‘Call me Shang-Chi, as my father did, when he raised me and molded my mind and my body in the vacuum of his Honan, China, retreat. I learned many things from my father: that my name means “The Rising and Advancing of a Spirit,” that my body could be forged into a living weapon through the discipline of Kung Fu, and that it might be used for the murder of a man called Dr. Petrie.
Since then, I have learned that my father is Dr. Fu Manchu, the most insidiously evil man on earth … and that to honor him would bring nothing but dishonor to the spirit of my name.’
Riding on the wave of the Bruce Lee-inspired Kung Fu craze in the 1970s, Marvel Comics launched the character Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu in 1973. He was created by writer Steve Englehart and artist Jim Starlin and made his first appearance in Special Marvel Edition #15, cover-dated December 1973. He appeared again in issue #16, and with issue #17 (April 1974) the title changed its name to The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. The series was a success and continued for ten years until the final issue #125, dated June 1983.
The series started to take off after writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy began their collaboration on the title from issue #22. Artist Jim Craig replaced Gulacy from issue #51, followed by Mike Zeck on pencils from issue #64 onwards. Both the Moench/Gulacy and the Moench/Zeck runs are still held in high regard today. After providing the inks on the title in 1979, Gene Day became the main artist from issue #102. His work on the title has also received many plaudits and is worth seeking out. Sadly, Day died of a heart attack after completing the art for issue #120; he was only 31 years old. The title’s long original run finished with issue #125.
My first memories of Master of Kung Fu are reading some of the issues from my brother’s collection back in the early 1980s. Before writing this post, I asked him when he started buying it and he told me it was in 1979-a great time to be reading it! After the original run finished, he used to pick up the odd back-issue from the nearest comic shop or occasional comic marts. This is back in early 1980s Manchester; a broken, neglected city with few options for budding comic book fans. But what a treasure he had managed to find!
It was probably just good timing. I was the right age to be reading this monthly dose of action-packed pulp fiction with its increasingly thoughtful writing and stunning artwork. Seriously! It still looks stunning today. I’ve recently picked up Volume 1 of the Epic Collection and Paul Gulacy’s art is so good. I only wish I could get it in black and white without the limited coloring of the day.
Volume 1: Weapon of the Soul collects Special Marvel Edition (1971) #15-16; Master of Kung Fu (1974) 17-28; Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu (1974) 1-4; Giant-Size Spider-Man (1974) 2 and material from Iron Man Annual (1970) #4.
Volume 2: Fight Without Pity collects issues #29-53 and Master of Kung Fu Annual #1.
I am planning to re-read the entire run of Master of Kung Fu and review the issues that really stand out. Of course, returning to something you loved when you were young can often be an eye-opening experience. How well has it aged? Will it still hold up today? This kind of trip down memory lane can often leave you disappointed. So I will walk into this enterprise with my eyes wide open and do my best to leave my older cynicism behind. The strange power and attraction of nostalgia worms its way into my life yet again. Let’s see where the journey will lead.