With a school of his own in tow, Shang-Chi turns his attention to his father, Emperor Zheng Zu. But blocking the path are none other than the leaders of the other schools, and Shang-Chi must fight his way through the greatest martial artists in K’un Lun. But are the fights good?
Master of Kung Fu #3 (Marvel Comics)
The heat turns up in Master of Kung Fu #3 as Emperor Zheng Zu opens the Thirteen Chambers, signalling that any master can challenge the emperor for the right to ascend the throne. This gives Shang-Chi, now leading his own school an opportunity to challenge his father. But before that fight can occur, Shang-Chi must take the test of the Thirteen Chambers and battle the masters of the other schools.
The issue opens with another mythic flashback, this time telling the history of the School of the Iron Fist. In the previous issues, the current Iron Fist was positioned as one of the main antagonists for Shang-Chi and this opening shows why. The readers will now have a new reason to empathize with Iron Fist as well as better understand Shang-Chi’s own quest for redemption. As Iron Fist recounts this history, it is revealed that he too wishes to take down Zheng Zu in order to restore peace and justice to K’un Lun. To do this, he will enter Zheng Zu’s tournament and take down the other masters. Unbeknownst to Iron Fist, Shang-Chi has the exact same plan.
Haden Blackman’s script perfectly sets the stage for the conflict that occurs both in this issue and the one that will serve as the climax to the series. Readers are treated to some fun cameos as the leaders of the other schools come together. There’s a Black Panther, a Karnak, a Moon Knight, and some other surprising cameos that one wouldn’t necessarily expect. This is still Shang-Chi’s book however, and once the stage is set, it is he who takes center stage. Joined by his apprentice, Kitten, Shang-Chi descends into the chambers to fight the other masters, leading to an expertly crafted climax.
“I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender.”
Artist Dalibor Talajic really gets to show off here, as Shang-Chi takes on the masters of the other schools. After a battle with one of the masters, Zheng Zu pits the rest of them against Shang-Chi in quick succession. The result is a dazzling pair of two-page spreads depicting Shang-Chi’s conflcit. Talajic does a decent job of displaying the different styles of the masters in the small space, as well as showing Shang-Chi’s diverse arsenal of hand-to-hand techniques.
Unfortunately, the brevity of the fights means that Shang-Chi’s opponents come across as being defeated rather easily. This is a two-fold problem. First, it undercuts the stakes of the issue. If Shang-Chi can defeat these masters without rest, it makes it hard to believe that he has a chance of losing. At the same time, the characters he is defeating have fanbases that are likely to be thrown off by their favorites being beaten so swiftly. Yes, this is Shang-Chi’s book, but it may have been smarter to give each of these fights a panel or two more so that the fights seemed more fiercely contested.
Is It Good?
Master of Kung Fu #3 is another entertaining chapter in this Secret Wars tie-in. While the nature of the title being a mini-series does create some pacing issues, this is still one of the best series available. Haden Blackman’s script is a fun ride, and the artwork by Dalibor Talajic does a great job of conveying the martial arts wizardry in Shang-Chi’s arsenal. New and returning readers alike will find this to be an enjoyable issue with enough of a build-up to draw them back for the final round.