Spider-Island: Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 review

He's the Master of Kung Fu, but not even Shang Chi can stand against the power of ... bedbugs. So he's been infected with Spider-Man's powers in a plot by the Jackal, and is having bad dreams. Dreams in which he attacks and eats Fat Cobra, one of the mystical champions known as the Immortal Weapons.

Rightly disturbed, he asks Julia Carpenter, former Spider-Woman and current Madame Web, if her clairvoyant abilities can provide illumination. She comes out with some gobbledygook about '... a man, who is not a man. And a spider, who is not a spider'. It doesn't help Shang, but it does lead to my favourite panel in the book (click on image to enlarge).
No further forward, Shang dives into the ruckus on New York's streets as spider-amateurs battle one another. He bumps into fellow martial artist Iron Fist, who, after fighting for awhile at Shang's side, leaves the fray with another of the Immortal Weapons, the Bride of Nine Spiders, whose decidedly non-catchy catchphrase seems to be 'Je je je je je'. Eh eh eh eh eh?

Suspecting that she may have answers, Shang follows, and sees Iron Fist taken down by this woman he trusts. Leaping in to save his friend, Shang shares his fate. The issue ends with Shang unconscious, and the Bride muttering about some 'master' as she prepares to chow down on Iron Fist.

So in the same week that the Champions crawl out of my 1970s memories, a fellow debutante of the decade, Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, gets one of his rare starring roles. And a star he is, shining in this Spider Island side story without relying on the unfamiliar spider-powers he's been granted. Writer Antony Johnston introduces Shang to new readers efficiently and captures his unique voice, foregrounding his perspective as a student of Eastern philosophy without ever stumbling into the realm of  'ah, grasshopper'. I've no idea if the fighting moves ('golden salmon leaps upstream'; startled monkey lashes out') referenced exist, but the names lend verisimilitude and match the angular grace of Sebasti├ín Fiumara's Shang figures.

The art really is lovely; the layouts power us through the book at breakneck speed, while Shang's legs move like an exploding Swiss army knife. Inked by John Lucas, Fiumara's illustrations have a scratchy, impressionistic quality that's more lifelike than many a photo-realistic approach. And Dan Brown's colours are vibrant, never more so than in the stunning spread showing Shang fighting alongside New York's heroes - the yellows, oranges and purples contrast and combine to bring a pleasing intensity to the scene.

There are two more issues to go, and if they're of similar quality to this first we can thank the Spider Island crossover for bringing us a real treat.

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