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“You may be right, Captain. But you’re wrong about one thing! It’s that drives a man to kill! Not courage!”

It’s been awhile since I could hold my head up and high and say “I wrote a Peril In Panel article.” It’s also been awhile since I read a comic like Pang: Wandering Shaolin Monk.

This article will focus on the physical version of the first volume (as opposed to the free, online version), Refuge of The Heart. I hope you’re ready for a semi-historical fantasy story full of intrigue, love and martial arts.

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Let’s get down to brass tacks. Pang is written and illustrated by Ben Costa and was originally just a webcomic titled Shi Long Pang, available for free as of 2009.
It still is, though at the time of this article’s publishing the comic is on a hiatus as Costa finishes writing the final volume and also works on a cooperative comic, Rickety Stitch. But don’t let that discourage you from reading, there’s still two whole volumes online to read for free and two volumes in print. This is a Xeric Award winning comic, it is well worth your time.

Pang is an incredible example of how much proper research and historical fact-checking can help a story. Ben Costa has said in the past that he has studied both martial arts and the history of the Shaolin, which is an incredibly complex subject. That being said,
this is not a historically accurate tale. Accounts of events during this time period are,
for lack of a better term, “sketchy” to say the least. So Costa took certain aspects that are factually true and others that are unverifiable, mixed them together into his fantasy tale.

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The plot of Pang is as such: in 1675, a chubby monk, Shaolin Buddhist monk named Pang sets out find his lost brothers (not in the familial sense, in the “fellow monk sense”) as they were separated after their temple is destroyed by the Qing Dynasty. Beset on all sides by danger and now totally alone for the first time in his life in the outside world, the fate of his order rests upon Pang’s oddly circular-shaped head.

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The semi-historical adventure has a bit of everything thrown in when appropriate: from romance, to political intrigue, humour and good old fashioned martial arts fights.
Little to no narration is used in Pang, as it’s very fluid dialogue and the character’s actions are what drives the plot. As stated before, the plot, while complex, is told in an
easy-to-follow manner. There are a few drier parts (especially in this volume, since it’s the first) when the focus shifts to establishing important historical/political events and figures but personally, I never found it much of a problem, if ever. And that’s from someone who, while finding history interesting, would never, ever be considered a history buff.
As an added note, Costa also includes quick, informative little facts about various subjects pertaining to the story, such as citing dates or references, actual translations of phrases from Chinese and so forth.

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Shifting our focus art-wise, I loved and still love Ben Costa’s lush, sketchy, loose style in terms of his line and colour work. And you can really see it change in the first volume, where he was clearly figuring things out and then later when he’d gotten a better grasp of it. The only draw back is he kept and still keeps getting better in his newer work so the first volume of Pang is mostly just going to get you hooked on his incredibly fun style.
His attention to detail is great to, even going so far as to show an experienced martial artist grappling *without using their thumb as to avoid it being easily broken in the fight.

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Panel layout does get slightly convoluted during the first volume (as Costa was figuring things out, he obviously tried stuff and left it in there) though never so much that it’s a real problem, more of a “Uh, wait, which panel do I go to after the third…Oh that one!” type of deal. Costa’s gestures and facial expressions are top-notch stuff that punctuate his scenes adding that little extra kick to every panel. The stylized look of the series allows the reader to really drink in everything from colour choices, scenery, sound effects, etc.

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The last few pages of the book have a special thanks section and a one-page write up on the time period chosen, what historical facts were used and even which books were used as reference, professionally cited and everything. A very classy move that Costa didn’t need to do, again showing he loves the story, the history and everything about this comic.

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So, in the end I highly recommend Shi Long Pang, the webcomic, and Pang: Wandering Shaolin Monk, the print comic. An incredibly entertaining, griping story, worth every cent (even if you only read the totally free web version). I’m gonna go back to dreaming of the final volume while you go check it out all the good times, laughs, mystery, tears and bone-shattering kicks to the skull.

Hope you enjoyed this Peril In Panels, I’ll be back with more next time so until then keep it monstrous, everybody!

– J. Kruschack

*And as a person who has grappled in the past, that is a real thing that stunned me when he mentioned it, Costa knows his stuff!

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