Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #166
This is the one-hundred and sixty-sixth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and sixty-five. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Jim Starlin accidentally killed off the wrong character in the first Shang-Chi story.
Shang-Chi was originally created by Jim Starlin and Steve Englehart completely apart from Fu Manchu. Marvel had licensed the famous Sax Rohmer novels featuring the Asian villain, so Roy Thomas suggested (Starlin seems to recall it as “told” rather than “suggested”) that Fu Manchu would be the father of this brand-new character, Shang-Chi.
Now having to work in a whole series of novels to the back story of his comic, Starlin read over the early 20th Century novels, which featured the evil criminal mastermind Fu Manchu, who is constantly chased after by two British heroes, Commissioner Sir Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. John Petrie. Petrie is basically the Watson character to Smith’s Holmes (Petrie narrates the early stories).
In the debut issue of Shang-Chi (with one of the longest titles you’ll ever see Special Marvel Edition Featuring the Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu), Shang-Chi is sent by his father to kill Dr. Petrie.
And in the comic, Dr. Petrie dies.
The problem is, Starlin did not INTEND for Petrie to die in the comic!
Starlin co-plotted the book and Englehart scripted it, and since Starlin was not particularly familiar with these characters, he mixed them up, and killed off Petrie when he meant to kill off another character (perhaps Nayland Smith, who was 90 years old when the story began). Englehart did not recall/know that Petrie was not who Starlin wanted to kill, so Petrie was offed, and it was this death that led to Nayland Smith explaining to Shang-Chi what a bad guy his dad is, leading to Shang-Chi going to work for Nayland Smith, and the rest, they say, is history.
HOWEVER, there is a twist – not only did Starlin kill off the wrong character, he REALLY killed off the wrong character, as apparently there was a Rohmer story (Helpful reader Michael Hoskin informs me that it was The Trail of Fu Manchu) where Fu Manchu promised that he would never kill Petrie (the novels were filled with those “honor thy enemy” things). So Sax Rohmer’s widow was quite irked that Petrie was killed, and she complained to Marvel (Starlin and Englehart were gone by then, so it was Doug Moench’s problem) so faster than you can say James Buchanan Barnes, Dr. Petrie was revealed to have faked his death in Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #3.
Marvel no longer has the rights to the Rohmer characters, so it really doesn’t matter anymore, but at the time, that’s pretty darn quirky, eh?
Thanks to Jon B. Cooke and Jim Starlin for the information (Cooke interviewed Starlin about it in the great comic book magazine, Comic Book Artist – click here to buy Comic Book Artist issues!).