Battleworld: Master of Kung Fu
Writer: Haden Blackman
Artist: Dalibor Talajic
Inker: Goran Sudzuka
Colorist: Miroslav Mrva
Battleworld: Master of Kung Fu was released on 05 January, 2016, and collects Issues #1 through 4 of the Secret Wars/Battleworld mini-series of the same name, as well as issue #2 of 5 Ronin. It is available for $13.47 in paperback form from Amazon at the time of this writing.
Marvel’s Battleworld: Master of Kung-Fu (or Master of Kung-Fu: Battleworld, as it is listed in some places) is a great read for fans of the Marvel Universe who are looking for something set in that world but not your standard costumes fare. What appeals to me about this title is just that; it feels like street-level Marvel Knights stuff, but has that smattering of flavor that reminds you that these are the same “streets” travelled by Steve Rogers and the Fantastic Four. Of course, this is Secret Wars: Battleworld continuity, so none of that regular Marvel Universe stuff exists. It’s all that god Doom craziness.
Though to be quite honest, this story could easily take place in the “real” Marvel continuity. The location is K’un Lun, the mystical place most closely associated with Daniel Rand, aka Iron Fist. If memory serves, this location normally exists alongside our dimension and can only be accessed via a mystical inter-dimensional bridge or portal. The regular denizens of the Marvel Universe do not exist there, and even Daniel travels there infrequently. The only thing that really intermixes the rest of the Marvel Universe in with this Battleworld tale is the presence of characters that bear strong resemblances to other Marvel teams and characters. There is a collection of persons that are akin to characters from the Morlocks and the New Mutants. It took me a long time (the fourth issue) to realize that one of them was supposed to be Kitty Pryde. And Iron Fist and Elektra are cast-members, albeit shifted and twisted to match the thematic patchwork of the Battleworld plot setup. Against this backdrop, Shang-Chi, son of Emperor Zheng Zu returns to K’un Lun, a drunkard and an accused murderer, to remove his father from the throne in the Battle of the 13 Chambers. This is a mystical trial of individual kombat waged every thirteen years to determine the new Emporer. And yeah, I threw in that “kombat” because it is basically the setup to Mortal Kombat. I’m not sure which came first, and it doesn’t really matter who copied whose idea; just know that they are basically the same. It doesn’t make Master of Kung Fu any less fun.
Artwork is provided by the team of Dalibor Talajic, who I’ve never heard of, Goran Sudzuka on Inks, and Miroslav Mrva on colors. In truth, I have not heard of any of these artists. But their work is pretty good. Not ground-breaking. But solid. First of all there is not discontinuity from panel-to-panel, which would be an easy offense to commit given the hyper hand-to-hand combat nature of the story. There is just a lot more fight choreography to contend with in this book than the average comic. Talajic has to represent different styles between the combatants, and some combatants shift styles from panel-to-panel. He also has to effectively navigate the facial features changing midway through the trade as Shang-Chi starts off bearded, but then shaves partway through the third issue. I felt like the change was too jarring and the main character looked too different, but I was over it in a few panels. The story is a bit pulpy, or at least representative of 1970’s Marvel, and the artwork pretty decently mirrors that, though at some times the tones are a bit too modern.
Haden Blackman does a decent job with the story. Let me say that it is pretty niche. If there are really any true fans of martial arts comics, books that reflect the things we used to see on Sundays on Kung-Fu theater, then what Blackman is doing here is right up their alley. I’m not sure if any of those comic book fans are out there and still reading comics, so I am not certain of the mass appeal of this to other comic book readers. I will say that, depite the mysticism and direct referential remarks squarely rooted in that mythos, he keeps the basic tenets something that any comic reader will find enjoyable. There not a ton of twists, and no maojr reveals. Although in issue three you are treated to a huge roll-call of characters that channel normal continuity Marvel Universe characters that exist in this version of Battleworld, and it is pretty neat to match the dopplegangers up to their more typical counterparts.
I wound up liking this trade because it was off the beaten path but still “in” the Marvel Universe. It’s a nice break from Repulsor blasts and synthetic kevlar spider-webs. I love the worlds that are more typically trodden by Iron Fist, and so this was a treat in that regard. That being said, this trade paperback does not break any new ground or do anything revolutionary, or even master the things that are more typically done. If you love martial arts in the Marvel Universe, or Iron Fist in general, definitely check this out. Outside of that, I’m not sure I would recommend it to more casual fans. But it’s also good if you are looking for something slightly quirky without being totally batshit crazy. The score I’ve given is not because this book did anything wrong, but because it did not do anything remarkably right. It’s a solid book that should not disappoint any fans of the sub-genre.
I’ll also mention that I feel like this book is representative of one of the great shames of how the Secret Wars/Battleworld content was handled. I was completely unaware of this tie-in. I’m not sure that I would have ever discovered it were it not for my shift from reading single-issues to trades and tracking trade paperback new releases. There are a lot of good tie-ins to that event, despite the fact that I felt like the core of it was a muddled mess. If you want to see things you may have missed, make sure you find a good list of the tie-ins. And then read the ones that are original stories, not ones that re-hash even older events and twist the plots.