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Live Action Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Alice in Wonderland

Guys, be honest.

Am I just an unpleasable asshole?

A rule I really, really try to stick to in reviewing movies is this: never criticise someone else’s work unless you can articulate what you would have done differently. This is not to say that I have no constructive criticism of 2010’s Alice in Wonderland. I would, in fact, venture that I have quite the stack, teetering precariously in the corner as I write these words, ready to crush my tiny little mouse bones at the slightest inopportune breeze. And yet, I can’t help but feeling that a lot of what I am about to say might come across as a touch hypocritical if you are a long time reader of this blog.

“Mouse! Good news! We’ve remade Alice in Wonderland!”
“That’s bad news! I famously despise Lewis Carroll’s inexplicably beloved original novels!”
“Good news! The movie simply takes the setting and characters and works them into a new live action adventure!”
“That’s bad news! The only screen version of this story I enjoy is the original 1951 Disney feature and I hate your modern live action bastardisations of classic cartoons!”
“Good news! The movie borrows NOTHING of the original cartoon and attempts to forge a bold new path with its own aesthetic and continuity!”
“Did I…did I make you happy? PLEASE tell me I made you happy!”

So I kinda feel like I’m not reviewing this in good faith. I mean, is this movie a travesty of Carroll’s original work, crunching it into a generic Lord of the Rings rip-off slathered in a thin veneer of anachronistic corporate feminism to appeal to the broadest possible global audience so that Disney can bank another €1 billion dollars for the death ray fund?

Yes. It is that thing I said.

But how the hell am I supposed to make that argument? If this is a bad Alice, then what would meet my definition of a “good” Alice, considering I can’t stand the source material? (It occurs to me that I haven’t actually read either of the novels in two decades. I may need to go back and give them another go).

Well, I suppose it would be a movie that was able to do what the 1951 movie did, make me like the story of Alice through sheer artistic brilliance. I love the ’51 Alice not because it’s an Alice movie, but because it’s a Disney movie, possibly the most Disney movie of that era.

You’ve got Mary Blair on backgrounds. Verna Felton, Ed Wynne, Sterling Holloway and J. Pat O’Malley on vocals. The Nine Old Men directing animation. Music by Oliver Wallace. The movie works because it takes Carroll’s novel, sands off the creepier and more unpleasant elements, and uses the episodic nature of the story to allow some of the most talented men and women to ever work in animation to go buck wild. So I suppose, that’s what I want from an Alice in Wonderland adaptation. Something that can overcome the weaknesses of the source material by just being really, really beautiful.

“OH SHIT!”
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Now, because I choose to.

Ten years…

Jesus Christ.

Ten years ago, I tried to start a blog on That Guy with the Glasses. I decided I was going to review all 52 canon Disney movies. I had no real background in film criticism. I didn’t know much about animation other than I liked it and could express opinions with colourful profanity and pop culture references. I had a juvenile, 2010s sense of humour. Back then, it was all it took.

After a false start where I realised that the TGWTG website was a clunky unusable mess (and because I suspected this Doug Walker fellow was a bad egg), I struck out on my own and threw together a simple wordpress site. And here we are.

It’s hard to succinctly sum up something that has taken up over a quarter of your life. Mouse has changed almost as much as Neil Sharpson has. When I first wrote that Snow White review I had hopes and fears. I hoped, madly, that I’d become a huge internet star based on a text blog (highly unlikely in 2012, absolutely impossible now). And I feared that the blog would just vanish into obscurity or that I’d get bored or disillusioned or quit a few weeks in. Neither happened.

Instead, it just lived. It just kept going. Through highs and lows. Mine and everyone else’s.

It’s been a wild ten years, hasn’t it? I mean wild in its original meaning. Feral. Untamed. Unpredictable. Red in tooth and claw. One long journey through Bahia.

This blog used to be my lifeline. Back when I was a young, frustrated man desperately wanting to be told I was funny or clever or a good writer I needed this blog so badly. I wrote because I had to. Because I needed, desperately to be seen.

I don’t need the blog any more. I write for a living. I’m doing the thing I always dreamed of doing, and amazingly, it’s every bit as wonderful as I hoped. But the blog won’t be going anywhere. Because I still love it. And I do it now, because I choose to.

If I hope anything about this blog, it’s that it was for you what it was for me. A little safe harbour on the mad churning sea of the internet. A place where no one was trying to make you angry or sell you something. A place where we could be people. Or mice. Same thing, really.

Ten years. Did it matter? It mattered to me. I hope it did to you, too.

“Thank you all. From the bottom of my heart.”
“Well, you know how you can thank us all?”
“Oh fine.”

NEXT TIME:

Live Action Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Cinderella

“Hey Mouse, what do you think about all these live action Disney remakes?” is a question I have never been asked because I am a relic of the 2010s internet and have been irrelevant to fandom discourse for quite some time.

But if they did ask for those opinions, boy, do I have opinions! Nuanced and interesting opinions? Not really, by and large I think they’re hot garbage at best and actually morally reprehensible at worst.

“Hey, when are you going to review me?”
“Fine. Nice costumes. Tangentially complicit in genocide. No stars.”

I hate the whole scene, man. I hate the lazy nostalgia milking. I hate the rehashing of old songs and characters in ways that are always inferior to the originals (the 2016 Jungle Book is, I admit, a pretty fine movie but I’ll be deep in the cold ground before I say it’s an improvement on the ’67 cartoon.). I am real sick of Disney cynically trumpeting minor gay characters whose presence would have been real daring thirty years ago to earn gushing publicity. And I really hate that the biggest entertainment company in Western history is apparently unable to understand the simple fact that just because a character is a great villain doesn’t make them a great protagonist. In fact, it means the opposite of that.

AHEM.

That said…I’ll admit the announcement of 2015s Cinderella provoked a lot less bile and profanity to gush forth than it usually would. Mostly that’s a lack of skin in the game. The 1950 Cinderella is a film with which I am on perfectly cordial terms, but it’s not and never will be as important to me as something like The Little Mermaid or The Lion King. Plus…it’s Cinderella, you know? The Disney Cinderella may be the most famous film version but it’s certainly not the definitive version, because there isn’t one and never will be. Cinderella is one of the absolute pillars of world folklore, with versions spanning thousands of years across the breadth of Europe and Asia. And there have been Cinderella movies as long as there has been film. The earliest version I found was from 1913 (called, hilariously “A Modern Cinderella”). Cinderella has been played by everyone from Julie Andrews to Brandy to Betty Boop to Jerry Lewis. It’s a timeless story that’s remained popular despite decades of bad, pseudo-feminist critique (the story is not, and never has been, about marrying a prince. It is, and always has been, about escaping poverty and domestic slavery). So, whatever, I say. Disney want to make another Cinderella movie? Fine.

I am willing to acknowledge this movie’s right to exist, Disney. All you gotta do is make a good movie.

“OH SHIT!”
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Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

In the season 6 Simpsons episode Lisa’s Wedding, we get a glimpse of the far-flung future of 2010. We see Lisa Simpson and her boyfriend Hugh exiting a film festival dedicated to Jim Carrey. “He can make you laugh with a mere flailing of his limbs” Lisa gushes wistfully.

From the perspective of 1995 the joke is simple enough; wouldn’t it be funny if low-brow, gurning over-actor Jim Carrey was one day revered as a Carey Grant-esque screen icon? Well, it’s a neat dozen years after the “future” the Simpsons predicted and, while I wouldn’t say he’s quite there yet, Jim Carrey is definitely a much more highly respected performer than when the Simpsons made their jab. Like the Simpsons, Jim Carrey is still around. Unlike the Simpsons, he’s still approaching everything with maximum enthusiasm and can still manage to be funny so I say, match point Carrey.

That’s a subjective view, obviously. Carrey is very much a marmite performer, you either love him or you hate him. Personally, I’m just the right age where Ace Ventura, Batman Forever and The Mask were childhood staples so yeah I dig the dude a lot. For me, he’s in that rarified “Jack Nicholson” category; there’s is no one else who can do what he does and he clearly has a ball doing it. But sure, he’s not everyone’s bag. Fans of Daniel Handler’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (which, paws in the air, I have yet to read) seem deeply divided on Carrey’s portrayal of the villain Count Olaf, who is (apparently) a far less comedic and more monstrous individual in the books. Sucks to be them. I think this is his best work in anything not called The Truman Show. Look, casting Jim Carrey and expecting him not to be Jim Carrey is like hiring a bouncy castle and then just putting it your front garden for children to look at.

That is, something only a monster would do.
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 “We’re gonna cure some ass.”

There has been a realisation slowly festering in my mind for a good few years now. A realisation whose inexorable truth forces me to re-evaluate core, deeply held beliefs and even my own sense of identity.

And it is this.

One More Day needed to happen.

That’s not to forgive how it happened. Or the rationale given for why it had to happen. Or the long series of mistakes that led to it. But I’ve gone from thinking that it was one of the worst stories in comics history, to a necessary piece of narrative table clearing (that was also just a fucking trainwreck as a comic).

Back when I was doing publicity for Sparrow I was asked who my One True Pairing was and I gave possibly the most vanilla, basic and boring answer possible.

But it’s true! This just works. And there’s so many reasons why. Firstly, you have the obvious chemistry of two very different characters clashing against each other. The quiet, soft-spoken farm boy and the brassy big-city journalist. But most importantly, I think, is the fact that Lois Lane is an integral part of Superman’s story engine rather than simply being vestigial to it. Lois, at least in most incarnations, is a whip-smart investigative reporter and former army brat. What this means in practical story terms is that she has a nose for trouble and the combat training to do something about it when she finds it. This was how the old Fleischer cartoons utilised her; having Lois uncover some nefarious threat which would then allow Superman to arrive and beat the snot out of it. These two aren’t just a great partnership textually, they are metatextually working together to create the story. Superman marrying Lois Lane in the comics was a perfectly logical step because, honestly, what can possibly be gained by having Superman playing the field? There’s only one gal for him. I know it, you know it. Now, let’s take a look at the antithesis of that.

Now, before you get the wrong idea, let me say this upfront. I LOVE Mary Jane Watson. I think she’s a fantastic character, especially considering she was initially created as a gag.

Mary Jane first “appeared” all the way back in Amazing Spider-Man #15 when Aunt May mentions “that Watson girl” next door. This starts a running gag of Aunt May trying to fix Peter up with this girl and Peter weaselling out of it because he assumes that any girl his Aunt likes must be strictly squaresville, daddio.

Oh Peter. Dear naive Peter.

This running gag lasted a full two years until issue 42 where Peter is finally strong-armed into going on a date with Mary-Jane and finally meets her face to face.

Iconic moment. Perfect. 10/10. No notes.

Famously, Mary Jane was such a force of personality that she took on a life of her own. She was initially just supposed to be a secondary love interest for Peter, a distraction from his One True Love, the sainted Gwen Stacy. But fans loved Mary Jane. Of course they did. How could you not? And so it was Gwen who went sightseeing with the Green Goblin, and Mary Jane became Peter’s girlfriend and finally, his wife.

And, on paper, Mary Jane is a lot like Lois Lane. Beautiful, tough, smart, sassy and doesn’t take any shit. But, y’see, Peter Parker has one thing in common with alt-rock singer Lazlo Bane: he’s no Superman. And, like in real life, some characters just aren’t cut out for marriage. And whereas the marriage of Superman and Lois has been one of the most enduring and stable elements of their status quo, the 1987 marriage of Peter and Mary Jane quickly came to be seen as a problem that needed to be worked around.

Peter Parker has always been a younger character than Clark Kent. Clark has a steady job in journalism (stop snickering in the back), Peter lives pay-check to pay-check doing freelance work. Clark is practically invulnerable, Peter is one bullet away from an early grave. Clark Kent is mature, stable, happy and living his best life. Peter is young, insecure and perpetually on the verge of psychological, emotional or financial collapse. Clark Kent is Superman because he’s a good man who wants to help people. Peter Parker is Spider-Man because he is a child broken by guilt. One of these guys is marriage material. One isn’t.

And so the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson became a joyless death march where we got to watch a once vivacious and fun loving woman ground down by the debts of being the wife of Peter Parker. Again and again, she’d try to convince him to give up being Spider-Man and he would, only for the narrative gods to call him back to the webbing because, well, he can’t stop being Spider-Man. By contrast, I can’t remember any time in any media where Lois Lane asked Clark when he’s going to pack this Superman nonsense in. Because why would she? She loves Superman.

Multiple attempts were made to dig Spider-Man and MJ out of this narrative hole. Hell, the entire reason for the two-year long travesty that was the Clone Saga was to get Peter and MJ to a happy ending so that Ben Reilly could take over as a new, single Spider-Man. But nothing worked. The obvious solution, for them simply to divorce, was dismissed as Joe Quesada didn’t want Peter to do something so immoral as getting a divorce (remember that). While I don’t agree with that rationale, I do think having them divorce would have created problems. Spider-Man works best as a young character, that’s the whole reason teens flocked to him in the sixties, and having him divorced permanently ages him and makes him less relatable to your target audience. Not many guys in their early twenties worrying about alimony payments, y’know? So the situation festered until 2007 when Marvel finally decided to cut this Gordian knot with One More Day. If, when cutting the Gordian Knot, Alexander the Great had accidentally killed several bystanders and then stabbed himself in the dick.

I’ll try to keep this brief. During the Civil War storyline Peter Parker made the world class blunder of trusting Tony Stark and unmasked himself to the world as a way of showing his support for the Superhuman Registration Act. But when Peter realises that Tony’s perfectly reasonable agenda of government oversight and accountability for superheroes had started taking its cues from Stalinist Russia he switches sides and becomes an illegal hero. So now Peter, Mary Jane and Aunt May are on the run and every supervillain in the world knows he’s Spider-Man. Aunt May gets shot and is dying and Peter, despite knowing genius scientists, world-class doctors and ACTUAL GODDAMN WIZARDS is unable to find anyone who can treat a perfectly normal gunshot wound. At which point Mephisto, THE LITERAL GOD OF EVIL, approaches Peter and makes him an offer; he’ll save Aunt May in exchange for erasing Peter and MJ’s marriage out of existence.

People were PAID to write this. Actual professional writers.

What makes it worse is that even IF you were dead-set on such a contrived, obvious writer-fiat way of resolving the problem, there were ways to make it better. Linkara had a great suggestion; have Mary-Jane be the one who gets shot and then have Peter have to sacrifice their marriage to save her. Then, at least, it becomes something epic and tragic and genuinely noble, rather than Peter sacrificing his vows to his wife to save Aunt May, a woman who explicitly told him that he should let her go so she could be with her beloved husband in heaven just because he can’t let go.

So other than the terrible contrived writing, the massive character derailment and the huge implied insult to the audience’s intelligence, how was the comic, Mrs Lincoln?

Well…like I said, ghastly business though it was, One More Day was ultimately a success in that it did what it was designed to do. Peter Parker went back to being a young single superhero and the Spider books underwent something of a renaissance during the Brand New Day era. But, my God, it came at a price. And ultimately, I think that’s why we hate One More Day so much. It was the hero we needed, not the one we deserved. Also, really weird pick to base a movie on.

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 “I don’t wear a cape.”

You know what? I confess. I phoned the New Mutants review in. I was feeling tired, uninspired and unenthused about the movie and in the end I just kinda bashed it out. Sorry. Sometimes I just don’t have anything particularly insightful or funny to say about a particular film. Maybe it’s because I’ve just come off anti-depressants. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I was just lazy. Whatever it was, I apologise. Now let’s draw a line under it and talk about something I’m actually passionate about…OH GAWD NO.

No. No! I don’t care about the Eternals and ya can’t make me dammit!

Ughhhhh…

Okay. Some of what I’m about to say may seem a little harsh so let me preface it with this:

Jack Kirby was one of the most influential comic creators in the history of the medium and a bona fide American hero to boot. He co-created Captain America and fought Nazis before America even entered World War 2. He combined a singular, iconic art-style with a rock solid work ethic and a fantastic imagination capable of coming up with far out, head-melting concepts.

BUT.

“Concepts” are not “plots”. They are not “characters”. And they are most certainly not “dialogue”. And I do not think its a coincidence that, whatever the ups and downs of their tempestous relationship, Kirby’s best work was done in collaboration with a certain somebody who excelled in those areas.

Or should I say “he excelsiored”?

There’s a saying that everyone has one good story in them, but for some people one is their lot and I’m afraid that, when it came to narrative, Jack was kind of a one trick pony. That trick, admittedly, was pretty neat; superheroes as gods. Six years before the appearance of Thor in Marvel, Kirby did his own take on the God of Thunder for DC in the anthology series Tales of the Unexpected before updating the Norse pantheon as the race of super advanced alien Asgardians for Marvel. He later co-created the Inhumans, a secretive race of superhumans who act like a pantheon of gods and were created as a result of “Chariots of the Gods” style interference by the alien Kree. After years of being slighted and disrespected by Marvel editorial, he jumped ship to DC where he created the Fourth World, a series about god-like superhero aliens. After that was cancelled, he returned to Marvel and created The Eternals, a series about gods from ancient mythology who are actually superhumans created as a result of “Chariots of the Gods” style interference by alien gods.

You see what I’m talking about? The dude kinda had a limited pool of ideas to draw on and I think that his solo work really demonstrates why he needed Stan Lee. On the other hand of course, Stan Lee’s catalogue shows that Stan Lee was an iconoclastic genius auteur who didn’t need help from anybody.

SARCASM. THAT WAS SARCASM. PITCH BLACK AND BITTER AS AN EXE’S KISS.

The big problem with the Eternals as a concept, the reason why they’ve never been a fan favourite and why Marvel has always struggled mightily with knowing what to do with them is this: the Marvel universe is so packed to the gills with Kirby’s influence (either from his own creations or those of creators building on his concepts) that the Eternals can’t but help feel utterly redundant. There is no Eternals story that can’t be told with the Inhumans, or the Avengers, or the Asgardians, or the X-Men or the Titans (Thanos’ crowd) because they all arose, directly or indirectly, from the febrile primordial soup of Kirby’s imagination. Which is probably why they have always been one of the few Marvel properties I just cannot bring myself to care about. Because whatever you think the Eternals bring to the table, chances are there’s another table serving the same thing only better. And, from a cursory glance, it appears that their fortunes did not improve with the move to the big screen. Its box-office performance was pretty good (especially considering the pandemic) but rather anemic for a Marvel movie with a $200 million price tage. And it has the ignominous distinction of being the first Marvel movie with a “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Which means, of course, like the contrarian rodent I am, this particular Eternals-hater finds himself nonetheless liking this movie quite a bit.

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“They’re not training us to be X-Men.”

Stop all the clocks. Cut off the telephone. Prevent the Wolverine from snikting with a juicy bone. Clean away the electrified toads. Shutter the Department of Redundancy Department. Roll up the carpet under which we swept away the allegations against Bryan Singer. The X-Men are dead. Long live the X-Men.

And yet, in a very real way, we already have covered the final X-Men movie, as Dark Phoenix was actually filmed after New Mutants. New Mutants long stay in purgatory while Disney tried to figure out what exactly to do with this malformed creation that Fox had hurriedly thrust in their arms is now well known and need not be re-hashed here. Between the Fox/Disney merger and Covid has any movie had worse luck in terms of timing than New Mutants? Yes, almost certainly. But learning about them would take time and I’m feeling lazy today.

Anyway, like Dark Phoenix I’m feeling oddly charitable to New Mutants, maybe because of its rough upbringing, or maybe just because, deeply flawed though it is, it’s trying to do something that I’ve been saying superhero movies needed to do for years.

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“You’re always sorry, Charles. And there’s always a speech. But nobody cares anymore.”

And so, after a long journey we finally reach the last main series instalment of the Fox X-Men films, a once proud dynasty now culminating in the flabby, five-chinned inbred monarch we see before us (in this analogy, New Mutants is the secret bastard child the king fathered on a tavern wench and then hid in a dungeon for three years).

And sure, the odds were against Dark Phoenix. It was released after the Disney/Fox merger all but assured that this series and its continuity would shortly be scrapped, giving the whole enterprise an inescapable stink of futility. It follows in the wake of Age of Apocalypse which was the cinematic equivalent of someone pissing up your nose for two hours. And it tries again to tell the story of the Dark Phoenix saga despite being written by the same dude who ballsed it up last time.

And yet…maybe it’s the contrarian in me. Maybe it’s the fact that the DVD yelped and recoiled in fear when I opened the case. Maybe it’s the fact that that the critical consensus on this film, that it’s the worst X-Men movie (it has less than half Apocalypse’s score on Rotten Tomatoes) is just flatly wrong.

Maybe it’s that I went in with expectations lower than a snake’s ballsack. But dammit, I kind of enjoyed Dark Phoenix. It’s bad, but it’s bad in weird and surprising ways and I never felt as horribly bored as I did with The Last Stand, Wolverine: Originto hell with it, I’m just going to say it. I would watch Dark Phoenix over any of the other bad X-Men movies. So there.

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“My son is… unique. That’s why you can’t relate to him. And because he is unique, the world will not tolerate his existence.”

Way back in 2016 I reviewed The Incredible Hulk and gave a pretty thorough overview of the character and his history. Obviously, there’s no point rehashing all of that again, so I’m just going to share this little tidbit I came across while researching this movie, because it’s the most perfect summation of the Ultimate Marvel universe I’ve ever seen.

Screenshot 2022-03-14 at 11.19.50

Wow. That’s mature AND realistic.

Most people familiar with the comic book movie genre are aware that, only a scant five years before the Ed Norton starring Incredible Hulk, there was another big-screen version, the Ang Lee directed and less-boastfully titled Hulk. What many may not remember (because unlike me they are not ancient, decrepit relicts dancing forlornly on the lip of the grave) was just how big a deal this movie originally was. Yeah, sure, now it’s this weird half-forgotten little afterthought, but back in 2003 this movie was supposed to change the game totally.
Picture the scene. It’s Summer 2003. America is settling into what will surely be a short and uneventful occupation of post-Saddam Iraq and the world is breathing a sigh of relief as Vladimir Putin ushers in safe and steady governance in Russia following the chaotic Yelstin years. And at the box-office, movies based on Marvel characters have finally broken their decades long curse and are seeing box-office success and even a measure of critical appreciation. But still just a measure. Comic book movies were still regarded largely as silly, disposable (if entertaining) mental popcorn. We had yet to see a movie that could truly capture the intellectual and emotional heft of the graphic novel medium at its best.

shaq

With a few notable exceptions.

Hulk was meant to change all that. In Ang Lee, it had the most critically acclaimed director ever to helm a movie in the genre. With the Hulk, it had a character that not only had mass name recognition (thanks to the seventies TV show) but had the potential to tell a more mature tale about rage, trauma and masculinity. And the early buzz and interviews made clear that this was exactly what Lee was aiming for. This was not going to be a dumb summer actioner. This was going to be a serious film, with serious themes. This was the film that was going to force the superhero movie to grow up. This was what would finally break the genre’s “cred-ceiling”. Did it succeed?

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“Is this what you wanted?”

NOTE: This review was written mostly before the stunning and unprecedented events in Ukraine. If you wish to donate to one of a number of vetted charities to help those suffering due to the criminal actions of the Putin regime, you can do so HERE.

Here’s a challenge for you. Try to find a book, article or blog post about the phenomenon of “Yellow Peril” that does not include a reference to Sax Rohmer’s fictional creation Doctor Fu Manchu.

One of the earliest fictional supervillains, Fu Manchu was a brilliant, devious Chinese scientist and master criminal who sought world domination and was basically the entire concept of the Yellow Peril incarnate in one man. And if you think I’m being unfair to Sax Rohmer, please be aware that the phrase “Yellow Peril incarnate in one man” is a direct quote describing Fu Manchu from the first novel he appears in. He is a hugely controversial creation, and no, not just in these more enlightened times. Fu Manchu has never been uncontroversial and every fresh wave of popularity for the character has prompted massive backlash and accusations of racism which are pretty damn hard to refute as, by his own admission, Rohmer basically just monetized anti-Asian xenophobia and based the character on Bayard Taylor’s notoriously racist descriptions of the Chinese.

But, here’s the thing…Fu Manchu also kinda rules? I mean, he is like Asian Dracula. He is badass. He is cool. He has menace and charisma to burn. He has a moustache named after him. He is a fantastic villain and pretty much codified the whole archetype of the brilliant, dastardly criminal mastermind, even more so than (I would argue) Professor Moriarty. And he has been incredibly influential in film too, having been played by such notable Asian actors as Christopher Lee, Boris Carloff and Nicholas Cage (oh shit, I think we took a wrong turn and ended back in Racism Town).

So on the one hand you have an extremely compelling villain with ninety years of rich history, but on the other hand you have the incredibly uncomfortable creation of the character. It’s a very thorny problem. How do you extricate Fu Manchu from Rohmer and Taylor? Could you do a non-racist Fu Manchu? Is it worth trying? Who would even want to take that on? And how would you go about it?

Well, Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin took a crack at it in 1973.

Results were…mixed.

The comic that would eventually become Shang-Chi was initially pitched to DC as an adaptation of the hugely popular TV series Kung Fu starring noted Asian actor David Carradine. DC passed and Englehart and Starlin took the idea to Marvel who agreed to the basic premise of a kung fu themed comic with the following stipulations:

  1. That the main character be the son of Fu Manchu, who Marvel had just acquired the rights to.
  2. That the main character be half-white.

Why 2? Well, Marvel had recently tried to cash in on the blaxploitation craze with their character Luke Cage but had been burned when some Southern retailers had refused to display a comic with a black main character. By making Shang-Chi half white, they hoped to avoid a repeat. Which…how does that work exactly?

“Hello, my good sir! Would you be interested in stocking our new comic, “Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu” in your fine establishment?
“Whut? I ain’t stockin no rassin frassin comicky book with no Chinee!”
“Fret not, my fine racist, you see, Shang-Chi’s mother is white for he is the product of racial mixing.”
“Oh that’s fine, I’ll take your whole durn stock.”

Despite that deeply compromised beginning, Shang-Chi went on to become Marvel’s first Asian superstar character, carrying his own book for a very respectable 125 issues (which was only cancelled when Marvel declined to renew their rights to Fu Manchu). While he’s never recaptured the same prominence in the comics that he did during the Kung Fu craze of the seventies and eighties, he’s always been a well respected and popular mainstay of the Marvel universe. So when the time came for Disney/Marvel to turn their all-seeing rapacious eye to the martial arts genre, naturally they first thought of…

Ha ha, be honest. You’d totally forgotten, hadn’t you?

But when the time came for Disney/Marvel to make their second attempt at the martial arts genre, this time with an eye to Asian representation (and absolutely nothing to do with cracking the obscenely lucrative Chinese market they’re perennially eyeing like a dragon’s horde to the point that they will desecrate their own properties and literally collaborate with a genocidal regime just for a chance of making some cold hard yuan and I think need to wrangle this sentence back into shape) they chose Shang-Chi.

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