Kung Fu Panda #1 Review – Wake Me Up Before You Po-Po, Part 1

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Tony finds the panda a little overstuffed.


The latest Dreamworks title to transfer from big screen to small panels is one that niche fans will have been looking forward to - Kung Fu Panda was something of a surprise hit, and its sequel an even more surprising improvement. What’s more, as with several Dreamworks titles to transfer to comic-book form, it has some distinctive voices in its lead roles, and they help anyone who’s familiar with the movie to populate the comic version with the same high profile, high quality vocal performances.

So how come the first issue of the Kung Fu Panda comic-book is such a cumbersome, languorous affair?


Certainly, it’s not down to Lee Robinson’s artwork, which translates the on-screen vibrancy of the concept and the characters well here – both Po, the panda who finds himself the Dragon Warrior of ancient legend (voiced in the movie and in the head by the irrepressible Jack Black) and his supporting castmates in the Furious Five – Tigress, Crane, Viper, Monkey, and the inspired Dustin Hoffman-voiced Master Shifu. The gang’s all here, and as well as looking pretty faithful, writer Simon Furman also works hard to get a little something of their on-screen personalities to transfer to their comic-book versions, with the ever-dismissive Tigress in particular coming across strongly.

So why the languor? Really, Wake Me Up Before You Po-Po is an unfortunate choice of story to begin the series, depending as it does on everybody in the Peaceful Valley becoming mysteriously narcoleptic, sleeping or sleepwalking through their day as the result of a plot by a bunch of crooked crocs. Whereas on screen, it could work as maybe a three or four minute section in a longer piece, in panel-form, it quickly becomes just panel after panel, page after page of very similar action – people asleep, people falling asleep, Po very nearly falling asleep and being goaded on by the other members of the Furious Five. For most of the comic. Really, the idea of a practically somnambulistic hero quest through various beautifully rendered but ultimately irrelevant environments could have done with one more pass through the decision-making process at Titan before it was chosen as the launch story for this new series. Three, four stories in, it wouldn’t be anything like so much of a problem, but as a story to kick off the range with, it falls pretty flat, and then it pretty much falls to sleep, taking the reader with it.

There is action here though – a mid-section page or two where the Furious Five decide to reinvigorate themselves by ‘training their way out of trouble’ – and there’s potentially a healthy message for young readers there: Bored? Go do something active and get off your electronic machines. But the energy boost the Five gain from their training session quickly dissipates as the quest begins and various bits of their bodies keep falling asleep. And so it goes all the way to the end, where, having basically stumbled on the conspirators, none of our heroes are on their game enough to, as Po puts it, ‘start cracking croc snouts.’ So the conclusion of the issue is as low-key as it’s been all the way through – no battle, no action to defeat the crocs and their cunning ‘mist of Morpheus.’ Arguably of course this means the next issue should explode out of the gate with the kind of Kung Fu mojo we’ve paid money to see, but the fact remains that any young reader paying their hard-chored pocket money for issue #1 of Kung Fu Panda will get pretty much all the way through it and say “Wwwwwhat the heck? Where’s the darned Kung Fu in my Panda? One lousy training montage and lots of people being asleep? What a con…” then have to take out even more trash and do even more homework to get something that actually delivers the ass-kicking action they were looking for from Po and the gang.

So the verdict on Kung Fu Panda issue #1? Great visuals, good writing in terms of characterization, WHERE’S THE ACTION? If I were a young reader, Titan would have quite a lot to do to lure me back to issue #2 of this comic-book, even as a fan – in fact, especially as a fan of Kung Fu Panda in the movies, because while it has all the potential you could wish for, it delivers on practically none of it in this sleepwalking first issue.

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

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