‘Shang-Chi’ the latest Marvel movie to adapt a character created by Berkley alum – The Oakland Press

Jim Starlin didn’t expect to like “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” as much as he did.
The 25th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which opened on Friday, Sept. 3, tells the story of the martial arts superhero Starlin created in the 1970s for Marvel Comics.
“They took this martial arts character Steve (Englehart) and I created and expanded it into something really quite incredible. I was amazed,” Starlin says. “The choreography alone is incredible. It’s a big movie, which is surprising because Marvel optioned off Shang-Chi more than Spider-Man because everyone thought it would be a cheap little martial arts movie to make.
“It finally did get made after so many years and so many other Marvel characters,” Starlin adds. “It’s not a cheap little movie. It’s a spectacular, grand movie. Everyone at Marvel should be proud.”
Starlin is an alumnus of Berkley High School, now living in Los Angeles, and a Vietnam veteran. He plans to attend the Motor City Comic-Con, scheduled for Oct. 15-17  in Novi. Starlin’s best-known creation is Thanos, the villain played by Josh Brolin in several Marvel films, which he conceived while at Oakland Community College. He also created Gamora, Drax and the Infinity Gauntlet, also seen in Marvel films.
The new “Shang-Chi” movie, co-written by University of Michigan alumnus Dave Callaham, boasts the first Asian lead in a Marvel film, played by Simu Liu, whose breakout role is Jung in the Canadian series “Kim’s Convenience.” Shang-Chi battles the Ten Rings criminal organization and learns its leader, the Mandarin (Tony Leung, “Hero”), is his father.
Martial arts movies were the rage in the 1970s, particularly Bruce Lee movies. The character Shang-Chi debuted in “Special Marvel Edition” No. 15 in 1973, inspired by the TV series “Kung Fu,” starring David Carradine.
“Steve and I were both big fans,” Starlin recalls. “We went to DC Comics — which is owned by Warner Brothers, which produced ‘Kung Fu’ — and (proposed) an adaptation. They said, ‘No, no, no. This kung fu craze’ll never work out. We’ll do a pirate book instead.’
“We all know how well those pirate books work out for comic book companies,” he says, laughing.
They approached Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas, who tweaked their proposal, adding Fu Manchu, the villain of Sax Rohmer’s novels, to which Marvel had purchased the rights. Initially, Fu Manchu was Shang-Chi’s father, but that changed once Marvel no longer owned the rights.
“Marvel bought the rights to the books without having read them,” Starlin says, laughing. “Finally, somebody said we ought to read the books. I did, and I was horrified because they were shockingly racist — even for the 1970s.”
Starlin didn’t want to work on something that problematic, so he quit after three issues. But Shang-Chi proved popular, and the series renamed “The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu” continued until 1983. The character been revived numerous times.
Englehart was amazed how the work’s been adapted.
“All of us were proud of our work in the 1970s, but we never imagined it would be something that would live on the way it has,” he says. “The entire MCU has been both amazing and gratifying.”
Starlin says he’s “the luckiest cartoonist around” because adaptations of other comic books “have been an embarrassment.”
“I’m not gonna name names, but some have had heavy cringe-factors to them,” Starlin says. “Marvel has hit it out of the park. … I think I’ve been luckier than just about anyone as far as this goes. I find the whole experience surreal.”
He recalled the hubbub after “Avengers: Infinity War” debuted in 2018.
“I went to a con that weekend,” he says. “I remember coming home on Sunday (thinking) ‘OK, that’s out of the way.’ I turned on TV … and Stephen Colbert was making a Thanos joke. I went, ‘This might last a little bit longer than I expected.”
Starlin understands why superhero movies are popular.
“As Joseph Campbell said, we need our myths and our legends,” he says. “They’re our modern-day myths, they’re what our Greek gods of today are. They’re stories bigger than life and also about life in their way. The folks at Marvel have been doing a great job of putting out a movie series that’s high quality, sustainable and engaging more so than anybody else, ‘Star Wars’ being the closest franchise.”
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