Last week I had a chance to attend the launch party for Kagan McLeod's new graphic novel, Infinite Kung Fu. After the fanfare of the party (and the awesome Hop Fu that accompanied it), I actually had a chance to burn through the whole book during an otherwise-boring afternoon this past weekend.
Infinite Kung Fu harkens back to the kung fu films of the 70's and 80's, and embraces the stereotypes with gusto. The adventure story is centered around Lei Kung, a lowly soldier that gets pulled into a whirlwind of magic, intrigue and, of course, martial arts. Along his journey to become a kung fu master, he meets fellow student Moog Jugular, who is an homage to the Blaxploitation films that incorporated many Kung Fu tropes themselves.
It's a pleasant mix of the two genres which does not shy away from anachronisms (like a 70's Harlem-esque town in an otherwise Asiatic setting, and the undead) and having a little fun. There are so many elements that are recognizable from films by the Shaw Bros that fans of the films will find themselves smiling, thinking "yeah, I know where he got that from."
I found myself thoroughly entertained throughout my time reading this book; the art is especially gorgeous and the dialog definitely does not lag behind. An important concept in books that have a lot of hand-to-hand fighting is the motion that must be captured in otherwise still frames. McLeod does a great job of making the combat seem fluid, which is a testament to his skill as an artist. His style walks the edge of realism while swaying into cartooning like a Drunken Master; this isn't a bad thing, as it suits the serious-but-light-hearted setting nicely.
Like all kung fu films, though, there are moments of gore, limb severing and otherwise nasty stuff; I think this was just an effort to capture that aspect of the original films, which is valid. I don't mind it too much, but there are some moments that make me cringe, just like they do on film.
My only major complaint is the pacing of the story, as it tends to peter out at the end. I'm not going to spoil the ending (as, well, that would be mean), but I found that the major threat of the book was dispatched almost too easily. After nearly 400 pages of hyping up a choice between good and evil, the choice almost seemed made a bit casually; maybe that's just my interpretation.
That shouldn't stop you from picking up this book, however; it's easily one of the best graphic novels I've read all year. At a price of $25 for a massive 464 page tome, you're definitely getting your money's worth. Kagan McLeod's work is phenomenal here, and definitely deserves to be spotlighted.
I personally have no way of knowing, but I'm guessing one of his goals was to capture the mood and feel of the movies he paid homage to; if that's true, I can definitely say he succeeded. Infinite Kung Fu makes me feel like I'm sitting down with one of those old films and getting the full campy experience - hell, there were certain moments where I could definitely hear a horrible voice dub over the characters' dialog.
Really, that's a sign of amazing writing. Kagan McLeod has captured a genre's magic in a cage and recreated what made it great.
Hell, he didn't even need ninja magic to do it.