Rethinking Shang-Chi’s problematic origins in an unerasable Marvel universe

In many ways, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Marvel ’ s latest mega-blockbuster, is following in the footsteps of Black Panther. The 2018 episode of the MCU opened the door for Black representation in blockbuster film, and walked all the way to the Oscars. It took an even longer time for Marvel to get to a compass point where Shang-Chi could fill that character for asian audiences .
The history of the character is far more complicated and messy than the movie ’ second output timeline. originally, Shang-Chi was an annex of Marvel ’ s licensing deal for the debatable british literary villain Fu Manchu created by white writer Sax Rohmer. Stereotypes abounded in the original Shang-Chi comic books, which had to be resolved in order for Marvel to bring this quality into the twenty-first century. One of the people creditworthy for that transformation is this week ’ mho node on Galaxy Brains, Gene Luen Yang. Yang ’ s credits include the graphic novel american Born Chinese, several Avatar : The final Airbender comics, DC ’ s Superman Smashes the Klan, and most recently, an ongoing Shang-Chi record for Marvel Comics .
To rethink Shang-Chi for the modern Marvel universe, Yang brought traditional chinese mysticism and cultural heritage to the character ’ randomness backstory. For our Shang-Chi sequence of Galaxy Brains, we asked the cartoonist and writer to dig into the history of Shang-Chi, his familial relationship to Fu Manchu, and how he was able to reclaim this quality for asian communities around the world. here ’ s an excerpt :

What were the origins of this character and why was it not a character that was in regular rotation in the Marvel Comics universe?
Gene: I began reading Marvel Comics in the 1980s second when I was in fifth grade. I bought my very first comic from a spinner rack at my local bookshop. And back then there were some Shang-Chi comics that were round. I think his monthly serial had recently ended at emergence 125. So they were in back-issue bins. But as a Chinese-American kyd, I was going through this thing where I just didn ’ thyroxine want to be asian .
so I actively avoided picking up those Shang-Chi comics. therefore I didn ’ t know a long ton about the character. I didn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate read any Shang-Chi comics until I was an adult. But from doing research in club to write the ongoing series, he began with … not-so-awesome origins. In the original discharge, he was the son of Fu Manchu. My understand was that Marvel wanted to do a amusing based on Kung Fu, the television receiver series, but were ineffective to acquire the license. So getting the Fu Manchu license was the adjacent best matter. And they created this character who was the son of Fu Manchu. If you read those early comics, there are actually fun things about them — the way they do natural process is amaze. But then the character himself, Shang-Chi himself, doesn ’ t wholly fit the Marvel mold. Like when you think of Marvel, at least when I was a kid, one of the things that I loved the most about Marvel was that the characters were meant to be relatable. Like you got to see Spider-Man go to his local launderette to do his laundry and you identify with him. But those early on Shang-Chi comics were structured that way. They weren ’ metric ton structured in a way where you ’ rhenium mean to identify with .
I think about Black Panther, and how it played a similar role in the MCU to what Shang-Chi is playing now, but the Black Panther comic books were very unique in that period of the Marvel Golden Age because he wasn’t a Peter Parker, a kid who’s trying to scrape by and make something of himself. This character of Black Panther is a king. You know, he’s very regal; T’Chala is not like us. He’s not relatable in that way. They found a way to make him relatable in the films, but it wasn’t quite as connected and grounded to the real world as some of the other Marvel comics. I’m interested to hear you say that about Shang-Chi, that it was similar in that it was, I wouldn’t say othering because that seems like a negative word, but it’s certainly different from how grounded the Marvel superheroes were.
Gene: Yeah, that ’ south right. For T ’ Challa, it took awhile for them to kind of Marvel-ize him, to make them fit into what makes Marvel unique. To build in those identification pieces .

“And who are you?” Kong Kenan/Super-Man asks of a robed Asian man with a Fu Manchu moustache. “You are at — and I am — the very beginning,” answers the man in New Super-Man #15 (2017).

I want to drill down into Fu Manchu. For those who don’t know what Fu Manchu was, or the reason why it’s offensive to a lot of Asian people, can you explain kind of what this character was and what his place in the popular culture was at that time?
Gene: Fu Manchu is what we would recognize as the archetypal Yellow Peril villain. yellow Peril villains were a course in the late 1800s, early 1900s of westerly media portraying these chinese characters, predominantly chinese characters, as pretty inhuman. Like Fu Manchu was a chinese ace genius who ’ sulfur flex on taking over the westerly world. He had bright yellow hide, he had in truth overdo facial features, hair’s-breadth, pointed ears. An early on asian stereotype was that Asians had pointy ears. I have no theme where this came from ! Like, I ’ ve never met an asian person with remotely pointy ears. But in any case, Fu Manchu starred in these early novels written by an generator named Sax Rohmer. The room I see Fu Manchu now is that I think of him as about like a ghost. He ’ s not actually a ghost in the stories, but frequently touch stories are a supernatural way of talking about people wrestling with their sins. The ghost in a ghostwriter floor much represents an embodiment of the repercussions of sine .
Fu Manchu became actually democratic towards the goal. Like, I think he debuted correctly after what the chinese call their “ century of humiliation. ” indeed during the 1800s, China as a state just went through hell. They lost war after war and one of the one of the big wars that they lost was the Opium War against the british. And the Opium War was about Britain fighting for their right to sell drugs to the taiwanese populace, which the chinese government didn ’ thyroxine want. And they were doing that in order to even out a deal deficit. So I think deep down inside, the Brits knew that this was a badly matter. I think trench toss off inside the fresh right, they ’ ra sinning against this other state. In a lot of ways, the way I read Fu Manchu is that he kind of represents the repercussions of Britain ’ s actions towards the Chinese in the 1800s. And when Fu Manchu gets defeated in those early Fu Manchu stories, it ’ south sort of like the Brits writing the story about how they ’ re able to put off the repercussions of their own sins .
Right now you’re personally responsible for revamping the origin story of Shang-Chi. And I was wondering if you could talk us through how you approach this new story and what new details you added to the character’s backstory?
Gene: Yeah, it ’ randomness been a short ton of playfulness to work on. I ’ ve gotten to work with some perplex artists. Dike Ruan and I are now doing the monthly ongoing series for the limit series that came out about a class ago. Dike did separate of the art and Phillip Tan did another share. The whole thing ’ s being edited by Darren Shan, an amaze editor program with amaze instincts. We ’ re all of chinese lineage and, early on, we talked about what this character meant to us. And all of us had that wyrd kinship that I talked about earlier, where we didn ’ thymine amply embrace Shang-Chi as kids. sol ultimately, what we wanted to do was bring more Marvel into this character. We wanted to make him more of a character that we could all relate to regardless of our readers ’ cultural background. We wanted them to be able to relate to Shang-Chi .
The Marvel Universe is different from DC. Like with DC, you sometimes have these hard resets of the entire universe that happened with Crisis on Infinite Earths in the ‘ 80s, and it ’ s happened again more recently with New 52. But Marvel ’ s never gone through something like that. Marvel ’ s never had a hard reset. So it means that all the stuff in the Marvel past, like the Marvel history, is hush in play, which means we have to kind of calculate out how to talk about all the debatable pieces of Shang-Chi without doing a hard reset. We kept the fact that Shang-Chi ’ s dad is a supervillain. He ’ randomness no longer Fu Manchu, but he ’ s the super villain. We tried to make his supervillain dad more charitable, but we wanted to lean into a syndicate drama. Everybody can relate to family drama. So we wanted to lean into the tension between him and his dad, and we besides wanted to give them a bunch of siblings that he could both subscribe and bicker with.


Shang-Chi, Brother Sabre, and Sister Dagger squabble and high five in Shang-Chi #3 (2020).

That family dynamic and the idea of squabbling, I think, is probably the most unifying aspect of the Marvel Universe, both on the page and on the screen. How are you going to improve upon your parents or how are you going to overcome the obstacles presented by your parents? There’s just so much that is there in these stories. Was that something that when you were reading the comics as a kid you related to or was it something that was more just like subtext that you got later on when you grew up?
Gene: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I don ’ triiodothyronine know if I would have been able to articulate it as a kyd, but that was decidedly something that I was drawn to. My front-runner Marvel book when I was little, like when I was in elementary school, was fantastic Four. The whole thing was about how these people love each other, but kind of hate each other sometimes, besides. That ’ s about all of us, the way we feel about our families. We love them. But sometimes, you know, sometimes possibly not .
There’s a big plot point in your comics about the spirit of Shang-Chi’s father and a jiangshi , which is a vampiric ghost-like creature from Chinese mythology and folklore. I’m wondering what other elements of Chinese mythology that you worked into these comics and why did you choose to tie in those specific characters, creatures and themes?
Gene: In a distribute of ways, all of the influence that I ’ ve done in comics has been about connecting with my own cultural heritage. I was born and raised in the United States, so I actually lone knew about chinese culture through my parents. I remember visiting China for the very first clock as an adult when I was in my 20s, and it was barely eldritch. It was like seeing all the stuff for the foremost prison term that I had only known through echoes. so in a distribute of ways my study on Shang-Chi is like trying to figure out all of this stuff. It ’ mho kind of like a selfish reason ! But I fair want to figure out these parts of myself .
indeed one of the big pieces that we used from traditional chinese polish is this idea from traditional taiwanese medicine called the five elements. You know how there are four elements of western culture — publicize, water, worldly concern and displace — but in taiwanese acculturation, there are five elements : open fire, earth, metallic element, water and wood. And what we did was we had Shang-Chi semen from … his syndicate runs this constitution called the Five Weapons Society, and the five weapons correlate with the five elements of traditional taiwanese medicine .
So what was that experience like? Did you go to a theater? Did you try to make it an event for yourself?
Gene: Yeah, it was amazing. I went with a supporter of mine who is besides a cartoonist and we sat in that field for a whole two hours … when I watched the preview after it dropped a few months ago, I had this feel. I don ’ thymine even know how to describe it. But basically the movie was that lapp find. For two hours, it was amazing. All the expectations that I had going in were exceeded. My supporter, he ’ s good like the archetypal nerd, before we went into the movie was like “ If this is good, I ’ molarity going to go by all the action figures. ” And the first thing he did after we exited the field was he went to GameStop and bought all the action figures ..
That’s awesome. I can think back to how I felt seeing Black Panther and how a lot of people of African descent felt seeing that for the first time. And it was like, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe they made this thing.” And I had to go out and buy all the toys.
In addition to your writing, your comics writing, you are a teacher in the Bay Area and you’ve merged these two careers with an online comic book for teaching math called Factoring with Mr. Yang and Mosley the Alien . How effective do you find comic books to be is teaching tools?
Gene: I think comics are an amaze tool for education. I was a eminent school teacher for 17 years at a high school in Oakland, and I besides got my dominate ’ mho in education. so for a concluding passkey ’ s project, I did that on-line interactional amusing education factorials, the subject from algebra.

Don’t make me remember algebra two. I’m breaking out in hives.
Gene: You ’ re breaking out in hives because the teacher didn ’ metric ton use comics to teach you ! For a actually long time, the educational establishment avoided comics. There was this koran that came out in the 1950s called seduction of the Innocent that argued that comics cause juvenile delinquency. so even though that ledger was wrong, it had a huge cultural shock. And educators just avoided comics for decades. That ’ s changed recently, but in my research for my victor ’ south program, what I found was that, out of all of the ocular storytelling media — like film and television receiver and animation — comics is the alone one where it puts control over time in the hands of the reviewer. A comedian can go as fast or slow in the reader ’ mho take care as the reader desires. That is an incredibly effective tool. And I think that ’ randomness one of the most brawny things about comics. There ’ sulfur no other ocular media that allows you to do that. It ’ s only comics .
Dive into more Galaxy Brains with our latest episodes on Candyman , Suicide Squad , and Idiocracy , featuring future MCU star Kumail Nanjiani!

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