Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu in a definitive issue-by-issue collecting guide and trade reading order via omnibus, hardcover, and trade paperback collections. Find every issue and appearance! Part of Crushing Krisis’s Crushing Comics. Last updated April 2023 with titles scheduled for release through July 2023.
Who is Shang-Chi? To figure out the answer, we need to travel back in time over 40 years to 1974.
Similar to Marvel 70s horror titles Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night that emerged in 1972, Master of Kung Fu (MoKF) both featured a major non-Marvel character and was built to serve a public craze.
In this case, the craze was the titular Kung Fu. It was blowing up in the summer of 1973 thanks to a culmination of factors including the television show Kung Fu, a number of successful movies imported from China’s booming cinema, and one man: Bruce Lee.
Marvel wanted to license the popular Kung Fu to take advantage of the nationwide interest in martial arts (which also yielded Iron Fist), but they failed to obtain the rights. Instead, they turned to another pre-existing mythology: the story behind villain Fu Manchu, a fictional criminal mastermind who coined the mustache of the same name. He was created by author Sax Rohmer in 1912 in a serialized novel, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu.
Fu Manchu was popular enough to merit an initial trilogy of serialized books in the 1910s and even more starting in the 1930s, plus a number of film adaptions ranging from 1929 to 1980. The character can be a controversial one – even in the 1930s he was seen as a racist caricature representing the “Yellow Peril” of an East-Asian threat to the wider, whiter world.
Enter Marvel Comics. They licensed the Fu Manchu universe from Rohmer’s estate, which was mostly focused on film adaptations in the 60s after Rohmer’s death and final book in 1959.
Instead of keeping it isolated in its own continuity, they created Shang-Chi as a part of the Marvel Universe and made him the son of Fu Manchu! What used to be Special Marvel Edition introduced Shang-Chi and then quickly made him the headliner of the book, swapping the title to Master of Kung Fu with issue #17.
Unlike Dracula, who has always been in the public domain in the US and who entered that status in the 1960s in Britain, Fu Manchu has remained the intellectual property of the Rohmer estate. While all Dracula stories are fair game to tell, print, and reprint, Fu Manchu requires a licensing agreement to use.
At some point after MoKF ended in 1983, Marvel let their rights to the Fu Manchu universe lapse. While they still retained Shang-Chi as a character, they could no longer name his villainous father in print. Further, Marvel could not reproduce or reprint those Fu Manchu stories in print and digital collections until reaching a new arrangement with the Rohmer estate in 2015.
Marvel moved forward with bringing Shang-Chi back to prominence before they re-secured his reprint rights. After appearing in the mid-00s Heroes for Hire, he became a member of the Secret Avengers in 2010 and Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers in 2013. Then, starting in 2017, he starred in a string of his own solo series, written by award-winning superstar Gene Luen Yang and Alyssa Wong.