Now as anyone who has met me for even the smallest moments knows I am a huge fan of the Master Of Kung-Fu series. A character that epitomises for me the strengths of the Bronze Age. A period when comics became my entire world.
So after buying all the issues, often multiple times, the hardback and having ordered the soft cover I decided to try buying it digitally and seeing how it held up in guided view.
I’m a convert to digital comics. The reason that I finally caved came for a number of reasons. I’ve been sent a lot of comics for review via Dropbox etc so had gotten used to reading them this way. I have also been on the road a lot with work and it’s an easy option to have a tablet full of comics rather than a suitcase.
So I decided to re read a comic that I have looked at many times but never in Guided View. That panel by panel at a swipe reading experience that I have now become used to. Special Marvel Edition featuring The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu (yes that was the title). It was written by Steve Englehart with art by Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom, colours by Linda Lessman and letters by Tom Orzechowski. Roy Thomas was the Editor.
This is a genuinely amazing issue that story wise would quite possibly represent a whole run of a modern series. Shang-Chi has turned away from his manipulative father who forced him to kill in his name. He is now in a strange land trying to rectify past mistakes and stay alive at the hands of assassins sent to kill him when one of his few friends, a man he grew up with appears and tries to kill him. A story of friendship and betrayal. Shang-Chi a man of peace is forced to kill.
Englehart was very soon after this to pass the writers duties to Doug Moench and Starlin left and passed the art duties to Paul Gulacy. This is the title that you should read. It says so much and is original in many, many ways. It was a shortish run (ending at issue 125) and is now, finally, getting reprinted. The issues are never a short read and well worth your money. Issue 16 was only the second appearance of Shang-Chi. But I already felt like I knew what he was about.
So. The question remains. How did the guided view differ from the printed page? How does it change the reading experience? As a kid I loved the combination of action and strangeness in this title. It had the iconic inner monologue of the central character that really made you feel like you really got into his problems and quest. But it was at moments coldly violent like all the good 42nd Street martial arts movies of the time.
The moment that Midnight and Shang-Chi finally face off is a famous sequence in the comics. One whole page shows us the death of Shang’s childhood friend. There’s not getting around the fact that Shang does in fact kill his friend. This is how I saw this as a kid and since.
One whole page that you can drink in all at once. As you look at the page in one go you see the fall and the death in one single glance. It is harsh and sudden and strange and sad and all the rest of emotions that you feel when you have connected with characters. Once you accept that the fashion of the times was to cram loads of story into a page you can see that its a great page.
Then I had a go at reading it in Guided View.
It extracts the action out of panels that were never meant to be separated but works well nonetheless. It changes the dynamic of the page and the movement and the drama so much that it becomes an altogether different reading experience. Many of this run has fight scenes that have multiple panels on a page. These again are changed and the jeopardy shifts from seeing a fight on a page and scanning it in a matter of moments before reading it then in more detail. Instead you get even the smallest panels blown up to increase and change the tension of the fight. It stops being something that is an incredibly impressive layout on a page to a moment by moment, kick by punch and blow by blow flow of art panels. Neither better or worse. Just different.
It has changed how I have thought about writing. It is well worth looking at.
Just a thought.
Now fuck off and read some Bronze Age comics!
Many thanks for reading.