Shang-Chi #1 Review: A Powerful Return for Marvel's Greatest Martial Artist

Whether you’re a longtime fan wishing to see more of Shang-Chi or your interest in the character was only recently ignited by talks of movies, you’ll find Shang-Chi #1 to be a fine return for Marvel's greatest martial artist. Shadow societies and reconciled pasts invite both audiences and everyone in between to Shang-Chi’s story by respecting what people may already know about the character and catching up eager newcomers. However, setting pacing and Shang-Chi’s absence from the spotlight aside, Shang-Chi #1 succeeds in another metric that’s every bit as important: It’s speedy and smart and will keep readers entertained from start to finish.

Getting hooked on Shang-Chi starts not with the titular character but with the storied world surrounding him. Writer Gene Luen Yang’s chronicles of sorcerer siblings and renowned warriors mesh perfectly with the centuries-old backdrop vividly portrayed by artist Philip Tan and colorist Sebastian Cheng. The mystic and fabled are brought to life through powerful bursts of color and focus placed on exactly the right expressions and moments that become more pertinent to the story and its flow every time you see them again.

Once we’re launched into modern times, we see the fleshed-out versions of the Deadly Houses teased earlier. Long-standing promises and resentments collide in a way that already feels fated from the issue's brief setup, but not unfulfilling. Artist Dike Ruan’s portrayal of the modern Shang-Chi brings us up to speed on the character’s life without muddling the pacing at all. The artist and writer give readers just enough time to meet the protagonist before thrusting them right back into the action.

Shang-Chi
(Photo: Marvel)

That’s one notable success of Shang-Chi #1: Pacing. The first issue of any new series often goes from 0 to 100 and tries to stay there until the end to keep readers hooked, which can often result in over-the-top sequence of events where readers can't digest what's happening. Another common outcome is the deluge of exposition detailing a character’s history and why you should care about them without their actions—or anyone else’s actions—actually giving you a reason to be excited for what happens next. Shang-Chi strikes a winning balance between the two avenues in its debut by peppering quieter moments and banter into the action to keep events quick and payoffs worthwhile.

Throughout the first issue, it’s easy to pick up on the countless juxtapositions we now have foundations for. These cross-comparisons happen not just between Shang-Chi and his enemies, but through numerous assets in his world. The way Sorcerer Brothers Zheng Zu and Zheng Yi treat others, the evident style differences between the Deadly Houses, how Shang-Chi balances his old self with the new life he’s created, and even the way Grandma Wang converses with her niece Delilah are all perfect examples of lifestyles and responsibilities clashing. There’s plenty of room for those to be explored in future chapters and, considering how this first issue is presented, there should be no problem interweaving those more subtle connections into larger stories.

The first issue of a new series is always just a snippet of the grander experience to come, but if Shang-Chi #1 is any indication of what’s to come, we won’t have much to worry about. It defines major plots while remaining digestible and, above all else, it’s thoroughly entertaining. Shang-Chi’s future looks bright with this creative team guiding the character's story.

Published by Marvel Comics

On September 30, 2020

Written by Gene Luen Yang

Art by Dike Ruan and Philip Tan

Colors by Sebastian Cheng

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Letters by Travis Lanham

Cover by Jim Cheung and Laura Martin