Apr 14, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 779: Master of Kung Fu #36, January 1976

https://www.comics.org/issue/29479/

Much as I enjoy the character of Shang-Chi in his Avengers appearances under Jonathan Hickman, it's hard to read his earlier comics without cringing a little (or a lot) at the Orientalism on display. Mainstream comics in the Seventies took a turn into strange territory by pushing Said's fomulation of Orientalism into the Far East and inundating the shelves with martial arts comics. We've seen the fruits of this in Netflix's latest Marvel series, the much-maligned Iron Fist (which I haven't watched yet), a series that has crumbled under accusations of white-washing and just not being very good. I'll get back to you on that when I've seen it. But, to be fair, Iron Fist was always white-washed. And it's in this respect that Master of Kung Fu is at least a slightly more positive depiction. Shang-Chi is a non-caricatured Chinese man, a revelation in and of itself given comics' propensity for caricaturizing citizens of the Far East. The odd bronze colour they give his skin is questionable, but at least it's an attempt at a skin tone, rather than simply slapping yellow on anyone of East Asian descent. If you want to see this at some of its worst, have a look at "The Japoteurs," one of the old Fleischer Superman cartoons.

Okay, moving on. Keith Pollard is today's featured creator. He's best known for an extended run on Thor, on Iron Man, and on Fantastic Four, all in the late 70s and early 80s, which means this is one of his early works. His Wikipedia page notes that he's from Detroit, and I've noticed over the last couple of days a number of artists from this era who all came out of Detroit, shepherded by Rich Buckler. I'm not sure if anyone's ever written on this phenomenon, but perhaps there's something to be said on the Seventies Detroit artists. But what to say of his art? It's good. There's occasional places where the panel layout is a bit confusing, but when we get to the end of the comic and Shang-Chi is unveiling the strange creatures of the circus he's been asked to protect, we get some very odd and cool creatures, called the "mysteries," and Mr. Pollard very nicely refrains from giving us a full-on view of any of them, thus maintaining some of their mysteriousness. Add to this that earlier in the comic, as Shang-Chi battles a group of ninjas (as one does), the depictions of the speed with which a martial arts fight takes place are really nicely handled. At some point I'll have a look at some of his later work, and see how things have progressed, but from this comic it is easy to see why Marvel would have taken a chance on him.

Before I finish, I have to note that I didn't find the comic in general that great, mainly because it's narrated in the first person by Shang-Chi, and Doug Moench's dialogue here is not great.

More tomorrow. To be continued.

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