Back Issues: Shang-Chi’s history long, not well-known
Latest hero to join the MCU
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s newest hero, arriving in theaters this evening in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” is at once an archetype and an obscurity.
Introduced in 1973’s “Special Marvel Edition” #15, Shang-Chi is a martial arts master created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, inspired in part by their interest in the television show “Kung Fu.”
He was the son of the villain Fu Manchu, a well-known pop culture character at the time who is now regarded as a racially insensitive stereotype. The name has since been discarded, while keeping the idea that Shang-Chi’s father was a powerful, villainous figure. In the movie, he’s the Mandarin, a villain hinted at in the Iron Man films before a misdirection in the third movie that I appear to be in the minority in liking.
Raised to be an assassin, Shang-Chi learned of his father’s nefarious nature and turned against him, working on his own to thwart his schemes as well as with British intelligence agency MI-6 and other heroes.
“Special Marvel Edition” was soon renamed “Master of Kung Fu.” Shang-Chi also appeared in the black and white “Deadly Hands of Kung Fu,” which featured characters like the Sons of the Tiger and articles about martial arts figures like Bruce Lee. “Master of Kung Fu” tallied 125 issues before ending in 1983.
Like many a Marvel character, Shang-Chi popped up here and there over the years. I’d heard the name but didn’t know much about him until he appeared in a three-part “X-Men” story in 1997. (And so I’m indebted to an interesting series of articles at inverse.com for expanding my knowledge of the character and his history.)
Soon after, he was part of the informal “Marvel Knights” team Daredevil assembled to take down the Punisher after the group initially teamed up to stop an attack on New York by Asgardian trolls. Later, he would join a new iteration of Heroes for Hire, working as bail bondsmen after superhumans were required to register with the government during and after the “Civil War” storyline.
At times, Shang-Chi has seemed like the Doctor Strange of martial arts, a guy other heroes go to for specific help in unfamiliar situations. When Spider-Man temporarily lost his spider-sense, Shang-Chi was enlisted to teach him to fight without that tactical advantage. That training came in handy during the “Spider-Island” storyline, where people throughout Manhattan received spider-powers and Peter Parker needed a leg up on them.
Shang-Chi’s skill was recognized when he was invited to join an expanded Avengers roster for the team’s 2013 revamp. He fought alongside mainstays like Captain America, Iron Man and Thor and was part of the team traversing the galaxy in the cosmic crossover “Infinity.”
No doubt due to the movie on the horizon, Shang-Chi has come back in a big way lately, first with a 2020 limited series that redefines his origin. Written by Gene Luen Yang and drawn by Dike Ruan, the story reintroduces his father as Zheng Zhu, the mystically powered founder of the Five Weapons Society. Shang-Chi is called on to lead the society after a coup by his long-thought-dead sister, Sister Hammer, forcing him to learn about and in some cases battle the family about which he knew very little.
Yang and Ruan have reunited for an ongoing series, starting with Shang-Chi’s efforts to use the organization for good running afoul of his fellow heroes.
Evan Bevins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* “Shang-Chi: Earth’s Mightiest Martial Artist” — This collection showcases Shang-Chi’s adventures alongside Marvel characters like the X-Men, Spider-Man and Avengers.
* “Avengers World: Next World” — Shang-Chi has several adventures with the Avengers, but I’m pretty sure this is the only one where he grows to gigantic size and fights a dragon.
* “Shang-Chi: Brothers and Sisters” — Shang-Chi gets an updated origin and expanded family tree as he’s called upon to lead the Five Weapons Society founded by his father.