by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer (Writers), Stefano Caselli (Artist), Frank Martin, Antonio Fabela, Edgar Delgado (Colorists)
The Story: It’s Shang-Chi versus Gorgon atop a flying dragon. How much more kung-fu can you get?
The Review: I love martial arts. To be a bit more precise, I love martial arts as depicted in fiction, with their choreography, their effects, the slow-motions and all the hyperbole related to the genre. It might be unrealistic, it might even be a bit of an insult to true masters of physical prowess and perfection, but there’s no denying the fact that as far as visuals go, it can be very entertaining.
Few comics these days actually try to represent the genre at its very core. Even some titles published years before like The Immortal Iron Fist did not solely focus on this particular element, yet shone when they did present it at its best. However, this issue seems like a homage to older Bruce Lee movies, yet one that possess a definite super heroic vibe that makes things even bigger. However, does all this kung-fu action manage to make this issue enjoyable or does it end up only as a mess?
For what it tries to bring to readers, this issue is definitely one of the more enjoyable in the short tenure of this series. Focusing solely on Shang-Chi and his battle against Gorgon, the leader of the Hand and its many deadly ninjas, this issue brings a boatload of action in the best of ways. There is an inherent exaggeration of some regular tropes, yet played in a very serious light that makes this definitely entertaining as far as depiction of violence is done.
Still, even with all that action, there is a good bit of characterization going on, with Shang-Chi being the star here along with Gorgon. Despite the introduction page saying Wolverine, Black Widow and Falcon are part of this issue as well, it is an outright lie, which isn’t exactly a bad thing with the heavy focus on martial prowess. The manner in which Shang-Chi envision things, with a certain touch of wisdom and a certain sense of nobility that makes him very likable in his endeavour. Some of his lines are definitely cheesy, with some very classical observations that seems to belong in westerner’s observation of eastern culture, but it is somehow part of the fun. The manner in which he add his thoughts to his actions makes them resonate a bit more, with the actions and dialogue meshing together very organically.
The pacing of the action is also well done, with plenty of twists, explanations, comebacks and punches being thrown without any decompression slowing things down. Things are never stale, with the story always moving forward with newer actions, consequences and further insight to make the fight always seem enticing from start to finish.
However, a lower point of this issue is the fact that the overall plot does not really advance. Those invested in the affairs of A.I.M., the team in the ghost town, the S.H.I.E.L.D. oversight and the other characters might be disappointed with this particular book, with none of these threads being used or shown in any way. This is the Shang-Chi show, whether you want it or not.
Still, it’s hard to say no to a fast-paced issue with plenty of action when it’s drawn just right, with Stefano Caselli being utterly solid here. The fluid transition from panel to panel, the constant switch from closer and wider perspective and the hyperbole in terms of movements and effects makes for some very impressive conflicts between Gorgon and Shang-Chi. Playing along with the cheesy set-up with some very traditional poses and movements, Caselli only adds to the kung-fu tone of this issue, making the issue look very lively in many ways. His characters are perhaps a bit too expressive, however, with some of the emotions and some of the impacts being a bit too much at times. Some of the faces are a bit too stereotypical, which does show some of the worst aspects of this concept in a way, but it does not hurt the best aspects.
What Caselli really does well, though, is deal with the scenery and backgrounds in ways that serve the story instead of being merely filler. The burning temple, the Japanese architecture, the huge dragon in the first page and the attention to detail in some of the finer angles is really great. It’s not always prevalent, though, with the artist pushing a certain focus on the impact by removing this superb attention to important elements. It makes this strength somewhat reduced, but it is still rather good all in all.
Another aspect of this issue that is rather impressive is the colorization, with Edgar Delgado, Antonio Fabela and Frank Martin participating to this issue. The trio of colorists, each very talented in their own way, bring a certain sensibility that is generally homogenous in their approach, yet not so much that it becomes an asinine collaboration. The parts with Gorgon and Shang-Chi, for the most part, heavily rely on cold and warm, with a good touch of bright and dark for good measure. The brightness of fire, the bleakness of the obscurity and the manner in which impacts are colored makes for some rather efficient focalizing elements for readers. Even the characters have a color design that work very well against each other, with Shang-Chi being primarily warm while Gorgon is more neutral.
There are other pages, of which there are three with some other small amount of panels that deals with a much more extreme attention to warm and cold in order to instill contrasts. With a duller and more monochromatic aspect to these pages, the red pops out of the pages, making it so the readers can easily identify the more important elements straight away. Without destroying the simplicity of some of the layouts and the effectiveness, those pages are quite different from the rest, yet not so much that it destroys the visual themes and the fluidity of the story being told. It’s well done and it is quite commendable.
The Conclusion: Those looking for plot progression may be sorely disappointed, but fans of well-drawn, well paced and well-colorized martial art action shall be quite pleased with this attention to Shang-Chi and his kung-fu prowess. Very entertaining in terms of action, it makes for a very worthwhile read.
-Hugo Robberts Larivière