Infinite Kung Fu by Kagan McLeod
|Book Name:||Infinite Kung Fu|
|Publisher(s):||Top Shelf Productions|
|Genre(s):||Kung Fu / Wuxia / Manga / Graphic Novel|
|Release Date:||September 6, 2011|
There’s something fascinating about Kung Fu. Wuxia is an ancient genre of Chinese literature, centered around martial arts in general and Kung Fu in particular. It has been so co-opted by popular culture and many of its tropes are as well known to the mainstream as those of Westerns and High Fantasy. The tropes and expectations of the mainstream have, to a large degree, been formed by kung fu movies and television shows. This is understandable, given the ability of film to capture the beautiful movements of the martial artist is unsurpassed. Before I read Kagan McLeod’s Infinite Kung Fu, I would have said ‘unequaled’, but McLeod’s graphic novel captures the kinetic elegance and dangerous beauty of Kung Fu as well as any movie I’ve ever seen.
Infinite Kung Fu tells the story of…okay, I should probably warn you beforehand that coherent world building is not really McLeod’s main concern. McLeod has created a (for some reason) post-apocalyptic world that revolves around Kung Fu, the same way the real world revolves around energy, or food, or wealth. The balance of the cosmos can literally depend on who does or does not win a Kung Fu duel.
So, back to the story. The world (the Martial World, to be precise) is a setting that mixes real history with fantasy elements, the understood shared world of wuxia stories. This world is in a state of decay, over run by corpses possessed by the souls of the dead. It is ruled by a nameless Emperor who is powerful enough to battle the combined strength of the martial arts Immortals, and who has raised five armies – each lead by a fallen disciple of the Immortals – to seek out the pieces of his lost armor. Into this volatile mix is thrust Yang Lei Kung, a deserter from the Five Armies who is chosen by the leader of the Immortals to become his student, and the world’s final hope for a restoration of balance.
The plot of Infinite Kung Fu draws heavily from Kung Fu films of the past. For example the ‘dark side’ disciplines mastered by the antagonists of the book are culled from the 1978 cult classic Five Deadly Venoms. Aficionados of the genre will feel right at home. The immortal masters, traitorous disciples, and cast-of-thousands that fans would come to expect are all here.
The pacing of Infinite Kung Fu can take a bit of getting used to, but it works very well. With the exception of the first section (a sort of prologue which seems to bend over backward to provide an opportunity for some world building exposition) where McLeod only chooses to show us the most significant of events (‘significance’ here being judged usually by whether or not there’s a big fight). Yang Lei Kung’s training is more on-the-job than anything else, and while significant portions of the book are devoted to leveling up his talents, a lot of it happens off-panel. Chapter breaks frequently involve jumps in time, or shifts in point-of-view, with a lot of narrative exposition to fill in the blanks.
But that’s because, really, the story is useful only in so far as it gives the characters a reason to fight. And, as may be expected, fight they do, frequently and beautifully. While the narrative portions are compressed for maximum efficiency, during the elaborate fight scenes, McLeod’s style decompresses outward, manga-style, where many pages can fly by without a single word, McLeod making sure to depict every acrobatic twist, every slippery counter, every bone-crunching blow.
McLeod illustrates movements in loving detail, but it’s detail that you’ll likely only get to truly appreciate the second time around. The art of Infinite Kung Fu has such hypnotic fluidity (painted, I think, rather than penciled or inked), your eyes will fly across the page so quickly that you might believe that the illustrations *are* moving. I haven’t seen anything quite like it before, and the style is truly a joy to behold.
The writing, while regularly becoming exposition heavy (even in dialogue), is well done, given the context of the high drama and standard tropes of the genre (of course every move needs a special name, etc). McLeod also captures well both the light-hearted moments and cryptic-mystical teachings that will be familiar to Kung Fu fans.
Of course, there were still a few aspects of the book that I could have lived without. Setting the story in a post-apocalyptic future was, it seems to me, somewhat unnecessary. And the inclusion of characters that seem to have come straight out of blaxploitation films added surrealism without much in the way of dividends, at least not for me. But these are minor quibbles that don’t impact the joy to be found in the work, created by a great talent suffused with a love of the genre. Whether you’re a fan of kung fu, or simply a fan of action-packed stories, Infinite Kung Fu is a stand-alone romp with plenty of meat on the bones, and it comes highly recommended. You can see a preview here.