Best Shots advance review: Shang-Chi #1 "break-neck pacing" and "hard-hitting, fast-moving fight scenes"

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Hailing from Marvel's Bronze Age, Shang-Chi never really found himself more than a third- or second-string member of the company. With a film coming out in 2021, however, Marvel hopes to reinvigorate fans' awareness and appreciation for its resident Master of Kung-Fu with this new series written by celebrated creator Gene Luen Yang and drawn by Dike Ruan, Phillip Tan, Sebastian Cheng, and veteran letterer, Travis Lanham. The question facing readers will be "Does 'Brothers and Sisters: Part One' pass the test…or not?"

Shang-Chi #1 credits

Written by Gene Luen Yang
Art by Dike Ruan, Phillip Tan (flashbacks), and Sebastian Cheng
Lettering by VC's Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Fans new to Shang-Chi or those who have longed for his return to a series of his own will find all they need in this first issue. Billed as an epic tale family, betrayal, and justice, Shang-Chi #1 offers readers an understanding of who this character is, what makes him tick, and how he fits into the new Marvel Universe since readers last saw him. Through introducing the backstory to the five families, Yang sets the stage for Shang-Chi's lineage and the source of conflict that will fuel this first story arc. It's a conceit that fans of martial arts films will readily identify, but it's the execution of that will satisfy. 

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Phillip Tan's work covering the backstory scenes leave no doubt of his mastery of martial arts scenes as those pages possessed a superhuman flow, transitioning from one panel to the next, moment by moment, that left this reader feeling out of breath but not having lost track of what was taking place.

With the basis of the families and their hierarchy established, Yang moves readers into the present day with Shang-Chi starting out a new and simpler life in New York City's Chinatown. Like any first issue, however, there can be no fresh start. We find a power shift occurring within the families and a new power rising to challenge Shang-Chi's appointment to lead the clan. Again, it's not a set up that will be new to readers, but there is nothing about Yang's execution of the story that feels out of place. Moreover, if part of this series' goal is to familiarize readers with this character – of this current iteration of him – then it makes sense to employ familiar elements of the genre to help readers feel at home with Shang-Chi.

What's noticeable as readers shift into the present is that Dike Ruan takes over the artist's duties from Tan at this point, and as appealing as Tan's work is for the start of the issue, Ruan quickly settles into his groove and offers readers his own brand of action. In particular, he smartly gives readers eyes a bit of a break with using more traditional grid-based page layouts up until heavier action scenes, where he then breaks from tradition and employs some more angled and rapidly layered panels and pages. This results in the same sort of break-neck pacing that conveys the hard-hitting, fast-moving fight scenes playing out.

A subtle point worth noting was how Sebastian Cheng's colors quietly set the mood for each page and panel, often using complementary tones in the background depending on the characters present. In a way, this helped focus the attention on those character and block out other non-players from the reader's attention. Likewise, Travis Lanham's lettering does what professional lettering does best: Remain unnoticed until the right moments and not block out the art. Likewise, smart letterers take advantage of narrative captions through coloring to distinguish one narrator from another, and Lanham does so here as well to help keep the story straight for his readers.

Overall, Shang-Chi #1 does what one expects from a first issue – it introduces the primary cast, we gain a glimpse into some of their motivations and backstory, and we see the future conflict they will face begin to take shape. While it may not offer a revolutionary reimagining of this nearly 50-year old character, Yang and his collaborators demonstrate fine form in this first outing.

Shang-Chi #1 (of 5) goes on sale September 30. A collection of the entire series is scheduled for release March 30, 2021.

Freelance writer

Dr. Forrest Helvie is a professor by day and both consumer and critic of comic books by night. Prof. Helvie can frequently be found writing comic book reviews for Newsarama, but he has also contributed to a wide range of publications and research presentations. Whether it's through in-depth interviews with writers and artists behind your favorite works, or critical analysis of them through academic essays, Prof. Helvie is always looking to help you better understand and appreciate the comic book that's in your hands.