Oh boy. So you know all of that pulpy action and B-movie-style genre action Ed Brubaker got the entire Iron Fist institution to imbibe over at Marvel over the last few years? I’m happy to say that seems to have flooded out of the pages of Iron Fist and into this mini-anthology of Shang-Chi stories, the first of which is a Deadpool/Shang-Chi tale by Jonathan Hickman and Kody Chamberlain, so I’ll start there.
Whatever Kool-Aid Hickman slipped Chamberlain for “The Annual Race to Benefit Various and Sundry Evil Organizations and Also the Homeless. Now With Beer and Hot Dogs” (full, unedited title there), it was absolutely appropriate. Reading it, I envisioned the thought process going something to the effect of “Let me me just script out 18,750 different things and have Kody see if he can draw them. Well, he did — from motorcycle racing to twin Hitler lookalikes, luchadores, minotaurs, and a demon-possessed pregnant-ish waitress, it had all the visual icon play of Chamberlain’s Punks work, with all the frenetically innovative layout play of Hickman’s Nightly News series, both of which I’ve enjoyed on occasion.
There was an odd, sort of disconcerting moment with the waitress, however, where her pregnant belly turns out to be housing a demon and Deadpool and Shang-Chi sandwich-punch the thing in the cheeks. I understand the humor and the context, but there was a slight misogynist tinge to that setup, having the waitress appear fully with child in one panel and then two panels later having the fruit of her womb get bludgeoned by the story’s two lead action heroes. That element of the story may also be a conscious homage to the style of Roger Corman-ish movies it hearkens back to. It was an odd crossroads of imagery to grapple with, though.
The second story, “Once Upon a Time in Wan Chai” was also a refreshing experiment to watch play out. Done entirely in Chinese with English subtitles, it relies almost entirely on visual action with dialog as an afterthought, and the concept alone works very well for the material.
Charlie Huston’s “The Vacuum of Memory” story gets an extremely neo-Silver Age art treatment from Enrique Romero, which almost forces you to adjust your eyes flipping over from the previous chapter. The speed lines and near constant rhythm of punches and slams made for a great read, and in each of these three cases, the shift in storytelling gears made sense.
The last piece in the book comes from Stephen King’s research assistant Robin Furth, and I assume is a bi-product of her collaboration with Marvel throughout his Dark Tower comics. It was definitely a fine prose work of research, and I can appreciate it as such, though just seeing Furth’s name on it, I think i expected more along the lines of story, which it doesn’t deliver on. If you want to see someone get inside the head of Shang-Chi and recall his trials and tests in abbreviated form though, it’s a good-enough exercise to round out this one-shot.