Costa, Ben – Pang The Wandering Shaolin Monk Volume 1: Refuge of the Heart

August 30, 2010


Pang The Wandering Shaolin Monk Volume 1: Refuge of the Heart

Finally!  Now I can quit the reviewing business.  It was all just a cynical ploy for me to get a free copy of a really fantastic hardcover edition about the history of Shaolin monks, so my work here is done.  OK fine, I’ll put up a review for this one, but then I am out of here.  There are times when it is dangerous to judge a book by its cover, and there are times when it’s a pretty safe bet.  This is one of those latter times.  If you can look at that cover without being instantly intrigued, I mourn for the lack of kung-fu in your formative years, but you’re probably beyond help at this point. If, however, you see that cover and can’t wait to crack open the book, you’ll be very pleased with what you find inside. This is the story of Pang, one of the last surviving monks from a devastating attack on his monastery who has been charged with keeping some books of shaolin knowledge safe.  Pang has reason to believe that he is not the sole survivor, so he has set out to find the remaining shaolin monks.  It is a problematic time to be a shaolin monk though (this is set in 1675), so he has to travel under a disguise. Pang settles in with a friendly innkeeper and his attractive daughter, and Pang eventually trusts her enough to tell her the story of what happened to his old temple.  Honestly, I don’t want to talk about the story at all, as every last bit of it would be left as a surprise if it was up to me.  Then again, if that was the case maybe nobody would give it a chance.  OK, how about this: the dialogue had me laughing out loud several times, which is unusual, especially in a book that is about 3/4 serious stuff.  Or perhaps you don’t want to give it a chance because Pang looks “too cartoony”.  Not that I’ve heard that complaint, but I have heard it for other books. Pang is a bald, fattish monk with a round head, so that’s what he looks like.  Detail is not skimped on the rest of the huge cast of characters.  What about the history, maybe Ben just made it up as he went along?  Nope.  There are footnotes all over the place, frank admissions that the history of shaolin monks is largely a matter of guesswork due to events like the attack depicted in this book, a list of books he used for research and a thorough afterward on the story.  Actually, that’s my one complaint, although it’s one of those useless complaints that doesn’t have an answer: sometimes the footnotes were distracting, as they were on the bottom of the page and not all clumped together in the back of the book.  I’ve probably complained about the bother of having to flip back and forth in other books, but the constant factual information was a little distracting from the story.  Yep, that’s my big complaint, which should tell you plenty about the quality of this book.  And the fights!  They were tense with a feeling of real danger, which is often difficult to pull off in a “named” comic like this (it’s not like you think Batman is ever going to get killed in his comic, although I guess he did recently, but he’s probably back by now, and I’ve gone off on a tangent. Sorry), and the attack at the temple was sheer chaos, but the kind of chaos where you as a reader can somehow keep up with what’s happening.  This was altogether quite an achievement, as plenty of things could have gone wrong here but somehow, some way, nothing did.  I’m just happy that I got in on the ground floor, and if Ben decides to drop this comic business for greener pastures, he better be practicing on his Iron Crotch technique to guard against some serious kicks…