clarify to Shang-Chi that he did indeed kill Sandy, who was a double agent.  Shang-Chi is sad.
  • Shang-Chi is standing on a dock looking at the Statue of Liberty.  He hears someone sneak up behind him, and punches the man, who turns out to be Black Jack Tarr.  He’s furious and wants to fight Shang-Chi, but remembers it’s useless.  They join Nayland Smith, who wants Shang-Chi to come with them to South America.  Smith has learned that Fu Manchu is planning on working with Wilhelm Bucher, a Nazi Gestapo Chief who escaped the war with secret weapons plans.  They land in the Amazon and rush to meet the agent Nayland Smith has hired to take them to Bucher’s bunker.  The man, Raymond Strawn, demonstrates that he’s very racist, and doesn’t want Shang-Chi on his boat.  Instead of arguing, Shang-Chi disappears and the three men head down the river.  Nayland Smith tells Tarr of how Bucher, who was more racist than Hitler (!) was betrayed by a Japanese agent and left to die in a collapsed bunker, but he somehow escaped an explosion.  Nayland Smith is surprised that he’s willing to work with Fu Manchu.  Si-Fan assassins drop from the trees onto the boat.  Nayland Smith is knocked into the river while Tarr fights and Strawn starts shooting at them wildly.  An alligator tries to get Nayland Smith, but Shang-Chi turns up and fights it, saving him.  He helps Nayland Smith into the boat, and they see that Strawn has slaughtered the Si-Fan.  Both Shang-Chi and Tarr are bothered by the killing, and they don’t know what to think when Bucher starts shooting at Fu Manchu’s boat from way down river.  Shang-Chi heads over to the boat and shuts down its engines.  He begins to fight the Si-Fan on the boat, taking out all but one, who tells him that Fu Manchu is in his helicopter and was never on the boat.  Strawn doesn’t believe that, and pulls off his face, revealing he’s really the badly-disfigured Bucher.  He starts shooting at Shang-Chi, who dives into the water and notices a camera watching him.  As he falls, he’s shot in the side.  Bucher sends the other two men onto Fu Manchu’s boat, and we see that Fu Manchu is watching all of this from his helicopter, which is approaching Bucher’s base.  Nayland Smith admits he knew that Strawn was really Bucher, and worries that he and Tarr are also going to be killed.
  • Alone in the jungle, Shang-Chi finds a column of Si-Fan, marching to meet with his father.  He drops on the last in the column and takes his clothes, also taking his place.  Fu Manchu’s helicopter arrives at Bucher’s base, where his men rush to prepare a trap.  Fu Manchu retreats.  On the boat Fu Manchu’s other men were using, Tarr and Nayland Smith get things working, hoping they can catch up to the others.  Bucher arrives at his base and yells racist tropes.  Fu Manchu meets up with his men and they start to move through the jungle towards Bucher’s place.  When they get there, they attack Bucher’s fortified position, while Fu Manchu sends a smaller force around the compound.  Shang-Chi is discovered by one of the Si-Fan, and engages in a fight with him.  Fu Manchu gives the signal so his second squad attacks, catching Bucher’s men in a crossfire and slaughtering them.  Shang-Chi notices that the shooting has stopped, but still struggles to deal with his opponent.  It turns out Bucher had planned for Fu Manchu, and has his enemy caught between his two buildings; the rest of his Nazis (where did he find so many young white men willing to fight for him in this jungle?) open fire again.  Shang-Chi defeats his opponent and looks through the window of Bucher’s building, finding something surprising.  The Si-Fan and the Nazis continue to fight, and Bucher joins the battle, turning the tide.  The Nazis capture Fu Manchu and tie him to a tree.  Bucher brings out a bazooka to kill the older man with, and goes on a tirade about how Chinese and Japanese people are no different from each other.  Shang-Chi isn’t about to let a racist kill his evil father, so he jumps in and kicks Bucher.  Bucher’s shot hits his building, revealing that he has a missile inside it.  That’s when Nayland Smith and Tarr finally arrive, and shoot the last of Bucher’s men.  Bucher throws a knife into Shang-Chi’s chest and runs to set off his missile.  He’s surprised when it doesn’t work.  Shang-Chi tells him he deactivated it, but Bucher doesn’t believe he could.  He jumps onto his missile and falls to his death in its underground silo.  The men see that Fu Manchu has escaped again, and Shang-Chi feels responsible for this.
  • Shang-Chi, Nayland Smith, and Tarr are left to walk out of the jungle after their fight with Bucher (I guess Nayland Smith has fully recovered the use of his legs, as he doesn’t have a cane anymore).  As they see Fu Manchu’s helicopter depart, Shang-Chi hears something in the jungle and slips away.  He comes across a clearing where a jaguar is about to eat a human infant.  Shang-Chi attacks the cat, being careful not to hurt it, and manages to get it to abandon its prey.  When he picks up the child, he realizes he’s been surrounded by a dozen armed Indigenous men.  He goes to give them the child, but realizes the lead man is going to kill it, so he kicks him away.  The men don’t want to fight, and instead indicate that he should carry the child to their village.  When he gets there, he finds that they have one of the Si-Fan tied up in the centre of the village; he also spies a totem of shrunken heads (which I thought was more of a Papua New Guinean thing).  The baby’s mother comes to claim him, but she is chased away by the men.  The Si-Fan, who can apparently speak their language, explains that the baby was born on a night with no moon, and that the people, the Jivaro, believed he should be sacrificed for this reason.  The chief believes that Shang-Chi was sent from the gods, and that the child should be spared, while his rival doesn’t.  They decide to test Shang-Chi, and have him carry the infant across a bed of coals, and then have him run a gauntlet.  When Shang-Chi passes these tests, the rival kills the chief, and violence breaks out.  Shang-Chi finds himself fighting a number of the men, until very few remain standing.  The rest of the village begin to pray to him, and the Si-Fan explains that they believe he’s a god himself.  He asks them to free the Si-Fan, and they depart together.  The Si-Fan thanks him for saving him, and then draws his knife, eager to fulfill his master’s wishes.  We see the man’s body fall from a cliff.  Soon, Shang-Chi rejoins his friends, who have a small airplane ready to depart the jungle.
  • The third Giant-Size issue has Shang-Chi looking at toys in a shop window when a man claiming to be a British agent approaches him and asks him to come see Sir Denis with him.  Shang-Chi gets in his car, and is almost immediately attacked with gas.  He escapes the car and finds an amulet on the driver showing that he’s with the Phansigars, an Indian sect that works with the Si-Fan. Shang-Chi has to deal with a cop who thinks he’s robbing the injured driver, and then he heads to Nayland Smith’s house.  He learns that Nayland Smith is away, but sits down to wait for him.  Soon, he’s introduced to Clive Restion, an associate of Nayland Smith.  Almost immediately, three of the Phansigar come through the windows and attack.  Shang-Chi takes out two of them while Reston deals with the third.  Reston convinces Shang-Chi that he’s trustworthy, and soon they are flying to England to meet their mutual friend.  Reston explains that he can sneak Shang-Chi into the country, despite being wanted for murder there.  They meet Nayland Smith and Black Jack Tarr at the Museum of Natural History, where Phansigars have killed guards and stolen something.  As they walk through the museum, they talk about the Phansigars and what Fu Manchu might be using them for.  Reston believes it’s a diversion, and he and Nayland Smith have some conflict.  We learn that a note has been found suggesting that Dr. Petrie, the man that Shang-Chi killed, is still alive.  Strangely, they are attacked by the early man exhibit, which comes to life, but they fight them off (this is weird).  Later, some Phansigars attack a policeman guarding a curios shop full of Asian artifacts.  Shang-Chi attacks them as they ransack the shop, and defeats them.  At Scotland Yard, the men interrogate a Phansigar Shang-Chi captured, but don’t get a lot from him, aside from the fact that Fu Manchu is going to turn up at Buckingham Palace.  Fu Manchu speaks to one of his assassins, Shadow-Stalker, and sends him on a mission.  Our heroes head towards the Palace, but a Phansigar blows out one of their tires.  Shang-Chi pursues him, and while he’s gone, Shadow-Stalker attacks the rest, knocking out Tarr and capturing Nayland Smith.  Shang-Chi and Reston set up in Buckingham Palace, still wondering if they are being distracted.  We see some Phansigars attack the guards, and make their way into the Palace. They attack Reston and Shang-Chi.  One runs, and slips into a secret passage.  Shang-Chi follows, and finds Petrie, attached to a machine.  Fu Manchu is there, and he explains that the Petrie he had his son kill was a fake that he’d created.  He explains that he was seeking a certain object, and revenge.  We see that he has Nayland Smith strapped to a table with two Phansigar ready to kill him.  He has Shang-Chi and Shadow-Stalker, who now wears two maces attached to his topknot, chained to a wooden post in a pit.  He orders them to fight, and Shang-Chi defeats the bigger man pretty easily.  Vipers are released in the pit, but that’s when Reston turns up and shoots at the Phansigar.  Fu Manchu escapes through a hidden trapdoor, Shang-Chi escapes the vipers, and the men circle Petrie.  Petrie explains that Fu Manchu was after a statue of an elephant that Nayland Smith took from him years before, because it contains his elixir vitae.  Nayland Smith considers taking the elixir and becoming immortal, but Shang-Chi convinces him that it’s evil.  Shang-Chi expresses he’s happy to see Petrie alive, but acknowledges that he did still kill him.
  • Nayland Smith is in Egypt, talking to Lord Robert Greville, who is telling him about how he dreamt of a beautiful woman with mesmerizing eyes, and when he woke up, there was a jade ring on his pillow.  Nayland Smith recognizes it as the same one that the woman gave his father before he was born.  Nayland Smith explains that the woman is Fah Lo Suee, and that she is the daughter of Fu Manchu.  He says that she seduced Greville’s father, but he was able to break free (we see a deathly yellow figure watching this conversation.  Nayland Smith urges the young man to get rid of the ring, but he claims that it helps him in his archeology.  Shang-Chi, who has been wandering the town looking for proof of his father, approaches the cafe where Nayland Smith and Greville are meeting, noting that he’s being watched.  Once inside, he realizes that his father is present; when Fu Manchu stands, some Si-Fan come smashing in.  Shang-Chi fights them for a bit, but then they all take off, as has Fu Manchu.  Nayland Smith again tries to get Greville to see why he needs to get rid of the ring, but the younger man gets angry.  He reveals that he’s found the burial crypt of the pharaoh Seth-Amon, and he storms off.  Shang-Chi remembers the one time he met his sister, and she hinted that one day she would want him to kill his father for her.  Nayland Smith does some research, and learns that Seth-Amon had a golden beetle statue that had ruby eyes that could be used to hypnotize a man.  They head to Greville’s lodgings, which Shang-Chi has to sneak into since the door is locked.  Inside, he finds that Greville has gone missing (he was in the midst of writing a note when he left).  A Si-Fan assassin is there to grab Greville, but his backup mission is to kill Shang-Chi, so they fight until our hero takes him out.  Shang-Chi rejoins Nayland Smith, and has a map to the tomb.  They head out to the desert.  We see that Fah Lo Suee already has Greville at the tomb.  They enter the burial chamber where they find the golden beetle, but its ruby eyes are missing.  We see that Fu Manchu is over the pyramid in a helicopter.  Inside, his daughter accuses Greville of having stolen the rubies.  Shang-Chi and Nayland Smith enter, and the older man is shocked to see that the woman hasn’t aged in decades.  She begins to mesmerize him as she has Greville, but she’s interrupted when the sarcophagi of Seth-Amon’s wives open, revealing Si-Fan fighters.  There is a fight, during which the Pharaoh’s sarcophagus is knocked over, and we see that the rubies were buried in his eye sockets.  As Shang-Chi keeps fighting, Fah Lo Suee grabs the rubies.  Shang-Chi notices a bomb in the chamber, and quickly dispatches his opponents.  He has to slap Nayland-Smith to get him to come to his senses, and they leave (Greville and Fah Lo Suee have already taken off).  Fu Manchu gives the command to detonate the bomb, but our heroes manage to escape.  They find Greville, dying because of Fah Lo Suee’s poisoned lipstick.  Nayland Smith wonders if she’s really still alive.
  • A very angry Shang-Chi makes his way across the rooftops of New York, wanting to take a strange approach to a particular building.  He kicks over a TV antenna so he can cross a street on it, and rappels down.  He remembers how not long before, he was walking through Times Square when a man approached him to talk about religion.  As they spoke, someone threw a dagger into the man’s back, killing him.  Shang-Chi recognized it as a Si-Fan dagger, and decided to come confront his father.  At the same time, Fu Manchu convenes the Council of Seven, and regales them with a monologue about his daughter, Fah Lo Suee, who he feels has betrayed him by taking the rubies from the golden scorpion (it was a beetle last issue, but never mind).  Shang-Chi makes his way to the lobby of his target building, and has to take out a security guard before continuing down an elevator shaft, kicking the wall, and finding himself inside his father’s headquarters.  Fu Manchu continues to talk to the Council about his daughter, declaring her an enemy.  Shang-Chi reveals that he’s in the room, and that he’s upset that the religious man was killed.  He throws the dagger into his father’s table.  Fu Manchu signals his Council to attack, and there are a few pages of fighting as he narrows the Seven down to none.  He confronts his father, who wants to continue their conversation in his laboratory.  Fu Manchu talks about how he no longer sees Shang-Chi as his son, and how sad this makes him.  He talks about how long his life has been, and how now his daughter has turned on him as well, and has taken command of half of the Si-Fan.  The attempt on Shang-Chi’s life was conducted by one of her people.  He predicts that the Si-Fan are going to go to war with themselves, and that Shang-Chi is going to be left in the middle, unless he kills his father right now.  Shang-Chi decides that he won’t kill him, and is sent away.  As he walks, he realizes that things have changed between them.
  • Shang-Chi is in an arcade in Times Square, struggling to understand the purpose of the games.  Black Jack Tarr and Phil Reston come to see him, and share that Nayland Smith has been kidnapped, and their only clue is a bamboo tube.  Shang-Chi is able to open it, and finds a note to him, telling him to meet at the tree where a spirit was shaped.  He knows this message references the second time he met his half-sister, Fah Lo Suee.  They talked about a tree, and a small bonsai that mirrored its shape, as a metaphor for his spirit, and the decision he should make to let nature shape him, or his father.  Tarr, Reston, and Shang-Chi head to China, knowing they’ll have to go to Fu Manchu’s fortress in Honan.  When they arrive in China, Shang-Chi sneaks off on his companions, and enters the fortress where he grew up.  This is the first he’s been back since he learned of his father’s true nature, and he is a little bit in his feelings.  He dispatches the first guards he comes across, and approaches his father’s throne, where his sister now sits.  She takes him out to the same tree they sat under once before, but he refuses to sit with her now.  She reveals that she wears the two rubies as earrings, and that she’s got half the Si-Fan hypnotized into following her blindly.  She wants Shang-Chi to be her ally in her fight with their father, but he refuses since she is also evil.  She calls for some of her fighters, and thirteen men, led by Shadow-Stalker, approach.  Shang-Chi prepares to fight them all, but their large leader (who still has two maces hanging from a bar tied to his topknot, which just seems so dangerous) turns his back to him and tells him they will fight together.  Shang-Chi accepts the help, and as they work their way through the Si-Fan, Shang-Chi notices how Fah Lo Suee stares at him without moving.  We see him rush past her to take down the last two fighters, and when he’s done, she’s gone.  He asks Shadow-Stalker why he helped him, and the larger man (who is a bright neon yellow) suggests that if they combined forces, they could take over both factions of the Si-Fan.  Shang-Chi doesn’t like that Shadow-Stalker is after power, and they part ways.  Shang-Chi heads to the dungeon where he kicks open the door to Nayland Smith’s door.  As they make their way out of the fortress, they meet Tarr and Reston, who come in ready to fight.  Shang-Chi reveals that he snatched the rubies off Fah Lo Suee’s ears, and he smashes them.  They turn and leave, and Shang-Chi realizes he doesn’t understand the games played in his old home any better than he does the ones at the arcade.
  • At the start of Giant-Size #4, Shang-Chi is just walking through midtown when he notices a cab careening through traffic.  The driver, Rufus T. Hackstabber, an annoying pastiche of Groucho Marx and the worst of Stan Lee, is being held at gunpoint by two guys in masks (the same two masks that Moench would have crooks use again in some early issues of Moon Knight, I notice).  They have him drive right into a bank, and they jump out of the cab to rob it.  The cops respond, and we learn that there are six other bank robberies happening at the same time.  One of the crooks also takes Hackstabber’s cash box, which is also a jack-in-the-box.  As the two crooks leave the bank, Shang-Chi attacks them.  He knocks them down, but the police who arrive assume he’s the aggressor.  In an effort to save Shang-Chi, Hackstabber comes out of the bank with his cab, getting between Shang-Chi and the cops.  The crooks get into their getaway car, and Hackstabber has Shang-Chi get in his cab and go after them with him.  They stop to keep from hitting an old lady, which gives the crooks time to swerve into an alley that appears to be empty, aside from a large truck.  Hackstabber believes they drove into the container of the truck, and has Shang-Chi kick his way in.  The car is there, but the driver and crooks are gone.  They discover a hole in the bottom of the truck, over an open manhole, and descend into the sewers to look for them.  This whole time, and for the rest of the issue, Hackstabber goes on and on about the money that was stolen from him.  At the same time, somewhere else, we learn that Fu Manchu has been looking for someone named Tiger-Claw.  He sends a troop of Si-Fan to find him, and explains to Ducharme (who only shows up in the Giant-Sizes) that he thinks he’s a traitor.  Shang-Chi and Hackstabber catch sight of the crooks and follow them into a subway tunnel.  They follow them on the subway (they have to run to catch the car).  The police call Sir Denis Nayland Smith for help in catching whoever is coordinating these bank robberies, even though he doesn’t believe that Fu Manchu is involved.  When the men get off the train, Shang-Chi confronts them and after taking them out, learns that they left all the money in the getaway car.  He also learns they are working for Tiger-Claw.  He remembers being a boy when Tiger-Claw approached Fu Manchu and asked to be given a prominent role in the Si-Fan.  To prove his worth, he fought some of Fu Manchu’s men, defeating them with his fighting prowess and his clawed gauntlets that dispense poison.  Fu Manchu took him into the Si-Fan, and it made an impression on Shang-Chi.  He leads the two crooks (what about the driver of the getaway car?) back to the car, where they find Nayland Smith and Black Jack Tarr and some cops.  Shang-Chi speaks up for Hackstabber, who takes off because the crooks told him and Shang-Chi where Tiger-Claw is going to be (he wants his $7.80).  Fu Manchu learns of Tiger-Claw’s activities and sends a force to kill him.  Tarr, Nayland Smith, and Shang-Chi arrive at the party where Tiger-Claw is supposed to be, and they bust it up.  Hackstabber has learned that the people there only have their part of the take, and that the two of them leave to find Tiger-Claw.  One of the people at the party tells Nayland Smith that Tiger-Claw is going to be at Rockefeller Center.  Hackstabber approaches the bag man carrying Tiger-Claw’s money, and Shang-Chi knocks him out.  Before they can take the money, Tiger-Claw shows up, and Shang-Chi asks him what his motives are.  He reveals that he hasn’t joined Fah Lo Suee, but is simply trying to take advantage of the downfall of the Si-Fan.  That’s when Fu Manchu’s people show up, and because Shang-Chi doesn’t want to see Tiger-Claw killed, they work together to fight.  Shang-Chi stops Tiger-Claw from killing the last of the men.  He and Tiger-Claw start to fight, and as they do, Hackstabber attempts to recover his $7.80.  Tarr and Nayland Smith arrive and stop him, and they all watch as the two men fight.  Shang-Chi uses an improvised bo to pull off Tiger-Claw’s gloves, and when the two men go at each other without weapons, the larger man is not up to the task.  Nayland Smith tells Hackstabber he can’t just take his money back, but then Shang-Chi talks to the older man.  He leaves with Hackstabber, who gives him a ride home (which happens to be Nayland Smith’s house), and when he gets out of the cab, he pays him $7.80.
  • Issue twenty-nine announces a new direction for Shang-Chi, and is the first issue that Gulacy both pencils and inks himself.  Shang-Chi arrives at Nayland Smith’s home, where he meets with him, Dr. Petrie, Tarr, and Reston.  Nayland Smith wants Shang-Chi to start helping them with their other cases that don’t involve Fu Manchu.  They tell him that they’re going after Carlton Velcro, a heroin importer from France.  The plan is for Reston to infiltrate the man’s fortress in France, posing as a buyer, and then destroy his entire stock, with Tarr and Shang-Chi on hand to help bail him out.  Shang-Chi is surprised that the police don’t do more, and they make it clear that they are bringing him into a world that’s darker than the one he’s used to.  Smith takes him to a rehab centre, where he sees men doubled over in pain as they try to kick their habits, and he agrees.  They fly to the Gulf of Lions (wouldn’t that be Lyons?), and on the way, Smith teaches Shang-Chi how the heroin trade works.  They fly over the man’s private grotto as a way of scouting it out.  Below, Reston (posing as Mr. Blue, two decades before Reservoir Dogs!) is shown Velcro’s exotic jungle cats who work as guards before going to meet the man in a room full of underdressed women.  Velcro accepts the attaché of French francs, and then introduces his employee Razor-Fist, a man whose arms have been replaced at the elbows with long blades.  To show what happens to people who betray them, Velcro has Razor-Fist chop up a statue.  Reston is sent to the room he’s to stay in for the night, before leaving with his heroin in the morning.  Tarr and Shang-Chi prepare to dive from Smith’s plane.  Reston releases gas in his room so the guards at this door will be distracted, and then he knocks them out.  Velcro knows that Reston betrayed him, and sends his guards to deal with him.  At the same time, Tarr and Shang-Chi parachute down.  Reston sneaks through another room full of women and gets outside on a ledge.  Velcro’s people see the parachutes.  The two men dive while Reston makes his way to the heroin storeroom from outside the building.  Tarr and Shang-Chi dive through a tunnel, the guards release the cats, and Reston discovers more heroin than he expected.  When Tarr and Shang-Chi surface in the grotto, guards start to shoot at them.  Tarr’s oxygen tank doubles as a concussion bomb.  Reston starts using a fire extinguisher to destroy the heroin.  Shang-Chi goes ahead of Tarr, who has to use a gas bomb ahead of schedule to stop some more guards.  Shang-Chi crosses a stone causeway (the jungle cats are beneath it) and has to fight two of Velcro’s guards, which he does easily, dropping them to the cats.  Tarr scales the building while Reston is caught by Velcro, who demands he reveal his employer’s name.  Shang-Chi busts in a door and finds Razor-Fist waiting to fight him.
  • Shang-Chi manages to get through the door that Razor-Fist is blocking, and their fight is pretty brutal (and beautiful).  Shang-Chi gets burned by a candle as he uses the candelabra to protect him from Razor-Fist’s blades.  He manages to get the villain to stick one blade in the wall, but he needs both hands to keep the other one from cutting into his chest.  He manages to break that blade and kick Razor-Fist in the face.  Velcro has Reston at gunpoint while Tarr watches from outside the room.  He busts in and creates enough of a distraction with a smoke bomb so he and Reston can escape the heroin room.  They’re attempt to make it down the hall is quickly stopped as they are surrounded and taken prisoner by Velcro.  Shang-Chi, knowing that Razor-Fist is coming after him, stands with his back to a statue.  When Razor-Fist tries to punch him with his intact blade, Shang-Chi ducks and Razor-Fist gets stuck again.  He kicks him in the back of the head, knocking him out.  Shang-Chi picks up an ear that has fallen off the statue.  On the floatplane, Petrie tries to get Nayland Smith to abandon his friends and stick to procedure.  Smith disagrees, and instead orders up a motorboat and explosives.  Velcro has Tarr and Reston brought to him in a room with an open floor that leads into the catacombs that the same panthers that are outside can access.  He’s about to have them pushed in when Shang-Chi enters the room.  He claims that if he’s shot, he’ll drop the item he’s holding hidden in his hand, and Velcro decides not to risk things, and lets them go.  He uses a control panel to open up the floor where the three men are running, and they find themselves in the panther pit.  Shang-Chi reveals that he was just holding on to the ear of a statue and was bluffing.  He points out a door (used for feeding the panthers) and they make their way through it to relative safety.  They aren’t sure where they are though, and then the floor collapses on them again, and they fall through a metal tube.  When they come out at the bottom of it, they find that Velcro’s heroin business is being used to create an army, complete with nuclear missiles, in a giant underground base.
  • Shang-Chi, Tarr, and Reston take in the underground base, and Shang-Chi moves while the others talk, dropping down on one of the armed guards and alerting the others to his presence.  The others get involved, and they manage to take everyone out before more guards can come.  They rush to a tank.  Above, in the main building, Velcro speaks to a woman named Pavane, who is dressed in skimpy leathers and has a panther on a leash; we learn she is Velcro’s last line of defense.  The men bring their stolen tank up into the main building through an elevator.  Shang-Chi slips out, looking for someone in particular.  He finds himself in a carefully constructed area full of birds and plants, and this is where he finds Pavane.  She attacks him with a whip.  He tries to walk away from her, so she’ll whip him again; when she does, he grabs it and knocks her out, while admitting he doesn’t expect women to be able to fight.  Razor-Fist, whom Shang-Chi was looking for, approaches him from one side, but Velcro and his men show up on the other and open fire.  Shang-Chi dodges their bullets, but Razor-Fist is shot and dies complaining about how loyal he’s been.  Tarr drives the tank into the room, and while he and Reston shoot the guards, Velcro makes his escape.  Outside the grotto, the authorities drop off the motor-launch Nayland Smith requested, loaded with explosives.  Shang-Chi takes Pavane outside and then rushes to get in the tank before more guards fire at him with their flamethrowers.  They drive the tank into the grotto and are pursued by guys on big jet-ski things.  The men abandon the sinking tank and swim through the tunnel back to the Gulf.  They arrive at Nayland Smith’s seaplane as Velcro runs towards a small nuclear sub.  The men update one another, and Shang-Chi slips off, again, to pilot the launch.  The guards shoot at him as he arms the explosives.  He aims at the shore, launching the boat into the air so it falls into an opening in the fortress and explodes (we see Velcro closing his sub in time).  Shang-Chi emerges from the water and climbs a ladder into the seaplane (which now has helicopter rotors?).  Shang-Chi struggles with the amount of violence he just participated in, but thinks about the heroin addicts he saw (I guess no one is thinking of the fact that they basically just detonated a dirty bomb at the edge of the ocean).
  • Shang-Chi and Nayland’s Smith’s crew are still in Marseilles.  As Shang-Chi contemplates a fountain in a park, Tarr and Reston talk about how he’s confusing to them.  Nayland Smith and Petrie join them, and Smith explains that he, Tarr, and Shang-Chi will be taking a luxury liner back to England while the other two fly ahead of them.  There is apparently a British agent delivering some important papers via this cruise ship, and the home office wants Smith to protect them from expected foreign interference.  They arrive as the boat is preparing to depart.  Shang-Chi helps a blind woman up the gangplank, and while he talks to her, Smith and Tarr have a cold discussion with the ship’s captain, who clearly doesn’t want them on board.  They start to notice people who look ‘foreign’ or otherwise shifty to them.  As they approach their cabins, Smith explains that he doesn’t know who the British agent is, and that they’re generally going to have to keep an eye on everyone without really understanding their mission.  At dinner, Shang-Chi invites the blind woman, Therese Beswick, to join them, but a shout interrupts their conversation.  Shang-Chi rushes on deck to find a number of men beating on one of the ‘foreign’ looking men (which means European).  He stops them and saves the man.  The Captain is angry that this happened, and they return to their dinner to find the dining room trashed and Therese missing.  Smith leaves to get the Captain to search the ship, but by morning, with a storm coming in, they still haven’t found her.  Nayland Smith is suspicious of the Captain, and Shang-Chi slips away to investigate on his own.  He is attacked by some men, and Tarr jumps in to help him.  They find that the Captain has been killed.  Talking to the ‘crewmen’ that Shang-Chi captured, Nayland Smith learns that the ship’s real crew are being held captive on shore.  A group of masked men bust into the room of the European guy, but Shang-Chi turns up to help.  He takes out most of them, and ends up fighting the last, a woman, outside.  He discovers that she’s Therese, and she falls overboard.  Shang-Chi tosses her a life preserver and pulls her back. We learn that the European guy is a British agent, but he doesn’t know anything about the papers he’s supposed to be transporting.  Nayland Smith reveals that he’s had the papers the whole time, but he hid them in the life preserver that Shang-Chi used.  The papers are soaked and illegible, but Smith further explains that they didn’t contain any real information; he was sent to try to flush out enemy agents.  Therese tries to smooth things over with Shang-Chi, but he walks away.
  • Shang-Chi, Nayland Smith, and Tarr have arrived in London.  Reston comes to meet them at the train station, but he’s attacked by a robot that shoots bullets from its eyes.  Shang-Chi disables the device, and the men speculate that an agent known only as Mordillo has returned.  They explain to Shang-Chi that he used elaborate devices, and that no one knows what he looks like.  Smith has Reston take Shang-Chi to the new apartment he’s arranged for him in London, which is very swanky.  They discover that a woman is soaking in Shang-Chi’s bathtub.  Reston introduces her as Leiko Wu, another of Smith’s agents.  It’s soon clear that Reston and her were in a relationship once, and that there is some tension between them.  The phone rings and they all head to Scotland Yard.  Smith has a long and very confusing presentation for his assembled agents (of whom there are two dozen or so).  To summarize, the high caliber bullets shot at Reston had the message ‘My fair lady’ engraved in them.  This ties to earlier murders connected to Mordillo, that referenced the Three Blind Mice.  In a more current case, involving a weapon being developed to remove the ozone layer over specific targets, an agent named Putnam was killed after telling the office he had news for them.  The bullet that killed him was engraved with a number of letters.  Another agent, Bretnor, was sent to meet with Putnam, but he disappeared (this is news to Leiko, who then disappears).  A cryptographer tells Smith that the letters represent music notes that make up the song ‘London Bridge’.  Since Putnam was killed on the Tower Bridge, Smith assumes that there’s a clue somewhere on the bridge.  Reston ties ‘My fair lady’ in with the London Bridge song.  When he realizes that Leiko is gone, he goes after her.  Tarr and Shang-Chi head to the Tower Bridge (because London Bridge is gone), and find a work truck on the bridge.  When they go to investigate, a bunch of men attack them.  Shang-Chi finds a bomb on the side of the bridge and tosses it into the Thames.  Smith arrives, and his men scour the bridge.  Reston turns up, having found a note in Leiko’s flat, from Retnor, telling her where to meet him.  Things get even more convoluted as Smith reveals that in an effort to keep the secret of the ozone-destroying weapon, they destroyed their files and had them stored in Leiko’s memory through hypnosis; they can only be accessed with a codeword that only Putnam knew.  A note is found on the bridge near where Putnam’s body was found – it says that Bretnor is Mordillo, and gives the coordinates of an island in the East China Sea.  We see that Mordillo/Bretnor has Leiko tied up in a flying craft, and that he’s taking her to an oddly shaped island (it looks like a crown).
  • Reston and Shang-Chi pilot an experimental sci-fi jet to Mordillo’s island, and Reston makes it clear that his feelings for Leiko won’t get in the way of her rescue.  They fly over Mordillo’s strange island, which has a castle on a mountaintop, a geodesic dome, a pyramid, and a large house shaped like a boot.  They realize that landing their jet on the small island will be tricky, and make preparations.  Mordillo, a half-dozen of his men, and Leiko have arrived on the island.  Leiko gets free and starts to fight him.  He tells his men to stay back.  Their fight is evenly matched, but then Brynocki, a cartoonish robot Mordillo made ropes her (he’s in cowboy gear), and they move towards the castle.  Reston and Shang-Chi manage a controlled crash into some trees, and get ready to start searching for Leiko.  A cartoonish talking train gives them an invitation from Mordillo and takes them across the island.  Back in England, Black Jack Tarr talks to Nayland Smith and Petrie about how he wishes he was on the mission.  Mordillo reviews video footage of Shang-Chi from Velcro’s island; apparently he was planning on taking over Velcro’s operations.  He goes to talk to Leiko, who is tied up in a formal dining room.  He asks about the information he needs to make his solar chute weapon work, but she insists she doesn’t know anything about it.  He shows his weapon to her – it’s a platform that will transport men into the stratosphere so they can spray freon gasses into the ozone layer.  Next, a focused mirror will send sunlight into the city below.  Leiko insists she doesn’t know anything.  The train takes Shang-Chi and Reston past the big boot, and tow soldier robot things attack them.  They stop them and get back on the train.  It starts to climb the mountain towards the castle, but when a drawbridge is lifted, the track just ends.  The two men manage to jump onto the drawbridge and get inside the castle, where they find a miniature village, and a jack-in-the-box of Fu Manchu.  A mime leads them through the village, and they are almost crushed by a falling concrete statue of Humpty Dumpty.  They enter a movie theatre and Brynocki has them sit in the front row.  A bar holds them down and they see on the stage that Leiko is trapped in an hour glass.  Mordillo reveals himself, insisting that he will kill her if she doesn’t reveal the secrets of the solar weapon.  Reston explains that she doesn’t know them without a codeword.  Mordillo puts on a metal glove that shoots flames.
  • Mordillo sets the theatre chair next to the one Shang-Chi’s trapped in on fire and then shoots a dart at Reston that he manages to dodge.  Suddenly one of Mordillo’s robots fires on him, causing him to run away.  Shang-Chi gets free of the chair he’s strapped into, Mordillo shoots the robot, and then runs away.  We learn that Black Jack Tarr has somehow gotten to the island and is wearing the empty robot like a suit.  Shang-Chi frees Leiko from the hourglass just as the sand keeps her from breathing.  Mordillo flees into his castle, yelling for Brynocki. Reston is acting weird about Shang-Chi supporting Leiko as she recovers, and goes after Mordillo.  Mordillo has his little cartoon robot prepare his underground train while he heads up into the castle’s tower looking for a woman.  Reston returns, and is even more ridiculous.  Leiko lets them know that Mordillo’s model of the solar chute is probably working even without the memories in her head, and she suggests they destroy it.  Mordillo goes to get Pavane, who has been in the castle all along, and who is jealous that Mordillo spent time with Leiko while she was pretending to love Velcro (this is getting complicated).  He asks her to go kill the intruders while gets his solar chute working.  As he takes the underground train to the geodesic dome, he orders his men to back up Pavane.  Our heroes stand around while Mordillo opens the dome and gets ready to launch.  Shang-Chi insists on being the only one to go confront him, telling the others to get to Tarr’s boat off the island.  Shang-Chi gets on the chute as it starts to launch, and manages to hold one while Mordillo rocks it in the hopes of knocking him off.  Mordillo starts to release freon into the atmosphere to melt the ozone layer so he can hit his island with lethal solar radiation.  The others walk through a tunnel to the outer rim of the island, but find Pavane and Mordillo’s men waiting for them.  She tells Leiko she wants to destroy her face, and they fight as Shang-Chi and Mordillo fight on the chute.  Reston notices that the chute is starting to fire radiation towards the island, and gets everyone back into the tunnel, including the villains.  Mordillo, fearing that he’s not going to get the million dollars he needs to build more toys, starts to despair and jumps off the chute, into the beam of radiation.  As he falls to the island, Brynocki runs to him.  Shang-Chi uses his fists to smash the vessel, and manages to get to Tarr’s boat where he meets up with the others.  Leiko embraces him, and we see that Reston is unhappy about that.  Brynocki cradles the clean skeleton of his maker.
  • Issue thirty-six has Keith Pollard art, and it’s an odd one.  Shang-Chi is walking down a Manhattan street with an old man named Moon Sun, who is taking him somewhere.  He says he doesn’t want to explain anything until they are safe from the ‘Warlords of the Web’.  Suddenly a dagger flies into Moon Sun’s back and he falls over, dead.  A half-dozen ninjas appear in the street, and they start fighting.  We get a few impressive pages of our hero holding his own as the ninjas come at him in pairs or individually.  Suddenly, they all disappear, as does any damage their fight caused, and Shang-Chi thinks about how he came to be here. He was with Nayland Smith, Tarr, and Reston when he learned that a letter was sent to him asking for his help.  Shang-Chi is surprised to see Moon Sun get up off the ground and explain that he was only dead for a moment.  He takes Shang-Chi into his basement, talking about how he’ll introduce him to more mysteries.  In the room are various cubes draped with canvas; Moon Sun tells him to introduce himself to the canvases while he goes to retrieve his treasure.  We then get many pages of Shang-Chi removing the canvases and having confusing small talk with a variety of creatures.  There is Pan Sing, a satyr who doesn’t want to leave his cage.  Cinnabar, a werewolf talks about preserving his mystery.  George is an angel and a hawk, Sheena is a mermaid, and Rynor is a centaur.  The next cage holds either two snakes, or a two headed snake; either way, they have two names, Sybilis and Snake, and they argue.  All of these creatures agree that Shang-Chi should do what Moon Sun asks of him.  The old man returns with his treasure, his daughter Tiko, and they explain that they want Shang-Chi to come with them on a train to protect their traveling circus from someone named Dark-Strider and his ‘warlords of the web’.  Shang-Chi agrees, and Tiko embraces him.  The next day, he meets her at Penn Station and she takes him to the baggage car that holds all of the cages (and tank).  As the train pulls away, the ninjas drop onto its roof.
  • The ninjas attack, and Shang-Chi moves to the roof of the train to fight them.  He’s successful in stopping one’s attack, and the others start to run, but slowly, towards the front of the train.  He follows, but they disappear over the front.  Some of the creatures tell Moon Sun they want to go help Shang-Chi fight, and when he says no, he foreshadows some stuff that never actually is made clear.  After Shang-Chi returns, he asks why these ninjas keep attacking.  He gets different versions of the same story from each of the caged beings; all stories have the creatures performing for someone, and that person vowing that they should all die.  When Shang-Chi asks Tiko to explain, Moon Sun stops her from speaking.  Once the circus reaches its destination, in the middle of nowhere in a desert, they work together to put up the big top and prepare for a crowd.  Rynor asks Tiko to ride on him, and she gets angry, making Shang-Chi change his opinion of her.  Later, when he’s sent to collect her from her wagon, Shang-Chi discovers that she is in fact hideously deformed and wears a mask.  When it’s time for the circus to begin, there is only one man in the audience, and Moon Sun has gone missing.  When Shang-Chi returns to the tent after looking for him, he discovers that Darkstrider, a guy with six arms, has all of the creatures webbed up.  He and Shang-Chi have an annoying conversation about mystery and fate, and then fight.  Their fight conversation is more annoying, and I glazed over for a bit, but basically, Shang-Chi asserts his believe in life while pummelling Darkstrider, who believes that all of the creatures want him to kill them.  They turn into the ninjas, the Warlords of the Web, and Shang-Chi realizes they were the ninjas all along.  They leave, as does Darkstrider, and Shang-Chi finds himself alone in the desert without any trace of anyone else ever having been there.  I did not like this story.
  • The last comic in this omnibus is a five-page story from Iron Man Annual #4, which has the villain Midnight trying to recruit another villain, a man named Half-Face, to Fu Manchu’s cause.  Half-Face, who was disfigured and wears a metal collar thing, does not want a master, and Midnight sympathizes a little, given his own history.  The story was kind of pointless.
  • The omnibus ends with some cool house ads and other ephemera.

I’m really glad that I decided to finally break down and get this book (and the next two).  There are a lot of problematic things in this comic, but it’s also more than glorious in many ways.  The original concept, as conceived by Steve Englehart, is interesting and would have felt pretty original when it came out, but Doug Moench brought a lot to this book.

I think it’s cool that Marvel was using the pulp world that Sax Rohmer conceived of, but chose to build on the foundation in a later era, depicting characters like Dr. Petrie (does he have a first name?), Sir Denis Nayland Smith, and Black Jack Tarr as older, and introducing Clive Reston as a sort of legacy character.  I’ve never read any of Rohmer’s Fu Manchu novels, and don’t feel the desire to, so can’t speak to how correct these portrayals are or how much Moench shaped them to fit his needs.

As unique as this book was at its beginning, it quickly became kind of formulaic.  At first, Shang-Chi was facing the threat of his father on his own issue after issue.  After he started partnering with Nayland Smith and his crew, we quickly fell into the same kinds of routines, where each month, there would be a new threat from Fu Manchu, and Shang-Chi and his friends put it down.  It started to remind me of cartoons from the 80s, where each episode had a remarkably similar problem with the same antagonist, and nothing ever progressed.

I think that’s why Moench brought in Shang-Chi’s sister, Fah Lo Suee, as another antagonist towards both him and Fu Manchu, but I found it curious that just as she took over half of the Si-Fan, Shang-Chi’s family got written out for the remainder of this omnibus.  At that point, with Shang-Chi going to work for Nayland Smith in a more official capacity, this book started to borrow heavily from James Bond’s playbook, with new ostentatious villains with strange plans and ridiculous bases.  These stories work, in their goofy, sexy way, but only as relics of their time.  One villain is named Velcro.  Is that because the word had futuristic associations in the late 70s?  Another villain created an island of story-time themed threats, and has created a robot cartoon friend named Brynocki.  

As wonderful as the art is in this phase, it makes sense to also question some of these decisions.  

This is a good place to talk about how the art in this book evolves.  When Jim Starlin created the character, you could see that he was very conscious of portraying the fight scenes in believable, yet thrilling, ways.  The various fill-in artists over the first years were mostly great.  It’s nice to see work from the Buscemas and Ron Wilson in any setting.  But then there’s Paul Gulacy, whose aesthetic visibly improves from one issue to the next.  

Gulacy’s first issues are a little stiff, but you can see the potential.  As he comes into his own, his work becomes so much more smooth and sexy.  He gives Shang-Chi his own look, clearly modeled on Bruce Lee, and you can tell that Moench started writing to his strengths.  Velcro’s grotto base, with its modernist lines, weird art, and women in leather walking panthers, could only be drawn by Paul Gulacy (or maybe Jim Steranko).  You can see how Moench and Gulacy excited and inspired one another, and how they were on the road to becoming one of those legendary writer/artist combos.  

The frequent use of fill-in artists was annoying, but in the modern era, that kind of thing wouldn’t even bat an eye.

There are things to be critical of with this book, of course.  I feel like Shang-Chi is not all that developed as a character.  Sure, he wants to stop his father, partly because of how evil he is, but also partly because Shang-Chi feels betrayed by him.  We get the notion that Shang-Chi wants to be a pacifist, but struggles with it, more from the narration than his actions or own words.  There’s a long stretch where it seems like all he did was walk around New York waiting to be attacked by the Si-Fan.  Once his relationship with Nayland Smith and his crew is established, we start to see more of Shang-Chi, but he’s always going to be the type of guy who sneaks off on his own to solve a problem rather than talk it out.

You could see that Moench was working hard to instill some nobility of spirit in him, and his leaning on Eastern philosophy is awkward at times.  These comics were written before the internet, so I’m not sure what kind of research Englehart and Moench would have done to contextualize the character.  I don’t think they did it well, but we can’t take away how important it must have been for there to be a prominent Asian character holding down his own book in the 70s.

Of course, that means that Shang-Chi was subjected to a constant stream of racial slurs and epithets that make reading this book uncomfortable today.  Tarr never seemed to refer to our hero by name, preferring to call him “Chinaman” in every issue he turns up in.  More objectionable phrases are used as well, almost constantly, but I don’t want to include them here.  Use your imagination.  

And then there’s the colouring.  This comes up time and again in the letters pages reproduced in this book (that’s something I really like about the way Marvel prints their omnibus line), because the colouring is terrible.  Shang-Chi is always shown in an orange hue, while Fu Manchu is shown as a very pale yellow.  One of the Si-Fan is basically yellow at one point.  Marvel’s continuous explanation is that the colour choices of comics at that time were very limited, which I understand, but it still jumps out as being pretty inappropriate.  By the time Gulacy has come along, the editor explains that new Asian characters were being given the same colour as used on Caucasian characters, and we can see that with Leiko Wu, but it doesn’t exactly feel like progress.

This is also a good place to talk about women in this comic.  There aren’t very many, and it stands out that Shang-Chi has some backwards (even for the 70s) views on women at first.  I find it interesting that in both this title and in Iron Fist (which I recently wrote about), there’s this assumption shared by the main characters that women shouldn’t be trained in martial arts.  Aside from Fah Lo Suee, though, any women in this book exist solely in relation to the men in their life (I guess you could argue that about Fah too, in a father/daughter way).  When Shang-Chi finally meets a possible love interest, she betrays him.  When Leiko is nice to him, it makes Reston furious.  These women don’t get to be themselves at all.

Another thing that surprised me about these comics is how disconnected they are from the rest of the Marvel universe.  Sure, we got that bizarre appearance by Man-Thing in an early issue, and Shang-Chi got to share a billing in an issue of Giant-Size Spider-Man, but there are so many other characters who would have been a natural fit to guest star in this book that we never see.  Daredevil would fit in here (although maybe not pre-Miller DD), as would Nick Fury and SHIELD.  It’s odd, especially given the popularity of this title (it had a quarterly second title for about a year), that Marvel wouldn’t build more bridges to their other more prominent characters.  I’m not sure if that changes in future volumes of this series.  (I just randomly remembered that my introduction to Shang-Chi came from his guest appearance in ROM, a book that he really had no business being a part of).

So, while this volume got a little formulaic in parts, and bizarre in others, it was pretty enjoyable.  I’m looking forward to reading the next volume, which has art by both Gulacy and Mike Zeck; I’m not sure which artist I’m more excited about.  I guess we’ll find out next time.

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