Shang-chi Black Widow

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Un­like many su­per­heroes who’ve had spy ca­reers pressed upon them, Natasha/Natalia Ro­manoff/Ro­manova – some­where late in the day, Marvel learned how Rus­sian names re­ally work – ac­tu­ally started out as one. Ini­tially a vil­lain­ous Rus­sian agent in Stan Lee’s Iron Man, and then a su­per­heroine who never quite shed her es­pi­onage back­ground, she bounced be­tween su­per­hero an­tics and un­der­cover mis­sions for SHIELD, Se­cret Avengers and oth­ers. Now one of Marvel’s pre­mier hero­ines – thanks in no small part to Scar­let Johannson’s turn in Iron Man 2, The Avengers, et al – it’s to be hoped that her lat­est on­go­ing se­ries has, at last, stay­ing power. First seen in Tales Of Sus­pense #52 (April 1964), Natasha re­ally came into fo­cus af­ter she de­fected to the US, and es­pe­cially with the re­designed John Romita ver­sion of her cos­tume, first seen in Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man #86. Lightly en­hanced by the Sovi­ets in Cap­tain Amer­ica-like fash­ion, she’s fought off her late ’90s re­place­ment – a blonde sec­ond gen­er­a­tion Black Widow – to reign as comics’ top fe­male agent. Af­ter talk­ing about all his bud­dies, we fi­nally get to the star. The only MI6 op­er­a­tive to ever go into ac­tion wear­ing only red silk py­ja­mas (even TV’s Ja­son King wouldn’t have risked it), Shang-Chi was the ex­tra­or­di­nary mar­tial arts hero of Mas­ter Of Kung Fu, Marvel’s most con­sis­tently ex­cel­lent comic of the ’70s, and pos­si­bly the best spy story ever put out by a ma­jor Amer­i­can comic book com­pany.

Writ­ten largely by Doug Moench, with art from a num­ber of in­ven­tive, de­tail-ori­en­tated star pen­cillers – no­tably Paul Gu­lacy and the ex­cel­lent, tragic Gene Day – it told of a small band of agents in hot pur­suit of our hero’s fa­ther, the evil Chi­nese crim­i­nal mas­ter­mind Fu Manchu. Shang-Chi was an in­cred­i­ble fighter but a peace­ful soul at heart, and it’s this con­flict – plus the machi­na­tions of a vast sup­port­ing cast – that drove the book. Packed with heart, in­tel­li­gence, crazy page lay­outs and the most dra­matic fights, it was a se­ries like no other – rights is­sues con­cern­ing Fu Manchu make reprints im­pos­si­ble, sadly.

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