Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Secret Avengers: Eyes of the Dragon - Ed Brubaker

Of all the comics I’ve started reading in recent months, one of the best – if not the best – is SECRET AVENGERS. Not surprisingly, it’s written by Ed Brubaker, the writer of my other favorite, CAPTAIN AMERICA, and features Steve Rogers, the former Cap, in a leading role.

For years now, different teams of Avengers have tended to crop up, last for a while, and then go away. I hope this one lasts a long time. It’s the covert ops branch of the Avengers, led by Steve Rogers himself, and includes War Machine (Jim Rhodes in his own version of the Iron Man armor), Ant-Man (not Hank Pym; now it’s some other guy who used to be a SHIELD agent, I think), the Beast (Hank McCoy from the X-Men), another former SHIELD agent and Steve’s former girlfriend Sharon Carter, the Black Widow (the same one she’s always been), Moon Knight (I have no idea who he is now; I need to look that up), the Norse warrior goddess Valkyrie, and some guy in a hood called The Prince of Orphans (no idea who he is, either, or who he’s supposed to be).

Despite being a little fuzzy on a couple of the characters, I’ve been able to dive right into this book with great enjoyment. The storyline that’s just been reprinted in this collection is top-notch and features one of my favorite characters from the Seventies, Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung Fu.

Now you’d think that a character created solely as a quick way for Marvel to cash in on the kung fu movie craze back then wouldn’t be that great. But you’d be wrong, because Shang-Ki and the comic MASTER OF KUNG FU quickly evolved into much more than that, because of who Shang-Chi’s father was.

None other than Fu Manchu his own self.

For several years, with great scripts from Doug Moench and even better art by Paul Gulacy, MOKF became a globe-trotting, espionage-oriented, action-adventure epic with a superb supporting cast. At its center, though, was always the clash between Fu Manchu, one of the all-time great villains, and his idealistic son Shang-Chi.

Since then Shang-Chi has hung around the fringes of the Marvel Universe, popping up now and then to play a part in some story. In SECRET AVENGERS: EYES OF THE DRAGON, the story actually revolves around him and the efforts of an evil secret society, the Hai-Dai, to capture him so that he can be sacrificed in a ritual that will return his father to life.

In one of the annoying things about this storyline, for some reason Fu Manchu is no longer referred to by that name. Instead he’s become Zheng Zu . . . but come on, we all know who he really is. That’s Fu frickin’ Manchu the bad guys want to resurrect, so naturally Steve Rogers and the Secret Avengers have to step in to try to put the kibosh on that evil plot. Complicating things is yet another secret society, the Shadow Council, that’s behind what the Hai-Dai is doing, and one of their leaders is a rogue LMD of Nick Fury who calls himself Max Fury. (If you’ve read this far and you don’t know what an LMD is . . . well, let’s just say that’s unlikely.) Also working for the Shadow Council is John Steele, a former ally of Captain America’s from World War II.

Brubaker juggles all these plot elements quite effectively and tells a fast-moving story at the same time. The artwork is mostly by Mike Deodato, who’s a decent storyteller. Yes, this is typical superhero comic book stuff, but it’s done with skill and respect for the medium. In many ways, Brubaker is one of the most traditional writers working in comics these days, which is fine with an old curmudgeon like me. At the same time, the quality of his writing is high enough that his stories attain a freshness that I don’t see in some of the other comics.

So if you’re old enough to have been reading comics in the Seventies and remember MASTER OF KUNG FU with the same fondness I do, you need to read SECRET AVENGERS: EYES OF THE DRAGON. I had a great time with it.


Scott Parker said...

You had me at Shang-Chi. You set the hook with Fu Manchu. I'm getting this one.

James Reasoner said...

Brubaker has left the book since this storyline originally appeared, but it's continued to be good with Nick Spencer writing it. I'm not that familiar with Spencer's work, but he's doing a good job with IRON MAN 2.0 (which is the current Jim Rhodes/War Machine book).

Bruce said...

While on the comic front James check out the Northlanders trades. Vikings! Each story has its own set of characters. So you can easily pick up any of the trades. Five so far. There is only one story with a returning character but it features them much later in their life.

James Reasoner said...

The first Northlanders TPB is in a stack near my computer. I just need the time to get to it!

Bruce said...

Ah then your all set. Since its the character from that one that pops up at a much older age. A bit of a spoiler I know.

Just finished up Vol 5: Metal.

Troy D. Smith said...

In the early seventies Marvel had the rights to Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu stories and wanted to cash in on the Kung Fu craze, so they decided to combine the two, with the Marvel-owned hero Shang-Chi being created and presented as the son of Fu Manchu. The problem was that they later lost the rights to the Sax Rohmer stories and characters (when Shang-Chi's titled folded in the 80s), so there could be no more direct references to Fu Manchu or his archenemy Dennis Nayland Smith. Fortunately many of the best supporting characters of the old series were Marvel originals and can still be used; when talking about Shang Chi's evil mastermind father, however, he has to either remain unnamed or called by a different name. When you consider that, in the Rohmer universe, Fu Manchu was a title meaning "The Warlike Manchu" and the character was a member of the Qing royal family intent on restoring the Manchus to power, one can imagine that the "new" name is actually the real name of the guy who went by the title "Fu Manchu."

Troy D. Smith said...

Ha! I can also tell you that Zheng Zu is pronounced "Jung Tsu." As of last week, I have an official license to be long-winded!

James Reasoner said...

I wonder if the Fu Manchu character is trademarked. And Denis Nayland Smith, too, for that matter. The early novels in the series are in public domain now.

Doesn't really matter, of course. We all know who Shang-Chi's father really is.