Master of Kung Fu (comics)

Master of Kung Fu
Publication information
Publisher Marvel Comics
Format Ongoing series
Genre Superhero
Main character(s) Shang-Chi

Master of Kung Fu was a comic book title published by Marvel Comics from 1974 to 1983.

Publication history

The character Shang-Chi first appeared in Special Marvel Edition #15 (December 1973) by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin.[1] Shang-Chi appeared again in issue #16, and 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 in the 1970s, the book became very popular, surviving until issue #125 (June 1983), a run including four giant-size issues and an annual.

The series began by introducing Shang-Chi as a man raised by his father Fu Manchu to be the ultimate assassin for the would-be world conqueror. In Shang-Chi's first mission, he kills one of his father's old enemies, Dr. Petrie, and learns of Fu Manchu's true, evil nature. Disillusioned, Shang-Chi swears eternal opposition to his father's ambitions and fights him as an agent of British intelligence, under the orders of Nayland Smith.

The series was an instant sales success. Though Englehart and Starlin soon left as the creative talent for the title, its success grew once writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy, began collaborating in issues #22. Comics historian Les Daniels observed that "Ingenious writing by Doug Moench and energetic art by Paul Gulacy brought Master of Kung Fu new life."[2] Their critically acclaimed run continued with short gaps until #51 when Gulacy was replaced by artist Jim Craig. Craig was later succeeded by Mike Zeck who became the regular penciller in issue #64 (1978).

Prologue from Master of Kung Fu:

"Call me Shang-Chi, as my father did when he raised me and molded my mind and my 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."

Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu

Gulacy was a film buff, and modeled many characters after film stars: Juliette on Marlene Dietrich, James Larner on Marlon Brando, Clive Reston (often broadly hinted at as being the son of James Bond as well as the grand nephew of Sherlock Holmes) occasionally looking like Basil Rathbone and Sean Connery, and a minor character Ward Sarsfield (after the real-life name of Sax Rohmer) resembling David Niven.[3] Moench introduced other film-based characters, including ones modeled after Groucho Marx,[4] and W. C. Fields.[5]

Moench continued for a long tenure, though the title did not again receive the same level of acclaim as the Gulacy period until Gene Day, who had previously been inking the book, took over penciling in #100 (1981). Despite critical success, sales lagged. Day died of a heart attack after finishing issue #120, and Moench left the book after #122. The character's long-running battle with his father ended with #118 and with the main storyline resolved, the book was canceled with issue #125 as Shang-Chi retired to a passive life as a fisherman in a village. In 2010, Comics Bulletin ranked Moench's work on Master of Kung-Fu with artists Gulacy, Mike Zeck, and Day sixth on its list of the "Top 10 1970s Marvels".[6]

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 and featured Moench again writing, with Tom Grindberg penciling.[7]

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:

Collected editions


  1. Cooke, Jon B. (2005). "Everybody was Kung Fu Watchin'! The Not-So-Secret Origin of Shang-Chi, Kung-Fu Master!". Comic Book Artist Collection: Volume 3. TwoMorrows Publishing. pp. 6–7. ISBN 1-893905-42-X.
  2. Daniels, Les (1991). Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics. Harry N. Abrams. p. 159. ISBN 9780810938212.
  3. Cooke, Jon B. (February 2000). "A Master of Comics Art: Artist Paul Gulacy and His Early Days at Marvel". Comic Book Artist. TwoMorrows Publishing (7): 32. Archived from the original on February 15, 2008. CBA: Did you ever get any other flak? Nowadays, I don't think you could get away with it, because you had Sean Connery, for instance, for a period of time. There were a lot of recognizable characters, James Coburn, and people like that...
    PAUL: Marlene Dietrich...
    CBA: Yeah, right. [laughs] You were grabbing them from all over!
    PAUL: Don't forget David Niven [laughter]—who the hell cares about David Niven?—but we found a place for him in there.
  4. Christiansen, Jeff (August 13, 2004). "Rufus T. Hackstabber". The Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Archived from the original on October 14, 2013.
  5. Christiansen, Jeff (August 11, 2004). "Quigley J. Warmflash". The Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Archived from the original on July 4, 2013.
  6. Sacks, Jason (September 6, 2010). "Top 10 1970s Marvels". Comics Bulletin. Archived from the original on August 3, 2013. Retrieved August 3, 2013.
  7. Comtois, Pierre (December 2014). Morrow, John, ed. Marvel Comics in the 1980s: An Issue by Issue Field Guide to a Pop Culture Phenomenon. TwoMorrows Publishing. p. 209. At first, the comic was seen as ... a place where fan-favorite strips could be brought back with one or more of their original creators on the job but without much financial risk to the company. In fact, the first issue of the series featured a Man Thing serial by Steve Gerber and Tom Sutton and a Master of Kung Fu serial by Doug Moench and Tom Grindberg.
  8. Christiansen, Jeff (October 10, 2004). "Midnight Sun". The Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Archived from the original on November 2, 2012. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
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