Marvel Legacy is in full swing and the publisher has continued to unleash lots of old titles with traditional numbering alongside a couple of one-shots! This week the return of Shang-Chi graces the Marvel Universe. Elsewhere, the street-level vigilantes are taking charge with Moon Knight and Daredevil taking center stage–welcome back to The Marvel Rundown!
Master of Kung-Fu #126
Written by CM Punk
Illustrated by Dalibor Talajic
Colored by Erick Arciniega
Reviewed by AJ Frost
Perhaps one of the symptoms of a cynical fan culture is that we expect our comics to exceed our expectations from the get-go. No matter how much anticipation or exposure is built up, if the final product does not satisfy every iota of our imagination, then the final product is kaput in our eyes. There seems to be an aversion to recognizing the inherent campiness in a lot of the mainstream comics stories that are released every week. If there isn’t brooding or some faux-existential dilemma that has to be solved in the span of a three-page spread, then the final product is seemingly nothing more than a worthless pursuit of thirty minutes of leisure and escape. On the other hand, when a comic has an awareness of itself as a piece of exaggerated art meant solely as entertainment, then I’m usually game to accept such self-consciousness and judge it by those merits.
Certainly, that was my thinking with regard to this week’s Legacy release of Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu #126 one-shot. The entire enterprise of Master of Kung Fu is a farce that is rarely explored in the mainstream echelons of the comics either, and I was surprised to read some of the (very) negative reaction to the comic. My take is much more buoyant. My main takeaway is that yes, while the issue appealed to my sense of humor, I really found it to be a charming piece of comic ephemera. It was irreverent in all the ways it was supposed to exude irreverence, it was hokey in all the ways it was supposed to be hokey, and it has vintage vibes of the so-bad-its-good syndicated cable martial art shows variety; this issue approvingly wears these influences on its sleeves and it’s the stronger for it.
So what do we have here? Even with a subtitle like “Shang-Chi’s Day Off” as an indication that proceedings are not meant to be taken seriously in the slightest. But even more so, with CM Punk (aka Phil Brooks) of UFC and WWE fame taking over the story duties, are you expecting Pynchon here? The contents within are straightforward, and the tale that gets surprising meta the further along we go. The main thrust of the issue goes like this: Shang Chi and his capuchin companion Ree go on a quest to snag some ice cream, but while there, get accosted by a faction of off-brand Hand (off-Hand?) ninja, kidnapped, and then get imprisoned by their leader who wants to do some freaky animal/mutant experiments on Shang. Oh yeah, and there’s a whole bit about pizza rats being the harbinger of a ninja invasion. It’s a plot that’s not meant to inspire deep thought.
On the other hand, there is nothing essentially wrong or bad about the plot either. Though I’m not sure what definitely influenced Punk during the writing of this issue, the exchanges throughout between Shang and his would-be elite enemies are light and filled with a stilted spirit that is familiar to anyone who enjoys the cheesiness of the genre. It made me laugh.
Perfectly complementing Punk’s yarn of roundhouse kicks and the burdens of being a goon for hire (little pay, naturally), Dalibor Talajić’s art pencils really embody the Legacy ethos of going back to an earlier time in Marvel’s history. There’s a ‘70s sheen everywhere, and Talajić does an excellent job of bringing a great sense of fluid motion to increasingly absurd situations. Reigning in the overwhelming absurdity is colorist Erick Arciniega’s utilization of a noticeably restrained color palette that sticks to cold tones, which is a nice juxtaposition with the light and fire of Shang-Chi has he fights the hordes of hapless ninja goons. (One little nitpick regarding the colors, though, is that Arciniega does overdo the purples, but that’s only a small personal annoyance.)
My final impressions of Master of Kung Fu #166 are that, yes, it’s ridiculous, brash, and vapid, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to read. At their heart, mainstream superhero comics are supposed to be fun rather than morose.
Verdict: Buy. This isn’t the dark ages anymore (we all live in that reality every day). So, why not just sit back, relax, and enjoy the antics of Shang-Chi for a humorous ride of thrills and martial art buffoonery?
Written by Charles Soule
Illustrated by Stefano Landini
Colored by Matt Milla
Inked by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Reviewed by Alexander Jones
Elsewhere in Marvel Legacy, writer Charles Soule and Marvel have chosen to switch up the status quo of the overall comic yet again. Up to this point, the series has been a slow burn, organically building up to lush and beautiful storytelling culminating in the ‘Supreme’ arc a few stories ago. This current sea change for Daredevil felt particularly out of place here as all of the sudden, Wilson Fisk a.k.a. Kingpin has just been elected mayor of New York City. Given the current political climate, it is incredibly hard for this storyline not to read as some kind of cheesy gimmick Soule does his best to justify throughout the issue. Early on in the title, the writer has some pretty interesting things to say about the status quo and also comments about how the change happened and even took a look at the comic from a legal standpoint. Pairing all of those items together makes the series direction a little easier to bear especially when utilizing the written word with Stefano Lanidini’s sobering yet expressive pencil set.
Catching up with Matthew Murdock’s lost time due to recent events is a great way to try and hold down the most cohesive aspects of the series, but there is something inherently silly about Daredevil not knowing that Fisk was running for mayor in the first place. Soule and the creative team at Marvel may have been able to serve the character better if they had given the book a small jump forward in time when taking on such an expansive plot twist. When the title finally switches over to see some of the slower aspects of the book Murdock continues to explore the political administration as the inherent logic of the plot starts to come apart. Kingpin is a convict and shouldn’t even be able to run for the office in the first place. This narrative takes the idea pretty seriously and tries to spin the ideas in some meaningful way. If a new plot angle was treated more like past big plot reveals and was the culmination of something within the story itself, maybe this issue would have packed a stronger impact than it ended up having overall.
Landini’s more intimate and expressive work adds something to this book which wouldn’t have been there otherwise. His storytelling is exceptional and characters always feel like they are conveying a strong sense of emotion. The artist renders a particularly fluid and expressive Kingpin. Thanks to colorist Matt Milla, the series still retains a more cohesive flow. While I do wish Marvel could keep the artistic talent on the book more consistent, every artist who has stepped on board the current run of Soule’s Daredevil has brought something unique to the table and Landini is certainly no exception to the rule.
Up to this point, the slow-burn, heady nature of the current Daredevil has made the book one of my all-time favorite current titles at the publisher. Unfortunately, this new story-arc isn’t bringing the sense of majesty and wonder previous entries to the series have commanded. I’m more than willing to give Soule, Landini and the team to take the tale to the next level and point to the execution of this literature being far stronger than some of the criticism which could be potentially thrown at it for the subject matter.
Verdict: Browse. Daredevil #595 stumbles and takes a couple of bombastic leaps of logic in the new storyline which still features fantastic art and the classic current vibe of the book.
Moon Knight #188
Written by Max Bemis
Illustrated by Jacen Burrows
Colored by Mat Lopes
Inked by VC’s Cory Petit
Reviewed by Alexander Jones
I’m not sure just what I was expecting from the new Moon Knight series but it was in no way what was provided to me on the pages of #188. The title is loaded with insane ideas and has a certain commitment to the weird which series author Max Bemis seems to be committed to. Seeing the writer get so ambitious with a Marvel series is definitely a refreshing take on a character like Moon Knight, who needs to be reconstructed from the ground-up after countless revisions and the Lemire run which redefined so many aspects of the character.
Moon Knight #188 is actually a quiet, sad character study containing one of the more morose endings you’ll see this year in a Marvel comic book. With Marc Spector being one of the most difficult characters to unravel, I wholly admire such a dynamic take on the character and mythology even if readers aren’t introduced to the full scope of the work in this opening chapter. Bemis continues to craft some familiar themes with past series he’s written and also gives the plot a huge twist that Bemis has executed previously. I just hope that moving forward Bemis will know of some way to ground this narrative and infuse actual stakes into the story. Getting a non-linear reintroduction to the plot and character is an ambitious, refreshing and needed take on this franchise, but flair doesn’t account for substance.
Jacen Burrows’ art is gorgeous on this issue. The artist has a lot of work to do in establishing the harsh, conflicted tone and insidious nature of the story. He introduces new characters to the fold and tells a narrative featuring a huge twist. The most simplistic nature and simple layouts and backgrounds add a sense of minimalism to the work. The big facial expressions and showdowns with the horror elements of the book also land in a superb manner. The dream sequence in the storyline is the artistic highlight of the story and a haunting sequence that stuck with me when I closed the pages of the book–the sense of jarring kinetic movement in this scene is another fantastic aspect of the artistic contributions here.
The issue sets up a couple of characters fans could get sucked into, but the comic downplays the ideas and cast members before readers can get too attached to anyone. Those aspects of the tale disappointing, but there should be something to be said about the incredible guts and tenacity of this comic. While the full vision of Bemis’ script is not clear by the end of the issue, the creator is able to quickly establish some emotional stakes for his Moon Knight debut.
Verdict: Buy. Moon Knight #188 was a haunting debut which kept me on my toes with chilling art and a script loaded with surprises.
Next week we’re going to be back right here to figure out just what this whole Loki: Sorcerer Supreme thing is all about–don’t miss it!
Fruit snack aficionado. @AlexandComics