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[This story contains spoilers for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, as well as the 2020 and 2021 Shang-Chi comic books from Marvel.]
At the end of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, audiences are left with a cliffhanger that feels taylor-made for a sequel or a Disney+ series. Xialing (Meng’ er Zhang) has taken over the Ten Rings, the organization her father Wenwu (Tony Leung) built over thousands of years and never allowed her to participate in. At her side is his former muscle Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu) as the pair overlook the training ground, now featuring women as well as men.
What does this mean for her relationship with her brother, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu)? It’s a new status quo that comic book audiences might have seen coming, if they’ve been paying attention to the erstwhile Master of Kung-Fu over the last year.
In preparation for the film, Marvel’s publishing arm put new emphasis on Shang-Chi — a hero who’d been languishing in the background of other people’s comics for the past few decades. (In recent years, he’s been a member of a couple of different Avengers teams, in addition to training Spider-Man in martial arts, so it’s not as if he hasn’t been keeping relatively busy.) What this meant in practice was the launch of a Shang-Chi miniseries written by Superman Smashes the Klan’s Gene Luen Yang, with art from Dike Ruan and Philip Tan; the series was intended to build a new space for the hero that placed his classic backstory front and center, while moving the character forward at the same time. The way Yang, Ryan and Tan chose to do that? Creating a story where Shang-Chi had to deal with the criminal order he was born into, which was now headed up by his sister. Sound familiar?
There are, of course, a number of differences between the comic book and movie Shang-Chi, although they’re somewhat cosmetic. The comic book incarnation isn’t related to the Ten Rings at all; in fact, that group is entirely unrelated to the Mandarin in Marvel’s comic book universe, with the latter known more for his status as an Iron Man villain who has ten magic rings of his own, thanks to the unlikely discovery of an alien spaceship. For that matter, the comic book Shang-Chi isn’t related to the Mandarin, either; his father was sorcerer and warrior Zheng Zu, who once went by the name of Fu Manchu. Yes, that Fu Manchu.
Instead, the comic book Shang-Chi was born into the Five Weapons Society — and he was entirely unaware that he had any siblings until the start of last year’s miniseries. Across the course of the five-issue run, Shang-Chi faces the full force of the Society after it’s revealed that he was selected to be its new leader in the wake of Zheng Zu’s death… only for that plan to be disrupted by his sister, Zheng Shi-Hua — who also goes by the name Sister Hammer — who claims the ownership of the order for herself, and demands that Shang-Chi be killed to guarantee her position.
Helping Shang-Chi in his battle are two additional siblings, Takeshi (AKA Brother Sabre) and Esme (Sister Dagger), neither of whom are interested in the bold plans of Shi-Hua — understandable, considering those plans involved the creation of an army of zombie-like warriors called Jiangshi. In the final showdown, Shang-Chi persuades Shi-Hua to turn from their father’s teachings, but that just leads to further conflict between the two halted only when he saves her life by deflecting a bullet aimed at her head. She vanishes immediately afterwards, fleeing the scene despite Shang-Chi’s pleas for her to stay.
In her absence, Shang-Chi takes control of the Five Weapons Society, and tries to move it away from its criminal purposes, even if the society itself makes efforts to keep true to its original purpose, as demonstrated in the current, ongoing Shang-Chi comic that Marvel launched earlier this year.
Does the end of Legend of the Ten Rings hint at Marvel Studios following a similar route for the onscreen Shang-Chi? That remains a mystery for now, despite the fact that such a move would provide ample material for a second Shang-Chi movie; we’re promised that the Ten Rings will return, but there’s no sign as to where, and multiple MCU projects in the near future — many of which could likely use a criminal organization to replace Hydra as the all-purpose terrorist organization — it’s more than likely that we’ll see more of the Ten Rings as a bad guy group before any kind of new direction takes hold.
That said, don’t be too surprised if Simi Liu’s onscreen alter-ego ends up in charge of the Ten Rings before too long.
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