By: Mike Benson (Writer), Tan Eng Huat (Penciller), Craig Yeung (Inker), Jesus Aburtov (Color Artist), VC’s Joe Sabino (Letterer), Dave Johnson (Cover Artist)

The Story:
When someone kills your partner, you gotta do something about it. Even if you’re a pacifist.

The Review:
You won’t have to skip to the end to understand my grade for this issue. It stands for Disappointed.

I am in the habit of never looking at preview pages for a book I’m looking forward to, and I was looking forward to Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu. Unfortunately, this comic makes me second guess that practice, as I could have found out ahead of time the significant flaws of this comic, which show up even within the first four pages. In these pages, Leiko Wu, a skilled martial arts hero with nearly a hundred comic appearances (based on the Marvel Chronology Project) has a four-page fight sequence until she is literally ripped in half by the villain Razorfist. That’s a problem for another paragraph, because I first must address the ineffective artwork on display.

The characters are often out of proportion and inconsistent with their environment, and sometimes even with the other characters they are meaning to interact with. The first three panels on the first page show problems of basic perspective, and the third panel with the dramatic villains suddenly takes place in an entirely different space than the second, with figures that are not to scale nor placed properly. In a martial arts comic, where fighting stances/forms and choreography are key elements, these are significant problems indeed.

And these problems continue throughout the book. Shang-Chi, our title’s hero, does get into a fight in, of all the exotic locations, a nondescript alleyway, but again the fight is quite simple, at best, with maybe one cool move that somehow connects two people several feet away with both of his feet. Okay, I’ll give him two if we count the catching of a knife midair.

I’m not sure if the credit belongs with the writer or the penciller. Huat’s work here feels unpolished, because of the problems I’ve mentioned before as well as some fairly basic choices for panel layouts and expressions, in conjunction with some spotty anatomy. I can justify a lot of this if it’s a deliberate artistic choice of style (and/or a lack of experience) but the worst offense is in simply not being able to capture the title hero in any conceivable likeness. Bluntly, the main character cannot even appear to be Chinese, in facial features or in hair color (which switches to brown halfway through.) The pencils are not helped by the inks, which lend a scratchy quality brings more confusion than clarity, no sense of line weight, or depth of field. Nor is the colors particularly helpful either. Every surface is given texture and multiple shadows, adding to a lot of visual confusion.

Perhaps some of the blame belongs to the writer, who seems to asks for some complicated interaction between the characters that can’t read visually very well. Again, in the first four pages, Leiko dodges a flying sawblade that cuts a monkey statue’s head off, and it lands in her lap. But how would she be in such a position if she were to dodge? She then throws the head into a kitchen supply store window, which implies distance, but can then simply reach behind her and grab a knife? It’s set up to be funny, in that we expect her to throw the head at the enemy, but everything I described here has to take place in seven panels on one page– a challenge for even accomplished artists.

These same kind of “clever” tricks appear later in the story, too, along with some clunky dialogue that does not appear to be written in 2014. (Lin Sun: “I do realize I’m the other Asian in the room and I should be taking Shang’s spiritual approach — but Leiko was MY friend, too. OUR friend.”) Likewise, I refer you to the entire set-up of the comic, an agent who must track down his former partner’s killer because, you know, THIS TIME it’s personal.

Perhaps it’s not meant to be so cliché. Perhaps, as Shang-Chi is ostensibly a pacifist, this set-up will, in theory, be an interesting exploration with his character. Unfortunately, as presented, I can’t really buy into it. Shang-Chi accepts his unspoken mission without melodrama (and that’s pretty much uncharacteristic for Shang-Chi.) Moreover, none of the other characters seem to be worried about him, really, and we just saw him be super-cool secret agent man in the second sequence of the book, so how can he really be internally conflicted about this new self-directed mission of revenge (oh, sorry, “justice”)?

I am the kind of fan who spent years as a young person tracking down a complete run of Master of Kung-Fu at any comic book convention or used book store I managed to get to. I was happily anticipating a resurgence of Shang-Chi fandom with his roles in the Avengers/Secret Avengers. Unfortunately, this comic will not contribute to this in any way.

The Bottom Line:
A clichéd plotline that starts with the killing of a competent minority female hero, features grossly ineffective art, and ends with a shot of our Chinese hero looking more like the Midwestern Jamie Madrox– this is not a great comic. The covers for this miniseries look amazing, though.

The Grade: D-

-Danny Wall

Two Other Tidbits:
— I have never seen London, nor a flight to London, nor Heathrow airport, seem so devoid of people. It must be very easy to get a cab in Marvel London.
— The sign on the Tiger Dojo door reads “Closed for Mourning.” Did they hand-write that one, or is it so common to need one that they have it professionally printed? Perhaps in the Marvel universe, this is just something anyone can pick up at Home Depot, next to the “For Rent” signs.

Grade

Conclusion