Forget the capes. Forget the superpowers. Marvel is going back to the basics – the kung fu basics – in the all-new Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. Launched this week as a four-issue series, the story follows Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu to the United Kingdom as he goes looking to pay tribute to a fallen MI6 friend and ends up discovering a murder. Television writer Mike Benson (Entourage, Breaking In) is back in comics, joined with Malaysian artist Tan Eng Haut, to create a modern definitive story for this classic part of the Marvel pantheon – and not without a few former allies – and enemies.
Mike Benson tells Newsarama that his goal for Deadly Hands of Kung Fu is to “get Shang-Chi’s hands a bit dirty and bring out his inner badass,” so we talked about the high stakes of this ordeal, as well as Benson’s background in karate and how it all came together with Shang-Chi.
Newsarama: Mike, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 just hit – for people who haven’t read it yet, what can they expect?
Mike Benson: I hope readers have a satisfying, high-octane experience. Jake Thomas, my editor in crime on this book and fellow Kung Fu enthusiast, and I sought to give the reader an all-out action adventure. We wanted the book to have more of a Hong Kong/Luc Besson feel to it and less of a super-hero tale. Our goal was to embrace old and new school, giving a strong nod to the original title of the ’70s; mashing up Shang-Chi with some Jason Bourne-type characteristics minus a glossy James Bond vibe. Quite honestly, we aspired to get Shang-Chi’s hands a bit dirty and bring out his inner badass. I think we accomplished that without compromising the true nature of the character.
Nrama: The story of this series starts when Shang-Chi goes to England for the funeral of a friend and former lover from MI6. What can you tell us about her?
Benson: All I’ll say is this was a person Shang-Chi thought he knew but actually didn’t. People change over time. Everyone can relate to thinking we know someone really well and then are surprised by their actions or choices. That’s what Shang-Chi experiences.
Nrama: Picturing Shang-Chi in England brings up a lot of potential scenarios here – can you tell us about the setting and its effect on the story?
Benson: This story is very much a going-back-home tale, reuniting with people Shang hasn’t seen in a long time, and how they too have changed. Shang-Chi returns to a familiar place only to feel like it is truly no longer his home. How he deals with those feelings brings an emotional element to the story.
Nrama: This isn’t a 4-part series about a funeral I presume, so who will Shang-Chi be up against here – and why?
Benson: Shang-Chi will face familiar and new foes, and will do so with some old allies like the Daughters of the Dragon and the Sons of the Tiger. One of my all-time favorite bad guys, Razor Fist, will battle Shang-Chi along with the White Dragon. The new villains are very cool and share that old-school Kung Fu sense of the films I watched as a kid.
Nrama: In the solicits for issue #3 we see – and read – about a character called the White Dragon. There’ve been 3 people with that name at Marvel before, but is this one someone new?
Benson: This White Dragon (and you can tell by his costume design) is the New York leader of the Dragon Lords. Most crime lords operate globally and that’s how we envision this White Dragon. By circumstance, we find him working out of the United Kingdom when we meet him.
Nrama: Stepping back for a bigger picture, what makes Shang-Chi cool, and what are you doing to show that here?
Benson: As a kid, I was drawn to Shang-Chi’s look and design much like I was with Moon Knight and his costume. What makes Shang-Chi so cool is his attitude, unique philosophy and style. If you want to see real cool, look at the Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu covers from the ’70s. I always loved Shang-Chi’s rogue’s gallery plus his close-knit relationships with the central cast. Plus seeing unique foreign weapons and the espionage angle the book had for many years.
Nrama: In our last interview, you revealed that you practiced Kyokushinkai karate for six years. Can you tell us how that background influences your storytelling here?
Benson: It gave me a greater appreciation and respect for the type of fighting Shang-Chi performs. Try jumping up and kicking two guys at once in the head! What drew me to the character was a mild element of realism. Not only in the way Shang-Chi fights, but in the way he carries himself. The peaceful, quiet warrior. I’m a sucker for that.
Nrama: Shang-Chi is a storied character in the Marvel mythos, but one that some people may not be able to refer to a specific story of theirs. Are you aiming to make that quintessential modern definitive tale for him here?
Benson: Sure, that’s what every writer strives for. We’re aiming for the sky, and the true test will be how the fans respond to the book. They will make or break it. A lot comes from having a vision and trying to capture lightning in a bottle – sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Only time will tell.