Immortal Kung Fu masters? Check. Crazy bad guy threatening to take over the world? You bet. Scary zombies that refuse to die? Sure, why not. Unstoppably wild Kung Fu action? Of course! McLeod’s debut graphic novel mixes it together and packs it all into this slam-bang, hee-yaa! of a first book.
Set in a fictional version of medieval China, the Eight Immortals, masters of Kung Fu so expert in skill they achieved immortality, have it as their duty to protect the mortal world. The greatest threat is an evil but dead Emperor whose ghost seeks a mystical set of armor that will give him the strength to both resurrect himself and take over the world. Each Immortal has a student specially trained to use the martial arts to help protect the world, but five of them fall to the temptation of Poison Kung Fu, a powerful style of Martial Arts that corrupts the spirit of the user.
Enter our hero, Lei Kung. A former soldier for the Emperor, Lei Kung abandon’s his life as a soldier and is tricked by the leader of the Immortals to seek enlightenment and become their newest weapon for good on the mortal world.
The story is fable-like; dipping, turning and even twisting back upon itself, it gives us adventure after adventure with an occasional reminder of the main quest. And there are plenty of adventures. With the Emperor’s power spreading death across the world, it’s left the spirit world crowded and many of the lesser spirits stumbling around the mortal world as ravenous zombies.
But Lei Kung doesn’t have to face the evil alone; he meets a number of secondary characters who help out along the way. Most memorable of these is Moog Joogular, a funk-a-fied rockstar turned time travelling Kung Fu Master (yes, you read that right). Made up with a super-sized afro and an ever present set of cool-as-night sunglasses Moog looks like he just walked off the set of the best 70’s Blaxpoitation movie ever dreamed of. There’s also Windy, a tough girl general for the Emperor who’s trying to change the world for the better from the inside.
McLeod’s artwork is as wild as his story. Although almost every page is filled with multiple panels and each panel tightly packed with information, McLeod handles the space well enough that it never feels crowded. In character design he balances realism with Jack Davis-inspired exaggerations to give each character their own look. This skill serves him quite well. Despite the huge cast of characters each one is unique enough that you’ll never confuse one for another. Of course, McLeod’s real skill lies with kinetic approach to storytelling. Mixing ink and brushwork, he creates a dynamic feel that pulls an overall look from traditional Chinese illustration. But unlike those original illustrations that often feel static, McLeod’s pages feel filled with motion. Whether Kei Fung is punching his bloodied fists through decaying zombies or having a quiet conversation with one of the Immortals every page spins with life and motion.
Three quarters through the book the adventures curl back into the main story and things transform into a long but still exciting battle featuring crazy Kung Fu techniques, trash talking, dark magic and last minute trump card moves. With the almost endless supply of references and jokes combine with the graphic fight scenes the book will grab any adults who grew up with the Kung Fu Cinema revival in the 70’s and early 80’s. But McLeod’s skill in building a fantastically detailed world and gripping storytelling lift this debut up to a wonderful title for anyone looking to pack a fist-full of dazzling Kung Fu into their reading.