Tony gets zen about pandas.
This is a very odd volume.
Don’t get me wrong, that's enormously to its benefit, but still, it’s very odd.
It’s very odd because when Titan puts out a ‘Volume,’ it’s usually a collected edition of the stories that have been released up to that point. But this is a much much better thing than that.
When Titan first ventured into Kung Fu Panda comic-books, it made a dreadful mistake – its first two issues told a heavily padded tale of people falling asleep, which had none of the essential verve you’re looking for when you open up a comic-book or go to a movie that claims to be a Kung Fu Panda story. It was only with issue #3, Daze of Thunder, that the comic-book series really found its paws, with a kind of Star Wars tale of a giant ape with superpowers to rival our Dragon Warrior, and his conniving master aiming to oust Master Shifu from the Valley of Peace. That story really delivered the Kung Fu Panda goodness – the butt-kicking kung fu action, the smart-alecry but also the panda wisdom of our hero, so you could really feel the power of the movie versions, hear the voice of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman and the rest of the original cast behind their comic-book versions. It also delivered the Kung Fu Panda blend of Po at work and Po at home, the Spiderman and Peter Parker sides of the Dragon Warrior’s life, if you like, and a solution that depended as much on Po the good son as it did on Po the super kung fu fighter.
So be happy, panda-fans! For this Volume 1 ‘collection,’ Titan has taken the good decision to ditch the two-issue snoozefest and drop you right in at the point where things begin to really kick off, you lucky, lucky people.
What’s at least as cool about that is that for the other ‘half’ of this two-story collection, what you get is as-yet-unseen panda goodness. The second story, Divide And Conquer, has many of the same ingredients – super bad guys with an interesting twist, kung futastic fight scenes and the like, but it’s a little heavier-pawed when it comes to its moral, which it sums up as ‘don’t take anyone on face value,’ but which seems more appropriately rendered as ‘don’t get involved in gossip, or let it into your mind.’ What we have here is not only a bit of a whispering campaign to divide the Furious Five, and make them, if anything, furious with each other, their energies directed towards internal conflict rather than unity of purpose, but also an explanation, via a handy, stealable MacGuffin, of why the Furious Five are such a unique fighting force in the first place. It’s an interesting story, and combining it with Daze of Thunder in a single volume works especially well, because, for young readers, between them, the two stories represent what have traditionally (and without wishing to conform to gender stereotypes) been thought of as both masculine and feminine schoolyard tactics.
In Daze of Thunder, the main villain is a big, powerful ape, who dominates by size and aggression, the classic male school bully type, whereas in Divide and Conquer, the Big Bad are actually three sisters, the very cattiest of cats, and their weapon of choice is the whisper, the lie, the insecurity-stoking comment that sets friend against friend – basically these three are Heathers with claws (Young people – if you haven’t seen Heathers, Google it, stream it, and make your life better right now. We’ll wait. Or possibly we’ll stream it ourselves). The two stories together act as a kind of kids’ guide to dealing with schoolyard shenanigans – against the big bully, use their own power against them; against the catty whisperers, communicate clearly with the people they tell you not to tell, and their illusions fall away, leaving you free to see them for what they really are.
Simon Furman wrote both these stories (and indeed, so far, has written all the Kung Fu Panda comic-book stories), and clearly after the slow start that you can bypass with this collection, he’s getting his yin and his yang together, delivering stories that tackle real life issues for the intended readership, but through the colourful, funny, sincere prism of the Kung Fu Panda universe. If you want to get reeeeeally pretentious about it, you could say that this collection actually represents the yin and yang of human interaction, the two combining into a harmonious whole.
The first story challenges Po where he lives, his sense of his own uniqueness, and he has to find the truth of himself in order to overcome the power of the bully. In the second story, Furman is usefully brave, giving readers a kind of menstruation allegory alongside the whispering campaign, Po and the Furious Five being told to be extra kind to Tigress at this time of year, as she gets especially cranky round the time when she’s ‘moulting.’ Thanks, Simon – gotcha. What’s more, there’s a reality to the whispers of the catty Wu sisters that strikes at the heart of potentially awkward teenage readers – people think you’re too vain, people think you’re not pulling your weight, people think you have poor personal hygiene – real things, about which real readers might worry, so kudos to Furman for having the courage to use them explicitly as the cracks that appear in the Furious Five’s unity.
The art of Daze of Thunder, the big bully story, is delivered by Zak Simmonds-Hurn, with Tracy Bailey on colour, and what you get from them is big, bold and bright, with a focus on wide, expansive panels full of action, matching the ambition of the several set pieces Furman writes, mimicking the style of the movies that made Kung Fu Panda fans of us in the first place.
Lucas Ferreyra takes artistic duties on the second story, and brings a gentler, more watercolour palette and a mastery of shading to the party, which helps enormously in a story that centres on the power of illusion, and of not quite being able to tell what’s real and what isn’t.
Essentially, for a comic-book that started off slow and on so very much the wrong set of paws, Volume 1 is a retcon of that start, and not only a fresh beginning but a collection that has real power and oomph, while sharing lessons that might be genuinely useful to its intended audience.
Start 2016 with a kung fu bang – get Volume 1 today and start limbering up for Kung Fu Panda 3 in movie theatres soon.
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
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