After nearly 50 years, Steve Englehart ’69 will see one of his original Marvel characters make its big-screen debut this fall. Englehart’s creation, martial arts master Shang-Chi, is the lead character of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” starring Simu Liu, perhaps best known for his work in the Canadian comedy “Kim’s Convenience.” The film debuted Aug. 15 in Los Angeles and will be released nationwide on Sept. 3.
Although Englehart was not involved in the movie production, he sees core elements of the backstory he created in the trailer for the upcoming film. In Englehart’s original story Shang-Chi is raised to be a premier martial artist and believes his father is a benevolent humanitarian. He discovers, however, that his father is in reality an international criminal (in early iterations his father was the fictional villain Fu Manchu). Shang-Chi commits to put an end to his father’s nefarious work.
“My bottom line is that if you take one of my stories and you treat it with respect, if you kind of go with what’s there, then you can make all sorts of changes along with the way and that’s okay by me because I understand it is a different medium, a different time,” he said.
When Englehart conceived of Shang-Chi with artist Jim Starlin in 1973 “it was a really good time for comics because there were a bunch of us who were in our early 20s who had read comics all our lives and had a real sense of all the possibilities that were opening up in that world,” he said.
The 1970s were a time of interest in Eastern culture, he said. Bruce Lee was a star. The television show “Kung-Fu” had a following. When writing Dr. Strange, Englehart became immersed in Western philosophies. Creating Shang-Chi allowed him to turn his inquiries to Eastern philosophy, something he planned to seed throughout the book’s series. “We were inspired by that,” he said. “We were just riding a wave that was much bigger than us.”
Although Englehart and Starlin envisioned Shang-Chi as a fully Asian character, they met with some resistance. “We went to Marvel and we said we want to do this character and this character is all-Asian,” Englehart said. “Publishing wisdom in the 1970s was that you can’t do an all-Asian character. He had to be half-white. So that was imposed on us and they came up with the idea of making his father Fu Manchu.”
The comic book was a success and Marvel flooded the market, adding more specials, allowing Shang-Chi to run for a decade. “They wanted lots and lots of materials which did not fit in with my idea of trying to do philosophy, so Starlin and I bailed. But the guys who took it over did a great job with it,” he said.
And just like millions of Marvel fans across the country, Englehart is excited to see what Marvel Studios has created.