Let’s face it, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, more widely known as the MCU, grows and grows, it can be hard to keep everything on track. Likewise with the DCEU, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joe and so, so much more. Comic Book 101 is a new series that focus on breaking down each property to its core for the more casual fan who may not know the ins and outs of these characters and properties. I kind of felt the need to do this series when my wife asked if Iron Man was friends with Batman. This is the kind of thing we laugh at as comic fans, but believe it or not, it rings as a solid question for casual viewers. It will also serve as a refresher course for even the most avid fan. With his movie to be released this week, there is no better place to start than with Shang-Chi, The Master of Kung Fu himself.
Shang-Chi will in fact imminently be apart of the MCU as the properties newest hero when Chang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings hits exclusively in theaters on September 3rd. Just because he is the newest to the big screen though does not mean he is the newest hero altogether. Shang-Chi originally debuted in the December 1973 publication, Special Marvel Edition #15. Since then the character has had a rich history in the books which includes team ups with several of Marvels teams, including but not limited to: The Avengers, The Secret Avengers, Marvel Knights, Heroes for Hire, and even a stint in MI-6. Several of these teams could be his connecting point to the MCU as a whole outside of his franchise, but the primary connector to his property and the MCU as an entirety will likely be a relationship hinted at in the trailers with Dr. Strange’s assistant, Wong.
Who IS Shang-Chi though? He is an original Marvel property whose idea was conceived in 1972, but born out of the estate of English novelist Sax Rohmer. Marvel acquired the rights to Rohmer’s villain Fu Manchu and threw Shang-Chi in the mix as a previously unknown son of the villain. At the time, Marvel was trying to capitalize on the booming kung-fu market in the United States. After they failed to acquire the show Kung-Fu from Warner Communications, they went the route of making a deal with Rohemers estate to bring their character to life. Not only did Marvel acquire, albeit temporarily, the rights to Fu Manchu, but several other supporting characters as well most notably, but once again not limited to, Sir Denis Nayland Smith, Dr. James Petrie and Fah Lo Suee. Now let’s stop right here for a moment to make something clear. The upcoming movie is introducing the real Mandarin, not the iteration played by Ben Kingsley in Iron Man 3,who was alluded to the Marvel One Shot: All Hail the King. This is important because the movie is placing The Mandarin as Shang-Chi’s father, whereas he is not his father in the core comics. Marvel likes to do this thing where they sometimes switch things up either to make the stakes more interesting or to skirt licensing issues. We actually see this actively being played out in front of our eyes with the Hulk. Legally, the MCU cannot create a solo Hulk film, but they can use him as part of an ensemble much like in The Avengers, and Thor: Ragnarok which takes us back to where we were. After the agreement between Sax Rohemers estate was up, Fu Manchu was discovered to only be an alias for Shang-Chis father, whose real name was revealed to be Zheng Zu. Since the original run of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu ended at 125 issues, the character has gone through a little bit of a revival, being picked up 1990, 1998, 2002, and recently even being penned by CM Punk himself, one mister Phil Brooks.
While Shang-Chi possesses no actual superpowers, in the comics he is regarded as one of the best non-super powered fighters in existence. Ares has even made mention that his mastery of fighting has enabled him to go toe to toe with a god. While he does not possess super powers, he has maintained mastery of techniques that were used by his fathers ten rings. In addition, he can access chi to help him go beyond normal physical limits, kinda like Goku, but who knows if his power level is over 9,000 or not? He is a master of hand to hand combat as well as weapons combat which includes swords, staff, and nunchaku.
So what has Shang-Chi done in the comics? Well one of his low points happened early when he joined Mi-6. After several adventures, which were all directed towards foiling his fathers plans, Shang-Chi witnesses his father, Fu Manchu, be murdered. This fills Shang-Chi with guilt as he was always on the hunt for his father. Pretty much immediately after, he cuts ties with his allies everywhere to focus on a life of seclusion as a fisherman in China. It is there he stays until he is once again called to action. He joins his one time allies again to fight the terrorist group Argus. It’s this fight that starts Shang-Chi on his climb to his several high points in the Marvel Comics. In the Heroic Age, it was Beast of the X-Men who informed Shang-Chi of his fathers true identity as Zheng Zu and not Fu Manchu. This resulted in Shang-Chi joining forces with the Secret Avengers to track his father down as well as the Shadow Council. During the confrontation, Steve Rogers is beaten by John Steele and Shang-Chi is taken to his father, Zheng Zu, who has been sort of (yes sort of) revived by the Council. As all hope is lost and Shang-Chi faced immanent doom, the Avengers and Moon Knight (more on him in a future installment) drop in to save the day, disrupting the ritual and saving the Master of Kung Fu. These events lead to Shang-Chi joining the Secret Avengers where he stays until the group defeats Arnim Zola. Zola, as you might remember is from the first two Captain America movies. If you are asking where he was in the second one, he’s the guy in computer.
Shang-Chi has also assisted Spider-Man on a few occasions. Most notably, he was asked by Madame Web to train the Wall Crawler. This training resulted in Spider Man creating his own martial art, The Way of the Spider. Perhaps more importantly though, during the Spider Island arc, the entire populace of Manhattan, including Shang-Chi were infected with the Spider Virus which gave everyone the set of powers that Spider Man possesses. At one point, Iron Fist and others are attacking Spider-Man wannabe’s and Shang-Chi, having worked with and trained with Spider man before, knew that Peter Parker was the true Spider-Man. He had to vouch for a near-by Peter Parker when the fighting intensified. During the final battles, Shang-Chi transforms into a spider, an event he foresaw after seeing this transformation in his nightmares. He is subsequently cured by Iron Fist and reverts back to a normal state in time to drop a building on top of the demon Ai Apaec, a move which incapacitates him long enough for the Avengers to take him into custody.
More in line with recent events, Shang-Chi has had a run in with the Mad Titan, Thanos himself. In a struggle with a group of beings called The Builders, Shang-Chi and other heroes from Earth team up with the Galactic Council (not from Star Wars) and make a stand against The Mad Titan and his allies. When some of their allies are captured, Chang-Chi picks up a pair of energy projecting gauntlets and forms a task force which includes Black Widow, Spider-Woman and others. It is due to this intervention with his task force that stops his allies from being destroyed. After The Builders defeat, the team takes the fight to Earth to deal with the impending might of Thanos. Here, Shang-Chi and his force serves more as an infiltration team and sneaks in to deactivate Thanos first line of defense, The Peak. During the mission they run into Black Dwarf who is a little too much for Shang-Chi. While Shang-Chi and Black Widow are able to dispatch the entire security detail for Black Dwarf, Black Dwarf does manage to overpower them, that is until Gladiator, Ronan the Accuser (yes the dance battle guy from GOTG) , and other Council members hop in to help beat down the overpowered giant. This chain of events is a huge blow to the attempt of domination by Thanos. Shang-Chi then goes off to Madripoor with his new allies to continue their adventures.
So the big question is, how will they incorporate the ten rings? The trailers suggest the rings will help provide power and abilities to the wielders in a way similar to Fu Manchu and Zheng Zu’s rings in the comics. The ten rings themselves serve as a definite call back to the the organization we have been aware of since all the way back in 2008’s Iron Man. Between this callback and Abomination showing up, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings certainly looks to be taking a trip down memory lane to the early days of the MCU using facets of the first two movies. One thing is for sure, this movie is the first of three new installments of movies to end the year for the MCU. We find out how everything ties in to both the past, and the present of the MCU Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is in theaters now.