Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Giant-Size Spider-Man #2. Shang-Chi and Fu Manchu

(Cover from October 1974.)

"Masterstroke!"

Written by Len Wein.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Al Milgrom.
Lettering by John Costanza.
Colours by Glynis Wein


Argh! I knew it. Drawn back to the site by my lovely pink award, I can't hold off the temptation any longer. I just have to go on and review all those annuals and specials that came out in the time period I've been covering.

I have to make a confession, my favourite Spider-Man tale of that era isn't from the regular mag. It's not even from the regular continuity. It's from Giant-Size Spider-Man, a title that ran for just six issues but they were fairly belting ones. It's from issue #2 and features Spidey teaming up with one of Marvel's less likely superstars; Shang-Chi, master of Kung Fu.

Now, even I can't deny that, on paper, Shang-Chi's an extremely silly character. For one, he's the son of Fu Manchu, a villain who was arch in more ways than one and, for the other, he was clearly created as a cynical marketing exercise to cash-in on the early 1970s' Kung Fu craze. Thanks to that, he should've ended up as no more than the Rocket Racer of his day but, for some reason, none of that bothers me. No matter the daftness of his origins, no matter that he stalks the New York streets in his pyjamas, no matter that he talks to himself, I have a deep and undying love for the Rising Spirit.

Intercepting some crooks, Spider-Man's told they work for the murderous Shang-Chi who's out to destroy a power station. Shang Chi, meanwhile, intercepts some other crooks who tell him they work for the murderous Spider-Man, out to destroy the same power station. Needless to say, it's mere pages before Spidey and Shangy are going at it hammer and tongs. Also needless to say, it's not long before they realise they've been conned. Together, they soon discover the real source of such villainy and team up to prevent Fu Manchu planting a mind-control aerial atop the Empire State Building.

Highlight of the tale has to be Spidey and Shangy leaping from the 86th floor of the Empire State building, with nothing between them and the ground but fresh air. Long-time readers of the strip will of course need no telling just how they manage to hit the street without going splat.

The truth is, long-time readers'll need no telling how anything pans out in this story. The initial misunderstanding between the good guys is the standard means of greeting for any Marvel heroes. Fu Manchu's exactly the villain you'd expect to be behind the plot. Nayland Smith and Black Jack Tar turn up, just as they do in every Shang-Chi tale. Fu Manchu escapes, and the good guys win. But I don't know what it is, I just love this tale. Len Wein's dialogue is fun, and Spidey and Shangy mesh perfectly as characters. I also love the fact that captions relating to Spider-Man are in third-person past-tense while captions relating to Shang-Chi are first-person present-tense. Such a mangling of persons and tenses shouldn't work - and certainly wouldn't in a novel - but, here, it works beautifully. I have a suspicion the direct insight into the martial artist's head and of what he thinks of his new and unconventional ally may be what makes the tale work so well.

Despite all the corniness and racial stereotyping, Fu Manchu's a great villain, almost the archetypal Marvel bad guy created before Marvel ever existed. The artwork's great too, as good an art job as I've ever seen from Ross Andru. His use of "camera angles" is simply startling in panel after panel, even by his standards.

So, there you have it, my favourite Spider-Man tale from the era in question. It might not be an obvious choice and I have a suspicion no one else in the whole world will agree with it but so what? In the end, I can only go for the story that gives me most pleasure and, in my head, on that occasion when Arachnia met south east Asia, a little magic was woven.

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