Why Jim Starlin Quit Master of Kung-Fu Soon After Co-Creating Shang-Chi - CBR - Comic Book Resources

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In the latest Comic Book Legends Revealed, discover why Jim Starlin quit Master of Kung Fu soon after co-creating Shang-Chi

Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the eight hundred and seventieth installment where we examine three comic book legends and determine whether they are true or false. As usual, there will be three posts, one for each of the three legends. Click here for the first legend in this installment.

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Jim Starlin quit Master of Kung Fu because he finally read a Fu Manchu novel and was disgusted by it.


I'm Going With a True

In case you're unfamiliar with the character (outside the distinctive facial hairstyle that the film version of the character inspired), Fu Manchu is an Asian villain who appeared as the villain in a series of adventure novels by British novelist Sax Rohmer that began in 1913. Fu Manchu was the epitome of the idea of "Yellow Peril," which is when writers turn Asian villains into some sort of exotic boogey man. Here is how Rohmer described Fu Manchu in one of the books, "Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, ... one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present ... Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the Yellow Peril incarnate in one man." Fu Manchu is essentially one of the world's earliest supervillains.


In the 1970s, Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin had pitched a new character to tie in with the martial arts craze that was spreading through popular culture at the time. The hero of the book would be Shang-Chi. Marvel Editor-in-Chief, Roy Thomas, however, then insisted Fu Manchu be part of the series and so Shang-Chi became the SON of Fu Manchu who is trained as the world's greatest assassin by his father, but then splits from his father to become a hero instead...

Shang-Chi was inspired by the TV series, Kung Fu, which Starlin ADORED and he got Steve Englehart into, as well (Starlin, though, was way more into the series).

Roy Thomas had heard from some DC writers that he knew that they had gone to DC head Carmine Infantino and asked if they could license Kung Fu for a comic book series, since Kung Fu was a Warner Bros. production. Infantino had no interest in doing so. When they allegedly retorted that it would be a good idea because otherwise, Marvel might get the license themselves, Infantino supposedly came back with "Don't worry, if Marvel does Kung Fu, we'll do Fu Manchu." Now, the important thing is not whether that conversation actually happened (although I'd love to know if it actually happened) but that Roy Thomas heard that it happened and it amused him enough that when Starlin and Englehart then effectively pitched him the same thing as the DC writers had pitched Infantino (although without licensing the TV show itself), he thought it would be great if he took away Infantino's back-up. So he told Starlin and Englehart that they had to work Fu Manchu into the comic and then Thomas asked Stan Lee to license Fu Manchu from the Sax Rohmer estate (it wasn't a hot license at the time, so they got it relatively cheap). Thomas was certainly aware of Fu Manchu, as well, so it wasn't like he was doing it STRICTLY as a joke, but that was sort of the driving aspect of it all.


So Starlin and Englehart dutifully worked Fu Manchu into their new character's story and did a couple of issues of this new character, and things were going well. However, a new Marvel creator at the time was Larry Hama, who was doing some early artwork for another then-new martial arts character at Marvel that Roy Thomas and Gil Kane had created called Iron Fist. Starlin and Hama were friend, and Starlin explained last year, "Only after I got done with the first issue, did Larry Hama, a friend of mine, say, 'Have you ever read one of these books?' And he gave me one the next day, and I was going, ehhh, jeez, it's kinda embarrassing."

You can tell that Starlin was unfamiliar with the books, because he actually killed off a character that he wasn't supposed to, as I noted in an old Comic Book Legends Revealed. So it is very believable that Starlin legit had never read one of the novels before he started working on Shang Chi (since the book was done Marvel Method style, Starlin was in control of what happened in the story, so Englehart had to just go with what Starlin had done when he later scripted the story).

So Starlin explained last year, "Over the following week, while I was working on the second issue [of Shang-Chi], I read it. I was horrified by these... yellow peril books. These are not politically correct whatsoever. Anybody who's not white is villainous in these things. Quite frankly, I was horrified. That's why I ditched Shang-Chi after only three issues and went back fully to Captain Marvel. I was kind of embarrassed by it. We'd started with good intentions, and by the time I was in the middle of the second issue I was sort of like 'I want to get out of here.' That's why I only did a few issues of it."

Thanks to Jim Starlin, Popcorn Talk and CBR's own Brandon Zachary for doing an article on the interview last year for the information!

In the latest Movie Legends Revealed - Discover the crazy original ending of Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey!


Check back soon for part 3 of this installment's legends!

Feel free to send suggestions for future comic legends to me at either cronb01@aol.com or brianc@cbr.com

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