New Reviews of Old Comics
What If? has always had this rather mythic feel for me. The original run of the title was over by the time I started collecting in 1984 and for whatever reason it was one of those hard to find titles. Over the years I’ve managed to pick up a few here and there including a beat up copy of #1, a coverless copy of #3 and some others like “What if Phoenix had lived?” and “What if Loki found Thor’s hammer?” among others. Of course comics are fiction to begin with, but let’s face it, for us hardcore long term comic readers there is a feeling of reality with these characters we’ve followed for so long. Many of us can give pretty detailed histories of our favorite characters, to the extent we get up in arms when those long standing mythos or continuities are challenged. Personally I think it’s very cool to think of these characters in a different light. Fiction about fiction.
In all my years of comic collecting I have read exactly one issue of Master of Kung Fu and though it wasn’t bad, that one issue doesn’t give me much background on the “true” Shang Chi stories. Thankfully for the nascent reader, writer Doug Moench gives “What if Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, had remained loyal to Fu Manchu?” some background about the main character. Fu Manchu was/is a pretty evil guy who, like most comic book villains, wanted to rule the world. His son, Shang-Chi, did not believe in his father’s evil ways and came to this realization during a botched assassination attempt that led to his meeting other main characters of the title and fighting the evil Fu Manchu. So in the alternate reality that is What If? Shang-Chi completes the assassination unobstructed and continues working with his father. Meanwhile those other main characters join up anyway in an effort to stop Fun Manchu from attacking the British Empire, notably Buckingham Palace. To defeat the British Fu Manchu has Shang-Chi and other minions dig up some dead warriors so the evil leader can bring them back to life. This is the turning point for Shang-Chi, where he realizes his father might not be on the up and up. This epiphany comes in time for Shang-Chi to help save the Brits from an attack by Chinese zombies rising giant lizards that look remarkably like dewbacks from the first Star Wars movie. The British teams winds up setting the zombies on fire, killing them for a second time, which enrages Shang-Chi who believes in the sanctity of life, even for the undead. When Brits try recruiting Shang-Chi to continue helping them fight Fu Manchu he declares himself independent because although Fun Manchu is evil, the British are no better because they willfully killed the forces of Fu Manchu. Two wrongs don’t make a right for Shang-Chi.
Here’s what I liked about this story; from the beginning it was obvious that Shang-Chi was not going to stay loyal to his evil father and he was eventually going to fight against him. However, the easy approach would have been to team him up with those British agents like the regular title, presenting it as if they were destined to work together or something. Moench’s ending with Shang-Chi aligning himself with neither is actually perfect for what we know of the character. He’s someone who wants to remain pure to his training, respect life and fight evil no matter the source. Of course Fu Manchu is evil, but one could also make a solid argument that the western world is pretty evil too so why would Shang-Chi go along with that? Rick Hoberg was the artist for this issue and I thought his work was excellent, to the point where I wondered why I’m not more familiar with his name. This issue of What If? did not disappoint; sold story and art that made for a good read even if you’re not familiar with main character.