Sunday, July 3, 2016


Hardcover, 2016. Collects 1973-76's SPECIAL MARVEL EDITION #15 & 16, MASTER OF KUNG FU #17 - 37, GIANT SIZE MASTER OF KUNG FU #1 - 4, GIANT-SIZE SPIDER-MAN #2, and material from IRON MAN ANNUAL #4.

I've never read Marvel's MASTER OF KUNG FU, but I've heard very good things about it. And it's rare, though not unheard of, that I pick up a high-end collection for a series I've never so much as touched. To the best of my recollection, the only other times I've done so were with DC's NEW TEEN TITANS OMNIBUS series and Marvel's STAR WARS: THE ORIGINAL MARVEL YEARS OMNIBUS series. Of those, the former was critically and commercially acclaimed, while the latter -- well, it's some of the earliest Expanded Universe STAR WARS and I'd wanted to read it for years.

MASTER OF KUNG FU definitely falls into the "critically acclaimed" category. In certain scholarly comic book circles, it's ranked up there with the best of Marvel's late seventies/early eighties output; regarded at least as highly as the Claremont/Byrne X-MEN, Miller DAREDEVIL, and Simonson THOR. Still, given my lack of familiarity with the material, I probably would've waited for the inevitable Epic Collection trade paperbacks instead, except -- according to collection editor Cory Sedlmeier, these books are "...a special opportunity you don't want to miss out on." Working on the well-known knowledge that Marvel lost the rights to Fu Manchu, a prominent character in the series, decades back, and using that info to read between the lines, one might infer that perhaps Marvel has acquired a limited one-time reprint license, and after these Omnibus volumes are published, they may go out of print forever.

So, working from that assumption and trusting the numerous voices which have declared this one of the greatest Marvel runs of all time, I've bought volume 1 sight unseen and pre-ordered volume 2 as well, with full intentions to go for volume 3 too, when it's solicited.

I was surprised when I received this one to see how small it is, since I hadn't paid much attention to the page count when I pre-ordered it. Collecting twenty-eight issues (including five "Giant-Size" installments), the book comes it at a mere 696 pages. It's nearly the smallest Omnibus I own (CAPTAIN BRITAIN is very close at 678 pages, while SECRET WARS is the runt with 488). Given MASTER OF KUNG FU ran 125 issues plus Giant-Size chapters and Annuals, it seems as if this series could've been done in a pair of thousand-pagers instead. But it's possible Marvel has a slew of bonus features lined up to fill out the four total books scheduled for this series.

If that's the case, however, the bonus material must be lying in wait for books 2 through 4, because this volume sports a mere ten pages of back matter, including but not limited to house ads and reprint covers. Not that I'm complaining; the story is of course the main draw here. I'm just wondering why the book is so short. It's a fine size for comfortable reading, but its length seems so opposite Marvel's normal style that I find myself hung up on how it wound up this way.

In any case, it's a very nice volume. Marvel seems to put out two types of Omnibuses these days, perhaps depending upon which editorial office handles them. In this case it's the afore-mentioned Cory Sedlmeier, the mastermind behind the Marvel Masterworks series and assorted other special projects, like the SPIDER-MAN BY ROGER STERN OMNIBUS from a couple years back. Sedlmeier seems to favor a more "classic" Omnibus style, with a simple serif font listing the book's title on the spine and a very basic title page and table of contents. I have to say, I generally prefer this style over the flashier graphic design and trade dress seen in things like the DAREDEVIL BY FRANK MILLER OMNIBUS.

Beneath its dustjacket the book has a matte black cover with full-color logo as has become the norm for Marvel hardcovers these days, and the binding is sewn as usual, with pages that are neither too thick nor too thin.

As usual, beyond the graphic design, Sedlmeier proves once more that he's the king of Marvel archives, going all-out for this collection. We have two introductions -- one by Shang-Chi's co-creator, Steve Englehart, and the other by Doug Moench, who scripted the vast majority of MASTER OF KUNG FU. The full run of issues, including all associated letter columns, comes next, followed by a backup story from an IRON MAN ANNUAL providing backstory for a villain introduced early in the series' run. And of course things close out with the bonus features mentioned above.

I've heard so much about MASTER OF KUNG FU over the years that I really can't wait to dig into this book. Marvel has apparently fast-tracked these volumes, whether by order of the Sax Rohmer estate or of their own accord, and I believe all four installments should be solicited by early next year, if not sooner. I'm debating whether I want to read this book soon or wait until I have all four and go through them at once in a marathon. Whatever I decide, though, I'll definitely have something to say about the stories' contents here when the time comes.

Available at Amazon: Volume 1 | Volume 2 (pre-order)
Related at Amazon: DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU OMNIBUS Volume 1

Apologies for the bluish tint on the photos above. I didn't shoot this book under the best lighting and had to overexpose the results a bit to make them look somewhere near normal. Rest assured, the book's coloring and reproduction are beyond reproach so far as I can tell.


  1. Appreciate the heads up on the probable limited time nature of this. Like you, I've never read it, but like you, have heard such good things about it that I *want* to read it. I missed getting it the week it was released (when it would have been most heavily discounted), just because I didn't have even the discounted price in the budget, and thought maybe I'd just wait for an inevitable trade release. But it sounds like I should probably go snap one up while I can and not run the risk of seeing prices skyrocket on Amazon once it goes out of print.

    1. Well, don't hold me to my theory because you never know -- but it really seems like this is a limited time offer. Something similar happened years ago with Marvel's ESSENTIAL GODZILLA -- they got a one-time reprint license from Toho and published the whole series in one shot, then the rights reverted. So something like this does have precedent.