Shang-Chi (which literally translates as "the rising of the spirit" in Chinese) is a Marvel Comics character, first conceived in 1972 by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, and first appearing in Marvel Special Edition #15 (1973). That story was well received, so Marvel Special Edition was swiftly retitled Master of Kung Fu, with Shang-Chi as its protagonist and star, and ran until issue #125 in 1983.
Originally, he was the renegade son of the infamous Fu Manchu, a Chinese crime lord from Sax Rohmer's novels. However, Marvel later lost the rights to that character (who was also considered problematic due to the Yellow Peril elements of Rohmer's stories), and a Soft Reboot reestablished Shang-Chi as son of Zheng Zu, a Chinese hero whose centuries-long life had seen him harden into a Well-Intentioned Extremist and then, eventually, an outright villain.
Shang-Chi's earlier adventures see him allied with the British security service MI6, initially against his father's empire but increasingly against other threats as well. The USA, the UK and Hong Kong (which was under British rule at the time) are recurring settings for those stories.
These mix with other tales (especially in the more episodic Deadly Hands of Kung Fu), where Shang-Chi is simply Walking the Earth, mostly within the USA - in some of these he's actively targeted by villains because of his father, in others he simply encounters mundane criminals and assists innocents.
Although part of the wider Marvel Universe, these early Shang-Chi stories are generally much closer to Spy Fiction action adventures in style. They have very few guest stars or references to Marvel's costumed heroes and the antagonists are largely elite martial artists or humans slightly enhanced by technology, with no actual superpowers. Even the spy elements are limited to real agencies such as MI6 and the CIA, with no mention of S.H.I.E.L.D. or other fictional organisations.
Shang-Chi swiftly becomes disillusioned by the pragmatism, dishonesty and Black-and-Grey Morality associated with espionage, frequently referring to "games of deceit and death", and eventually trying to leave all of this behind and severing his connections to MI6. However, his skills mean that he rarely gets away from the action for long - there's always another sinister plot that needs to be foiled.
Following the end of his original titles, Shang-Chi fell into relative obscurity. A story was serialised in Marvel Comics Presents, followed by a one-shot and two limited series, but he remained largely isolated from the rest of Marvelís characters and continuity.
Some years later, he became part of the Heroes for Hire, then reappeared in the Spider-Island event. He then became both a member of the Secret Avengers and The Avengers (Jonathan Hickman), also getting an Alternate Universe treatment in a miniseries accompanying Hickman's Avengers grand finale Secret Wars (2015).
In December 2018, Marvel Studios hired David Callaham to write the screenplay for a Shang-Chi film as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which eventually became Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The film was released on September 3, 2021, with Simu Liu portraying the eponymous character.
In parallel with this, Gene Luen Yang wrote a relaunch of the comics, a Soft Reboot that further distanced Zheng Zu from the original Fu Manchu concept, introduced more of Shang-Chi's extended family, and firmly embedded his adventures into the Marvel Universe. With the launch of Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings, this also takes him beyond his usual comic book role as an elite martial artist, arming him with a version of the Ten Rings wielded by his film counterpart. Yang also reconfigured the hero's origin, having an Asian mother as in the film, Jiang Li, this name had been used in licensed products and marketing, but changed to Ying Li, after the film's release, Yang drew parallels between Zheng Zu and Wenwu, he met Li after invading Ta-Lo, they both couldn't live in Ta-Lo and moved to Earth, they had two children and Zu seemed to be happy, but unlike Wenwu, Zheng Zu didn't abandon his organization and Li didn't die, just banished to the Negative Zone, Zu planned to steal the Ten Rings from Ta-Lo, but failed.
The Real Life story of his creation is unusual. Jim Starlin and Steve Englehart were fans of the, then-popular, TV series Kung Fu (1972) and wanted to adapt the series to comics; however, the series belonged to Warner Communications, owner of Marvel's main rival, DC Comics. (Coincidentally, a remake of Kung Fu would premiere the same year as the release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.) Marvel had also acquired the rights to publish comics based on Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu books. Rather than do a straight adaptation of either series, they combined the concepts and made the evil Fu Manchu's heroic opponent his own son, based loosely on Kwai-Chang Caine from Kung Fu.
Shang-Chi has appeared in the following works:
Shang-Chi Comic Books
- Special Marvel Edition (1973) #15-16 (first appearance)
- Master of Kung Fu (1974-1983, 2017) #17-126
- Deadly Hands of Kung Fu (1974) #1-33
- Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu (1974-1975) #1-4
- Master of Kung Fu: Crossing Lines (serialised in the anthology Marvel Comics Presents #1-8)
- Master of Kung Fu: Bleeding Black (1990) - one-shot
- Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu (2002) #1-6 - miniseries
- Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu (2009) - one-shot
- Spider-Island: Deadly Hands of Kung Fu (2011) #1-3 - miniseries
- Deadly Hands of Kung Fu (2014) #1-4 - miniseries
- Master of Kung Fu (2015) #1-4 - miniseries (an alternate universe story, a Secret Wars (2015) tie-in)
- Shang-Chi (2020) #1-5 - miniseries
- Legend of Shang-Chi (2021) #1 - one-shot
- What Is vs. What If (published in the anthology Marvel's Voices: Identity #1) (2021) - one-shot
- Shang-Chi (2021) #1-12
- Shang-Chi Infinity Comic (2021) #1-4 - digital miniseries
- Secrets (published in the anthology Marvel's Voices: Identity #1) (2022) - one-shot
- Fool Me Twice (published in the anthology Marvel's Voices: Identity #1) (2022) - one-shot
- Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings (2022) #1-6
- Shang-Chi: Master of the Ten Rings (2023) #1 - one-shot
- Marvel Future Fight
- Marvel Duel
- Marvel: Contest of Champions
- Marvel Strike Force
- Marvel Super War''
- Marvel Puzzle Quest
Shang-Chiís comic appearances contain the following tropes:
- Ancient Conspiracy: The Five Weapons Society was formed by Zheng Zu and Zheng Yi to protect China back during the 18th century. They protected China against beings like Dormammu until Yi died and, without his kindhearted brother, Zu twisted the Society into something more sinister.
- Anime Hair: Dike Ruan at times draws Shang-Chi's hair almost exactly like Son Gohan's.
- BrotherĖSister Team: Takeshi and Esme work really well together.
- Bullet Catch: In early stories, Shang-Chi was fast enough to catch thrown weapons, but not bullets. In the 21st century stories, that's no longer the case - heís fast enough to catch bullets with his hands and, on one occasion, between his teeth.
- Long-Lost Relative:
- It turns out that Shang-Chi has a bunch of siblings, since Zheng Zu wanted a lot of heirs. Takeshi and Esme side with Shang, while Shi-Hua wants to take over the Society for herself. Shang even meets his uncle, Zheng Yi, for the first time.
- In the ongoing series, Shang finds out that he has another half-sister, Zhilan, who is a mutant. He is also reunited with his real mother, Jiang Li.
- Mythology Gag: There are five Houses in the Five Weapons Society: the House of the Deadly Staff, House of the Deadly Sabre, House of the Deadly Dagger, House of the Deadly Hammer, and House of the Deadly Hand. Shang-Chi is supposed to be the head of the House of the Deadly Hand and thus referred to as "Brother Hand." Shang-Chi's first comic was called The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu and he later headlined a comic called The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu.
- Remember the New Guy?: Many of Zheng Zu's other children has never appeared before the 2020 series, most notably Shi-Hua, who in flashbacks is shown to have a friendship with Shang-Chi throughout childhood.
- An Arm and a Leg: Shadow-Hand is missing both hands.
- Battle Harem: Shadow-Hand's female attendants are both his lovers and his elite guards.
- Big Bad: Li Chun, also known as Shadow-Hand.
- Epic Flail: Shadow-Hand has replaced both of his missing hands with ball-and-chain flails.
- Fake Arm Disarm: Shang-Chi eventually breaks both of Shadow-Hand's flails.
- Big Bad: Lady Deathstrike, more often seen as a Wolverine villain.
- Could Have Been Messy: The main fight is bloodless, as are the offscreen attacks. Justified in that the soul-stealing Equinox Blade cuts objects but leaves no mark on flesh. However, itís also true of the last phase of the battle, when Lady Deathstrike's using her claws against Shang-Chi.
- The End... Or Is It?: Lady Deathstrike's escaped and, although neither Shang-Chi nor Leiko realises it, she has a fragment of the Equinox Blade that still seems to have its power.
- Everybody Lives: All of the British Museum staff were cut down by the Equinox Blade, not Lady Deathstrike's claws, and wake up again as soon as it's shattered.
- Heist Clash: Shang-Chi and Lady Deathstrike try to steal the Equinox Blade on the same night.
- Laser Hallway: The British Museum has one once the security system's reactivated.
- Mission Control: Leiko Wu guides Shang-Chi via a lapel camera and earpiece.
- Power Glows: The Equinox Blade shines with an ominous red light after striking someone.
- Soul-Cutting Blade: The Equinox Blade steals the souls of anyone it cuts, but doesn't seem to leave a physical wound.
- The Unreveal: MI6 and Lady Deathstrike are both trying to steal the blade before it's sent to a private buyer the next day. The buyer's identity is never revealed.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Lady Deathstrike wasn't expecting Shang-Chi and doesnít initially recognise him. But she did somehow know Leiko Wu and MI6 were involved, and casts doubt on their motives. The background to this is never explained.
- Evil Counterpart: As a result of asking What If?, the coin makes Shang-Chi fight a version of himself who never defied his father and did not become a hero.
- Mirror Match: Played with. The coin sets up a match between Shang-Chi vs. a version of him who became a villain, since the two of them are both expert martial artists. However, Shang-Chi beats him by utilizing moves learned from his allies.
- What If?: Directly invoked. The monk guarding the coin Shang-Chi wants tells him to look inwards and asks "what if?". Shang-Chi wonders what would have happened if he had not defied his father.