Written by Haden Blackman,
Art by Dalibor Talajić, Goran Sudzuka, Miroslav Mrva
Published by Marvel Comics
Release Date: May 20th, 2015


If Secret Wars is going to take advantage of the unique nature of its premise, it only makes sense to create stories from as many genres as possible. One of the most obvious genres to use is one of the most bad ass of them all – the great Kung Fu genre. Marvel has used martial arts, and Far East mythology in their stories for years, but Master of Kung Fu immerses an entire Battleworld domain, and all of their characters in it. The result is a setup heavy, but entertaining first issue from writer Haden Blackman and artist Dalibor Talajić.

In many martial arts stories there is a great mythology that underlines the entire story, and usually a single person must rise up to become champion and save the oppressed people of the kingdom in the process. Whether the story takes place in the United States, China or anywhere in between, you will usually find some variation on that basic format. That is exactly how Blackman frames the story in the first issue. The issue opens in a hurry with three pages that quickly establish the history of the K’un Lun Domain. It talks of the great battles between all of the clans, and how the method for establishing the ruler was formed. It just so happens that the challenge to the emperor is coming up soon. From the name drops of all the clans, the quick history lesson, and the beautiful visual style these pages are the best pages of the entire issue. They give the most insight into how this particular domain works, and are so entertaining that I wish they could have devoted an entire issue to them.

We are then introduced to the the title of the issue’s eponymous “Master Drunk” Shang-Chi. He finds himself arbitrarily confronted by a group of members from the emperors’ clan, The Ten Rings. Fights ensue, and through exposition during the fight we find out that Shang Chi is connected to the emperor, and has an interesting past that left a bounty on his head. After being bailed out by a group of downtrodden people Shang Chi escapes underground. A lot of the issue is devoted to the fight scene which doesn’t disappoint, but even the action serves as setup. It’s all about introducing a lot of characters and clans in a short amount of time. Having a lot of it done while they are fighting feels quite cliché. The characters that come in to even the odds are a nice surprise, and show that Blackman is willing to pull in characters from all over the Marvel mythos and give them a martial arts bent. Part of the fun is seeing what characters, or groups have been used, and in what ways (poor Spider-Clan) The last several pages of the book are devoted to introducing even more clans, even more characters, establishing the emperor as a threat, and introducing a version of one of the most familiar Marvel Universe martial artists as an antagonist out for revenge.

The art from Dalibor Talajić, inker Goran Sudzuka, and color artist Miroslav Mrva ranges from absolutely stunning to good. There are no bad pages here and when at its best the art looks beautiful. The best pages in the issue are the opening pages that use a style that really conveys the history of K’un Lun being told. It would have been amazing to see an entire issue in this style, but when the story switches to the current day Talajić’s work remains strong. His familiarity with martial arts in everyday life made him an ideal choice for a Kung Fu story, and the fight scenes do look great. There’s one large panel in particular that serves the same purpose that a montage does in a movie. It features Shang Chi in the foreground with faded images in the background of him kicking ass. It is a highlight, and shows the potential that this book can be great if the art is given the room needed during fight scenes. My big pet peeve does rear it’s ugly head once again though – Otherwise great panels are taken down a notch because of blank backgrounds. It’s distracting to have great looking characters doing cool things on an otherwise blank white panel. It may knock the art down a few rungs in my mind, but not that much.

The design work is strong throughout. The clans we do see all look unique, and like your typical bad ass martial arts characters. The word “typical” may seem like a negative connotation, but when trying to create a familiar, visceral aesthic that evokes a certain feel it is a good thing.  Drunk Shang Chi’s shaggy look is great, and the redesigned take on a certain dragon companion is one I want to see more of.  The solid design extends beyond the characters and into the settings which all give off a strong mystical Far East vibe that a place like K’un Lun should. While we don’t give as much love to cover artists as we should, it is worth noting that the great Francesco Francavilla provides a great primary cover that sets the tone for the issue wonderfully.

Master of Kung Fu #1 is a promising first issue that is tasked with setting up way too much up in so few pages. The fact that Blackman is able to do so effectively as he does is a testament to his strong writing. It would have been wonderful to see an entire issue devoted to the history of the K’un Lun Domain done in the style of the first three pages and waiting to introduce Shang Chi until the very end. That would have allowed for a beautiful issue of setup followed by a bunch of bad ass Kung Fu where we’d know the characters in play. Given this is a limited series with limited space in which to work it’s understandable to see the setup smashed together the way it is. Even so, the way the issue ended up was still strong, and should be read by fans of Shang Chi, martial arts movies, and those looking to expand their horizons thorough the variety of Secret Wars tie ins. Hopefully the setup is out of the way, because if given the room to just kick ass this book has the writer and artists with the ability to take the series from good to great in a hurry.

The Verdict: 8.0/10

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