The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 Review

Mike Benson (w), Tan Eng Huat (a), Craig Yeung (i), Jesus Aburtov (c), VC’s Joe Sabino (l)

You know, I’m actually kind of surprised the James Bond format – suave super spy, globetrotting adventure, organized crime – hasn’t taken off more in comics.  Well, Marvel is making a go of it lately, at least, with books like Elektra and Black Widow separating their leads from their typical trappings to send them on adventures all over the world.  Shang Chi joins them, leaving the Avengers behind to head to London to solve the slaying of an M:I6 agent with whom he was once romantically entangled.  Mike Benson’s got a solid hook here, one that I’d love to see play out in comics more often.  Unfortunately, The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 is a mess, lacking even the redeeming features that made the two debuts above so exciting.

Tan Eng Huat really impressed me on Si Spurrier’s excellent X-Men Legacy as an artist with a gift for controlled chaos.  There, Huat found a way to literalize some weird powers and strange places, bringing a fantastical world vibrantly to life.  But Huat is given little to work with here, and what he does have plays against his strengths.  Martial arts combat in comics is tough to pull off, typically requiring crisp fight choreography and lively figures, and Huat’s talents typically don’t lie towards precision or realism.  The action here largely lacks the vibrant kineticism of Huat’s best work – or that of Marvel’s last truly great martial arts series, David Aja’s work on The Immortal Iron Fist.

It doesn’t help that Huat is given precious little to work with here, because The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 is a mess of cliche.  The story, essentially, is thus: A woman is stalked and murdered by a colorful gang of assassins known as the Shadow Ghosts in Chinatown, and her ex-boyfriend, Avenger Shang Chi, heads to London to… well, avenger her.  It’s a classic plot, albeit one that motivates its hero by immediately, violently fridging a girl we know nothing about, but the details of the story are thrown together seemingly without a care in the world.  The most hilarious example comes when Shang Chi finds out there’s more to the story literally by just walking around town until a bunch of guys jump him.  That’s it.  No strategy, no detective work, just… taking a leisurely walk in a bad part of town.  Except it doesn’t look like it.  It looks like a normal street.  It’s not the only truly bizarre storytelling decision Benson makes, but it’s one of the most egregious.

I actually like the core idea behind The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 – namely, Shang Chi, International Man of Mystery.  It’s a solid hook, and it could lead to a book that tends up being quite fun.  Unfortunately, all the various reasonably strong elements that go into the book never come together in an interesting way.  Tan Eng Huat is talented, but his talents don’t lend themselves to a martial arts book; Mike Benson has a solid core concept, but the actual story of this issue isn’t just boring, it’s actually kind of straight-up offensive.  I know I shouldn’t be shocked to see a book called The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu trafficking heavily in outdated Asian stereotypes, but I actually kind of am, largely because Shang Chi has been slowly becoming an interesting character in each of his appearances these last few years.  Maybe The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu will grow into a stronger book – as a mini-series, it should have significantly more focus, though the story as laid-out here isn’t terribly exciting – but this was still a disappointing debut issue for a series based on one of Marvel’s most underserved heroes.

My Rating: 1 / 5