Call Me Shang-Chi

     "Call me Shang-Chi, as my father did, when he raised me and molded my mind and body in the vacuum of his Honan, China, retreat. I learned many things from my father: That my name means 'The Rising and Advancing of a Spirit', that my body could be forged into a living weapon through the discipline of Kung Fu, and that it might be used for the murder of a man called Dr. Petrie.

     Since then, I have learned that my father is Dr. Fu Manchu, the most insidiously evil man on earth... and that to honor him would bring nothing but dishonor to the spirit of my name."

by Paul Gulacy (digitally remastered)
First things first. Honan province is not the same as Hunan province! Honan is the old translation of the modern Henan. Honan is the province in which Shang-Chi was raised. Honan is also the province in which the famous Shaolin Monastery is located. While foreign devils commonly confuse these two provinces, any self-respecting student of the martial arts or Master of Kung Fu fan should know the difference!

Secondly, we should address the proper translation of the character's name. According to Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, the character creators, Shang-Chi's name means "the rising and advancing of a spirit". It was originally sourced from a translation of the I - Ching. Unfortunately, neither Steve or Jim were fluent in any Chinese dialect, written or spoken. Furthermore, any English translation of the I - Ching from that time period would have used the old Wade-Giles romanization and pronunciation rather than modern standard Pinyin.

Hexagram 46 of the I - Ching is named 升 (shēng).

升 is pronounced "shēng" and literally translates to "rise", "go up", "ascend", and "promote".
尚 is pronounced "shàng" and literally translates to "still" or "yet".
上 is pronounced "shàng" and literally translates to "over" or "above".

升 is the most precise literal translation, but is phonetically incorrect.
尚 is phonetically correct, but possesses an incorrect meaning.
上 is phonetically correct and possesses the correct meaning.

Therefore, 上氣 (traditional Chinese) or 上气 (simplified Chinese) is the superior translation.

'Nuff said!

Historical Origin

In Special Marvel Edition # 15, we find this letters page titled "Missives to the Master". Since this issue was the first appearance and origin story for the character, Shang-Chi Master of Kung Fu, Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart wisely elected to give us the genuine historical origin story!
Left click to open image in a new tab. Left click again to enlarge or right click to save image.
In many MOKF issues, the letters pages are just as interesting and entertaining as Shang-Chi's adventures. With a regular cast of returning letter contributors, including Catherine “Cat” Yronwode, Bill Wu,  and future Marvel executive editor, Ralph MacchioMissives to the Master are worth giving a read. If you haven't taken the time, I suggest you do!
There are two ways that the community of readers of Master of Kung Fu becomes a selective community, more than just "anyone who picks up this comic book." First, the common, shared tastes enumerated above become a litmus test separating the fan from the reader. Recognizing the allusions in the comic helps to establish a common symbol system. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the members of the community recognize each other. They refer to each other in their correspondence—creating a kind of positive reinforcement of common group identification. 
A web of members of the community is created by these references. The readers of MoKF interact with each other in ways that we see echoed today in online forums and other sites of "online community"—helping cement our sense of the readers of MoKF as a genuine community of readers. 

'Nuff said!

Publication History

The character, Shang-Chi, first appeared in Special Marvel Edition #15 (December 1973) by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin. Shang-Chi appeared again in Special Marvel Edition #16 (February 1974). With issue #17 (April 1974) the title was changed to The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. Amidst the martial arts craze in the United States during the 1970s, the series became very popular. It continued a ten year run, including four giant-size issues and an annual, until MOKF #125 (June 1983).

MOKF was, for some time, the third best-selling series of all Marvel titles. During that time, only Amazing Spider-Man and Ghost Rider sold more copies per month! While the kung fu craze of the seventies and eighties was certainly a contributing factor, it was not the primary impetus driving that success.

The secret recipe was quite simple. A talented author provided relatively high-quality stories and a talented artist provided relatively high-quality art at a relatively inexpensive price! The secret to success in comic book sales is all about quality story, quality art, and price point.

Steve Englehart
The Legend Begins
The series begins by introducing Shang-Chi as a man raised by his father, Fu Manchu, to be the ultimate assassin. For his first assignment, a youthful and inexperienced Shang-Chi is dispatched to London on a deadly mission to assassinate Fu Manchu's octogenarian rival, Dr. Petrie. This brings him into contact with Sir Dennis Nayland Smith for the first time. When he discovers the truth about his father's games of death and deceit, Shang-Chi swears to oppose, denounce, and destroy the Devil Dr. Fu Manchu.

The Master of Kung Fu series was an instant sales success. Englehart and Starlin soon left as the creative talent for the title. However, its popularity continued to grow once writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy began collaborating on MOKF #22 (November 1974).

Gulacy, a film buff, modeled many characters after film stars: Juliette on Marlene Dietrich, James Larner on Marlon Brando, Clive Reston occasionally resembled Basil Rathbone or Sean Connery, Richard Blaine on Humphrey Bogart, and Ward Sarsfield on David Niven. Moench introduced other film-based characters, including one modeled after Groucho Marx and another modeled on W. C. Fields.

Comics historian Les Daniels observed that "Ingenious writing by Doug Moench and energetic art by Paul Gulacy brought Master of Kung Fu new life."

This critically acclaimed run continued, with few exceptions, until MOKF #51 (April 1977). Gulacy was replaced by artist Jim Craig. Craig was succeeded by Mike Zeck, who became the regular artist with MOKF #64 (May 1978).

Jim Starlin
Moench continued for a long tenure. The title did not receive the same level of acclaim as the Gulacy period until Gene Day, who had previously been inking the book, took over penciling on MOKF #100 (May 1981). Shang-Chi's long-running battle with his father ended in MOKF #118 (November 1982).

Gene Day died of a heart attack after finishing MOKF #120 (January 1983). Moench left the series after MOKF #122 (March 1983). With the main storyline resolved, Shang-Chi retired to a passive life as a fisherman in the village of Yang Yin, China. The series was canceled with MOKF #125 (June 1983).

The Legend Continues
In 1988, Marvel published a new Master of Kung Fu story in Marvel Comics Presents #1-8. It reunited Shang-Chi with most of the original supporting cast. It featured Moench scripting with Tom Grindberg penciling.

In 1990, Marvel published the one-shot Master of Kung Fu: Bleeding Black. It reunited Shang-Chi with most of the original supporting cast. It featured Moench scripting with David and Dan Day, Gene Day's sons, penciling.

In 1994, Marvel published a new Master of Kung Fu story in Marvel Comic Presents #156-158. It featured Shang-Chi with Leiko Wu and the "Midnight Slasher" from DHOKF #8 (January 1975). It featured  Karl Bollers scripting with Cary Nord penciling.

In 1997, Marvel published a new Master of Kung Fu story in Journey into Mystery #514-516. It did not reunite Shang-Chi with the original supporting cast. It featured Ben Raab and Creative Differences Studios scripting with Brian Hagen penciling.

In 2002, Marvel published a new Master of Kung Fu story in Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu #1-6. It reunited Shang-Chi with most of the original supporting cast. It featured Doug Moench scripting with Paul Gulacy penciling.

Doug Moench
More Recent Appearances
Shang-Chi has made many appearances in other titles. However, these appearances are beyond the scope of this dissertation. See: Complete Appearances

Supporting Characters
The series, especially as written by Doug Moench, was notable for its strong supporting characters. As they evolved, these characters became nearly as integral to the series as Shang-Chi himself.
  • Fu Manchu is portrayed in a manner mostly consistent with the Sax Rohmer novels. He's a brilliant and calculating master-villain who aspires to rule the world. As the series progresses the character deteriorates, gradually losing his nobler qualities. By the end of the series he is a pathetic figure, reduced to stealing his son's blood to preserve his immortality. He is currently known as Zheng Zu. Other notable aliases include: Mr. Han, The Father, The Devil Doctor, Chang Hu, and Wang Yu-Seng.
  • Sir Denis Nayland Smith is Fu Manchu's nemesis from the novels. In the comics he retains this role. His obsession with the villain often draws out the dark side of his own nature. In his better moments, he's a surrogate father figure to Shang-Chi. Ultimately, he's too caught up in what Shang-Chi calls 'games of deceit and death' and fails in this role. The relationship is that of two flawed characters who feel strong friendship in spite of deep differences.
  • Fah Lo Suee is the daughter of Fu Manchu. She's a villainess in her own right. She's not interested in the misguided idealism of Fu Manchu. She's a pragmatist, seeking the best way to power. As such, she shifts alliances often. Typically, she's an enemy of Shang-Chi and company, but sometimes she's an ally. When last seen, she'd become a highly ranked official in MI-6. She's currently known as Zheng Bao Yu.
  • Black Jack Tarr is Smith's aide-de-camp and a powerful giant of a man with a gruff manner. Though he's initially an enemy of Shang-Chi, the two become friends over time. He exhibits the most obstinate traits of any character. He invariably addresses Shang-Chi as "Chinaman", as a term of affection, rather than using his name. Despite this gruff manner and attitude, readers invariably feel fondness for him. It's one of the many successes of the series that readers are drawn to him in spite of his flaws.
  • Clive Reston is a British spy. He resembles a younger and more vulnerable version of James Bond. While Bond is a successful womanizer and seems unaffected by heavy drinking, Reston struggles with alcoholism and a romantic rivalry with Shang-Chi. The resemblance to Bond is intentional. It's clear that Reston is Bond's illegitimate son and the grand-nephew of Sherlock Holmes.
  • Leiko Wu is introduced as a femme fatale, not unlike those of the Bond films. She's a beautiful Chinese-British woman. In the beginning, she's torn between a romantic history with Reston and her growing attraction to Shang-Chi. Though initially sarcastic and self-possessed to the point of arrogance, "Leiko" is actually a Japanese name meaning "arrogant", her relationship with Shang-Chi causes her to become more contemplative.
  • Shen Kuei or "Cat" is a master thief. His skill in martial arts rivals that of Shang-Chi. The meaning of the character's name is both similar and opposite to Shang-Chi's name. He's a sort of mirror image, a "good bad guy" in opposition to Shang-Chi's "bad good guy". While they share mutual respect, the two always find themselves in opposed in both love and business.
  • Rufus "Super Midnight" Carter is an African-American kickboxing champion and antiques dealer who secretly works for the CIA. Later, he leaves the CIA and opens a private investigation firm. His lighthearted nature draws out Shang-Chi's sense of whimsy in his several appearances. Carter's unusual nickname is accounted for by his origin. A colleague challenged Doug Moench to write a story using "Carter's Super Midnight", a particular brand name of carbon paper, as a title.

1977: Eagle Award for Favorite Continued Comic Story - Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy for Master of Kung Fu #48–51.
1977: Nominated for Favorite Comic Book Artist Eagle Award - Paul Gulacy.
1979: Eagle Award for the Favorite Cover Award  - Paul Gulacy for Master of Kung Fu #67.
1980: Nominated for Favorite Comic Book Writer Eagle Award - Doug Moench.
1981: Inkpot Award - Doug Moench.
2010: Comics Bulletin ranked Master of Kung Fu sixth on the list of the "Top 10 1970s Marvels" - Doug Moench, Paul Gulacy, Mike Zeck, and Gene Day.

'Nuff said!

Enter the Moench

In June of 1974, Shang-Chi fans were introduced to writer Doug Moench. Despite facing daunting obstacles, he would continue to define the character of Shang-Chi and the Master of Kung Fu series for nearly a decade.

Doug Moench's arrival at Marvel was anything but likely. Working from Chicago, Moench built a career writing horror stories, largely via the Warren Publishing magazines. He couldn't have expected that, by 1974, Marvel would be looking to expand its focus beyond traditional superheroes into swords & sorcery, science fiction, martial arts, and horror.

In his own words:
Doug Moench
Six and a half years ago my phone rings in Chicago. It is Roy Thomas, offering me work at Marvel. He's seen my horror stories for Warren. Other Marvel people, chief among them, Marv Wolfman, have recommended me. 
Marvel is willing to take a chance. But there is a catch. Marvel not only needs a new writer, they also need a new proofreader - or, if you will, an assistant editor. Therefore, to write for Marvel, I must also proofread for Marvel. 
I am uncertain, here on the phone six and a half years ago in comfortable, habit-forming Chicago. Wanting very much to write for Marvel, I'm none too sure I will enjoy or even appreciate working on staff 9 to 5. Nor am I too keen about living in New York, an obvious and concomitant necessity. 
A two week trial period is proposed by me, accepted by Roy. But even before the end of those two weeks, I have made my decision. Sure, I'll lose some sleep, but the Marvel offices aren't that bad. Yes, my eyes will be red and weary, but the people in the Bullpen are largely a good crew, nice and motley, good and zany. Aye, everything around me will be most alien and strange, but New York is at least tolerable.
So I accept the job. But there is also a catch on my end. Money. I do not have much of the stuff, and need a lot of it to accomplish the "permanent" move from Chicago to New York. 
How about if I quickly write a dozen 6 to 10 page "horror" stories for the fledgling line of Marvel black and white magazines? Would that cover expenses? Yes, I say, it would indeed.
And so, newly ensconced in Manhatten, I work 9 AM to 5 PM in the Marvel offices, and 7 PM to 2 or 3 AM in my new apartment (seemingly rented by the square inch, its worth measured by weight in gold) turning out a story a night. My life becomes nothing less than Work with a capital W, and nothing more than a Blur with a capital B.
[ Doug Moench. Marvel Super Special #11. June 1979 ]
In his first weeks at Marvel, Moench was working late into the night, every night, to produce backup features for Creatures on the Loose, Haunt of Horrors, Tales of the Zombie, and Monsters Unleashed.

Once his trial period was over, he concurrently began the Deathlock run on Astonishing Tales, the lead features in Planet of the Apes magazine, Werewolf by Night, Master of Kung Fu, and Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. He continued to write stories published in the Marvel horror titles. Soon, he'd take on a myriad of other assignments that nobody else particularly wanted, including Doc Savage, Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction, and Shogun Warriors.

By the way, Moench wasn't originally slated to take over on Master of Kung Fu series. It was supposed to be Gerry Conway. In fact, Conway wrote the first half of MOKF #20 before it was handed over to Moench.

Roy Thomas explains how Doug Moench was elected to take over Master of Kung Fu and Deadly Hands of Kung Fu:
Roy Thomas
A good time is the basic thing Steve [Englehart] wants from his work. So that's what he always tries to provide with it. Unfortunately for him, this series he had worked so hard to bring about proved so popular that he couldn't keep up with it and still handle it the way he wanted it. Exit Steve. 
But fortunately for Marveldom Assembled, Devi-May-Care Doug had just taken up residence in the Bullpen. So, he is able to write Shang-Chi's multiple appearances, and soon, Iron Fist's as well. Doug, already garnered an excellent reputation elsewhere in the industry and before his stint at scripting, he held down a reporter's job in old Chicago.

We were going to close this reply with a pun on Doug's last name - but frankly, nobody around here's really sure how he pronounces the blamed thing! So if you can doug it, we'll quietly take our leave.
[ Roy Thomas. Master of Kung Fu #21. October 1974 ]
Just so ya' know, it's pronounced "mench" and rhymes with "wench".

It's interesting to note that Moench was given these jobs because he was available. Not because he possessed any necessary knowledge or experience concerning the niche genres that he was expected to write. Planet of the Apes by itself required a certain learning curve, not to mention immersing himself in the Kung Fu genre or the established continuities of Shang-Chi and Fu Manchu.

It's insanely amazing that Moench managed a more than adequate job on these titles. More impressively, he forged each of them into classics of their own right. Mr. Moench's Master of Kung Fu, Deathlok, and Planet of the Apes run are still revered by fans today.

'Nuff said!

The DHOKF - MOKF Connection

It has been questioned whether any evidence exists that suggests those adventures detailed in the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu series take place in the same Earth-616 timeline as those events chronicled in the Master of Kung Fu series.
by Jim Starlin (digitally remastered)

There is a note from Editor, Roy Thomas, "* As seen in our color book Master of Kung Fu." Additionally, this issue contains a reprint of SME #15.

There's a Pepsi Cola advertisement: "You've Got a Lot to Live. Pepsi's Got a Lot to Give." That ad campaign ran from 1969 to 1973. This information seems to confirm the placement of this issue within the established chronology.

The "Midnight Slasher" returns to face Shang-Chi in Marvel Comic Presents #156, 157, 158.

I've located information that allows us to date the events detailed in this issue as occurring before Sunday, March 17, 1974. This information seems to confirm the placement of this issue within the established chronology to some degree of certainty.

Smith and Tarr make an appearance. A flashback, detailed in this issue, is stated to have occurred three years ago. This fits the established chronology.

Unexpectedly Shang-Chi and Tarr meet.

This issue contains a reprint of SME #16.

It is explained that Smith has sent Tarr after the Golden Dragon.

Tarr remains involved. Smith appears as a hallucination and speaks of the "dirty road", a phrase used in the MOKF series. Petrie appears as a hallucination and speaks of Shang-Chi's inner turmoil concerning his intent to kill Petrie and the guilt he still carries from having believed he had succeeded, an event from SME #15. 

DHOKF #18 
Tarr remains involved.

As he walks through a maze, Shang-Chi recalls a previous adventure in which he was forced to navigate a maze designed by Fu Manchu. There is a note from the Editor-in-Chief, John Warner, "* Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #2."

Unexpectedly, Shang-Chi and Iron Fist meet. It is clear they know each other. Furthermore, there is a note that explicitly states, "Shang-Chi and Iron Fist have met previously in our color Master of Kung Fu Annual."

Smith and Tarr make an appearance.

This is the first meeting of Shang-Chi and Iron Fist as referenced by DHOKF #29.

To the best of my knowledge, none of the issues in the MOKF series references events from or issues of the DHOKF series. I have not checked each issue. At this point, I don't think it is absolutely necessary.

Marvel Database Wiki
Moreover, the Marvel Database Wiki classifies the DOHKF series in the Earth 616 category.

3MAC Theory and Chronology
Furthermore,  the 3MAC Theory would be less convincing without integrating the two titles. Without the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu series, it would have been a bit more difficult to establish the chronology. Certainly, the chronology is far more accurate for having properly integrated both titles.

Marvel Universe
I'm not much of an expert on the Marvel Universe or comics in general. MOKF and DHOKF are about the only comics that I've genuinely read or collected. However, the available information seems to suggest there must be a connection between the two titles.

MOKF Universe vs Marvel Universe
Regardless, far as I'm concerned, there's only the Shang-Chi MOKF/DHOKF Universe and it's nearly isolated, as it should be, from the Marvel Universe. The Marvel Universe has ties to Shang-Chi, but his ties to it are a bit more tenuous. All appearances of the character in other titles and team-ups probably should not be included in any "Shang-Chi Canon", particularly many of his more recent appearances.

From my perspective, such appearances are "Marvel's" Shang-Chi in the "Marvel Universe". That character is not necessarily the "original and authentic" Shang-Chi in "his" universe. While there may be a market for that sort of thing, it's an abusive and tragic misuse of the character. By the way, placing Shang-Chi in any environment with "super-powered" individuals could never constitute prudent use of the character. Unless the goals are exposure, marketing, and profit, that is.

Wold Newton Universe
On the other hand, I love the idea of placing Shang-Chi in the Wold Newton Universe and would prefer to see him there, rather than in the Marvel Universe. The "Shang-Chi Universe" is closer kindred to the worlds of Sax Rohmer, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Ian Fleming than to other, shall we say, more imaginative environments.

'Nuff said!