Marvel Comics Presents #1-8 (Shang-Chi)
Issue(s): Marvel Comics Presents #1, Marvel Comics Presents #2, Marvel Comics Presents #3, Marvel Comics Presents #4, Marvel Comics Presents #5, Marvel Comics Presents #6, Marvel Comics Presents #7, Marvel Comics Presents #8 (Shang-Chi story only)
A word on the coloring: Shang-Chi is still colored an inhuman gold. As the original Master of Kung Fu series went on and complaints started coming in from readers, Marvel stopped coloring most of the Asian characters in unusual tones, but continued to color Fu Manchu a pale yellow and Shang-Chi golden because they were already recognizable to readers that way. With Fu Manchu you can assume he's a weird color because of his Elixer of Life or other sorcerous experiments, but i'm not sure what we're supposed to think of Shang-Chi. Obviously by 1988 the coloring situation hadn't been re-evaluated.
Anyway, this story starts with Shang-Chi resurfacing in Hong Kong and going to a flophouse to trigger an ambush by assassins dressed as fishermen.
Shang-Chi assumes the men are seeking a bounty that is still on Shang-Chi's head even though his father is still dead. But after defeating the attackers, another man leads him to an "Oriental Expediters Ltd" building, where he meets Leiko Wu...
...and Clive Reston and Black Jack Tarr. The other man is Xiao, and he's a new member of their group.
Shang-Chi's coloring isn't changing, and he's still wearing those slippers, but he's going with a different costume.
Tarr is now the leader of the group, with Sir Denis Nayland Smith having retired since the death of Fu-Manchu. They're still operating independently of MI-6. Shang-Chi observes that Xiao and Leiko are a couple. And another change: Clive Reston has taken up smoking. But the reason they've contacted Shang-Chi is they need help with their latest business, which involves terrorism.
Shang-Chi rejects their request for his help, with a "passion" that surprises him, and probably also Moench when he came to script this.
But that changes when assassins show up and kill Xiao and kidnap Leiko.
Tarr tries to guilt Shang-Chi into helping them now, saying that it's sort of his fault that the attack happened, since his arrival forced their hand. Shang-Chi doesn't buy it. He intends to rescue Leiko (without Tarr or Reston), but not get involved in Tarr's group's quest to destroy the "Terror Alliance". He's also not sure the terrorists were behind the attack; it could have been more of the men that were seeking his own death earlier. Tarr says that it's possible that the Si-Fan assassins have joined the Terror Alliance. Tarr also says that his group got involved when Xiao came to them because his wife and family were killed by a terrorist group called the Red Wolves, and they've found that the Red Wolves were a central part of a larger terrorist network.
Issue #3 of this is mostly just a talky, providing the above exposition for the plot, but there is a bit of drama at the end when the group receives a package for Shang-Chi that contains some dead fish and Leiko's hand, including a ring given to her by Xiao.
In addition to the smoking, we find that Reston is quicker to lose his composure these days. He's downright terrified when Shang-Chi and Tarr return from talking because of the delivery of the package.
The fish are part of the theme of the story (you can see the titles of the various parts). Shang-Chi had been spending time as a fisherman since the end of his last series.
Black Jack Tarr tells Shang-Chi that the guy behind the terrorist network is named Argus.
Shang-Chi continues to maintain that he's going to rescue Leiko without Tarr or Reston, but he reveals that he doesn't intend to do it alone. He's bringing in Shen Kuei, aka the Cat.
And any doubt that it's really Leiko's hand is removed when we see her trying to escape but getting beaten down by the also one-handed Argus.
Tarr and Reston's plan is for Shang-Chi and the Cat to disguise themselves as Yakuza and infiltrate an arms deal that Argus is planning, and then infiltrate the terror network disguised as Red Wolves. The Cat says that the first part of the plan has merit, but they'll just improvise after that.
One interesting thing is that the word "Chinaman" is actually considered an offensive term, and it's one that Shang-Chi and Black Jack Tarr fought about in the early issues and Shang-Chi eventually just learned to tolerate it coming from him. But in this series, Tarr is flummoxed to see the Cat refer to Shang-Chi as a "Britisher".
Despite the fact that the terrorists are on their tail enough to blow up the junk float they were just on, they continue with their plan. After taking out the Yakuza and taking the money intended for the weapon exchange, Shang-Chi gets into a fight with a wild-haired guy at the hand-off.
The guy is just a rogue operative, trying to get some extra money for himself. He also sold off the weapons that were supposed to be part of the trade and used the money to buy drugs. This slows Shang-Chi and the Cat down, since they now have to get more money to buy back the weapons so that they can continue the trade.
The Cat kills the guy, something Shang-Chi isn't happy about.
They make their money back by selling the drugs to the Yakuza (and getting into another fight with them)(Shang-Chi later arranges for the heroin to be destroyed). The duo do eventually make their way to the actual terrorists, constantly impersonating various roles of buyer and seller along the way in a set-up probably a little too confusing for the format of these stories (and weirdly, the guys never have to change out of their "costumes" while impersonating the various dealers).
Argus's ultimate plan is to attack a NATO conference in Rome with a poison developed by a German henchman. The formula isn't perfected yet, so it doesn't kill right away, but will after a period of weeks or months. Argus is apparently acting to force the US to act more aggressively against terrorists.
The former MI-6 guys eventually make their way to Italy and launch an assault on Argus' base on the Sardinia island.
Shang-Chi gets hit with the poison.
Shang-Chi is under the impression that Leiko is dead at this point, but she's actually not.
Shen Kuei is thought killed during the assault, but his body isn't found.
Leiko reveals that she wasn't really in love with Xiao, and the ring that she was wearing was really Xiao's wife's. Xiao was actually originally a Red Wolf terrorist himself, and Leiko was hiding that fact from Tarr and Reston while Xiao was trying to reform.
So we're left with Leiko Wu having lost a hand and Shang-Chi scheduled to die after an unknown period of time thanks to the poison. At least Clive Reston gives up smoking at the end.
As with the Steve Gerber Man-Thing story in these early Marvel Comics Presents issues, this is a fine story, exactly what you'd want from a Doug Moench return to Master of Kung Fu (except perhaps with more spectacular art, but i do think Grindberg and Cockrum do ok). But the format again works against it. A lot of the individual segments are all talk or have Shang-Chi and Shen Kuei involved in their arms/drug/money trade shenanigans that have nothing to do with the larger plot, so readers subjected to this in bi-weekly installments would have to be following very carefully - and god help you if you just picked up a few random issues.
Another thing that's a bit disappointing is that Leiko is a victim the entire story.
She's a character that i'd like to see developed better to the point where she might appear outside of the MOKF shadow. Actually, all of the MI-6 characters, especially Clive Reston with his relationship to James Bond and Sherlock Holmes, are interesting characters. But given the limited space here, Moench really just focuses on Shang-Chi and the Cat.
It's also pretty risky or perhaps hopeful to end things here with Shang-Chi slowly dying of poison. As it is, that plotline will be resolved in a 1991 graphic novel, which isn't too far off considering Marvel's sliding timescale. And looking at the format of that trade (it's broken into 10 8-page segments and edited by Terry Kavanagh) i think it's a fair bet that it was originally planned for Marvel Comics Presents. So i guess there was already commitment to follow up on this while this story was being produced. But this could just as easily have been dropped for a long while based on reaction (or lack thereof) to the story here.
Nonetheless, despite various challenges, as i said in the Man-Thing entry, this is the Marvel Comics Presents book doing exactly what it should have been doing, and it works pretty well when reading it in one sitting.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Shang says that this is only the second time in his life that he wants to kill someone. I'm not sure if the first was when he tried to kill Dr. Petrie in Special Marvel Edition 15 or when he spilled the blood on the floor in Master of Kung Fu 118. (He was definitely reluctant in Special Marvel Edition 15.)
Posted by: Michael | July 30, 2014 8:03 PM
A review of this story in Comics Buyer's Guide said something like "Don't worry too much about Leiko's hand; she'll probably come back with a spatula or something".
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 31, 2014 6:59 PM
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