BOOK REVIEW: Marvel-Verse: Shang-Chi by Fred Van Lente, et. al.

Marvel-Verse: Shang-ChiMarvel-Verse: Shang-Chi by Fred Van Lente
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This is a collection of issues involving Shang-Chi. The early issues present the “Master of Kung Fu” in cameo / secondary roles within headliner characters’ comics – notably Wolverine and Spiderman. In those early issues, Shang-Chi mostly serves as the invincible master showing quippy superheroes that their kung fu lacks vigor and precision. In the later issues, those in which Shang-Chi is the lead, he becomes more well-rounded leading man material and less of a stoic, exotic Yoda-figure. In those issues, Shang-Chi combats the elusive ninja organization called “The Hand,” as well as “Lady Deathstrike.”


There is one issue, “Shang-Chi’s Day Off,” which is written as one-liner laden low comedy. Its tone stands out as distinct from the rest of the volume, but it has a few genuinely amusing lines, and so it’s not so bad. Those who take their superheroes somewhat seriously will hate it.


This collection isn’t a bad way to gain insight into the character and his evolution over time. Don’t be thrown off by the campy and stereotyped way he’s portrayed in his 70’s Kung fu cinema iteration, it gets more balanced and sophisticated later in the volume. I read found it on Amazon Prime.


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BOOK REVIEW: False Guard by Merwan

Fausse Garde - NE (Hors Collection)Fausse Garde – NE by Merwan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: November 30, 2021

This graphic novel is set in a fantastical world that combines the culture of a Southeast Asian live-in gym, a setting suggestive of “One Thousand and One Nights” supersized to mega-city scale, and some novel creative elements of the author-artist’s imagination. The protagonist, Mane, is a fighter who dreams of making it big in the big city. On the bright side, despite the prejudices against him as an outsider, Mane has the drive and talent to be a champion. However, in a universe of single-minded people (professional fighters,) his energies are split between the gym and his desire to fight for social justice. It turns out that the man leading him into a guerrilla battle against the societal elite, Fessat, is an old intra-gym rival of the gym-owner / coach, Eiam, for whom Mane is fighting.


The story is largely about Mane’s attempts to reconcile these two aspects of himself, and the travails of the bifurcated mentorship he receives from Fessat and Eiam. The fictional martial art of Pankat bears resemblance to Muay Thai / Lethwei / Pradal Serey Southeast Asian style kick-boxing, with a combination of MMA elements to appeal to the present-day reader and some creative details to make it feel more exotic.


For the most part, I found the story and character development compelling. There were some points at which it felt like there was a disjoint between the emotional displays being made and the events at hand. It’s hard to put a finger on what was off, it just felt a bit overwrought at times. Besides a desire to create a visceral story, this is probably meant to reflect Mane’s stress level, but it felt forced at times. It’s also true that Mane is a complex character – at times sympathetic and at other times an impetuous jerk.


If found this book to be enjoyable and engaging.


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BOOK REVIEW: The Breaker Omnibus, Vol. 1 by Jeon Geuk-Jin

The Breaker Omnibus Vol 1The Breaker Omnibus Vol 1 by Jeon Geuk-Jin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: July 13, 2021

This manga combines the motifs of traditional martial arts stories with a modern-day setting. A bullied high school student, Shiwoon Yi, discovers that his colorful (if abrasive) substitute teacher, Chunwoo Han, is a martial arts master, and employs numerous tactics to get the teacher to instruct him in the martial arts. However, Chunwoo Han is not interested, his priorities as a womanizing playboy caught up in a martial arts clan war are far removed from helping a student one iota more than he needs to in order to maintain his cover and employment.

Shiwoon Yi grows over the course of the book, learning to be more tenacious and to not give in to fear so readily. However, this growth does not come about from the teachings of Chunwoo Han, he remains unwilling to teach, even when he is begrudgingly coerced into agreeing to it. However, Chunwoo Han does assign the boy a task as a precursor to lessons, a task that – despite nearly killing the boy – forces him to be more disciplined. However, the most effective lesson results from Shiwoon Yi’s shame at almost betraying the only person who is nice to him, a girl in his class whom he is too beleaguered by bullies and low self-esteem to acknowledge.

Chunwoo Han doesn’t really grow throughout the course of the story (action heroes rarely do,) but he does soften his view towards Shiwoon Yi – presumably as a result of a new found respect. While Shiwoon Yi is quite a wimp, he does show a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of learning martial arts, and that earns him some begrudging regard.

Generally, I found the story to be entertaining. It uses a lot of the familiar martial arts story motifs (e.g. superpowered chi, elaborately named techniques, and the “you kill my master” motive.) These motifs ground it in a genre, even if it results in some trite elements. I wish Shiwoon Yi would have played a greater role in the story’s climax and conclusion. Shiwoon Yi is ostensibly the protagonist, though Chunwoo Han makes a more appealing action star. The ending felt a little gratuitous because it basically jettisoned Shiwoon Yi in favor of making a straightforward concluding battle scene.

The book is presented in manga style, including right-to-left read panels and monochrome art. The art is well drawn, though (oddly) everyone looks like a supermodel – except Chunwoo Han when he is having a meltdown of one kind or another.

It’s a straightforward story, rooted in familiar themes and plot mechanisms. If you enjoy martial arts manga and aren’t expecting complex twists and subversion of expectations, you’ll find it to be an entertaining action-centric story with a good sense of humor.


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