Tuesday, June 3, 2008

1970's Flashback: The Hands of Shang Chi

In late 1972, Marvel Comics acquired the comic book rights to Sax Rohmer's pulp novel villain Dr. Fu Manchu, while they also held the rights to the Kung Fu television program. Rather than producing an actual adaptation of either source, Marvel combined the two. The result was Shang-Chi (also known as “Master of Kung Fu”), created by writer Steve Englehart and artist Jim Starlin, who was introduced as the (previously unheard of) son of Fu Manchu. Though an original character himself, many of Shang-Chi's supporting characters (most notably Fu Manchu and Sir Denis Nayland Smith) were Rohmer creations.

He has no special superpowers, but he exhibits extraordinary skills in the martial arts and is a master of Wushu (a general name for the various Chinese styles) both empty handed and with weapons, including the staff, nunchaku and double-edged sword.

Shang-Chi first appeared in Special Marvel Edition #15 (December 1973), but with issue #17 (April 1974) the title was changed to The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. Amidst the martial arts craze in the 1970's, the book became very popular, surviving until issue #125 (June 1983), a run including five giant-size issues. The series began by introducing Shang-Chi as a man raised by his father Fu Manchu to be the ultimate lackey for the would-be world conqueror. However, his first mission, in which he killed one of his father's old enemies, Dr. Petrie, ended with Shang-Chi learning of Fu Manchu's true, evil nature. Disillusioned, Shang-Chi swore eternal opposition to his father's ambitions and fought him as an agent of British intelligence, under the orders of Nayland Smith.

An acclaimed run by Doug Moench & Paul Gulacy further propelled the series to sales success after Englehart & Starlin left the book, and artist Mike Zeck also made a name for himself on this title.


Mr. Karswell said...

Ahhh one of my faves... the b/w mag version was "kick" ass too.

kingmonkey said...

I always thought one of the stranger uses of Shang-Chi characters was the introduction of a character called Midnight Sun in Silver Surfer. Apparently, Midnight was a villain in Shang-Chi, that got killed by the protagonist. Later he is resurrected by Kree science (on the Kree throneworld, no less) as a spacefaring ninja to fight the Surfer.

Odd place for one of Shang's nemeses to show up, hey?