For about a decade from 1973 as Master of Kung-Fu, Shang-Chi was a headliner, but then fell on hard times, scraping a living from guest appearances until joining the Avengers. When he became the unlikely star of a Marvel movie, this compilation was hastily assembled, gathering those guest appearances between 1997 and 2013. The quality is frankly up and down, but there moments worth investigating.

Sadly, none of them occur in the opening three chapters teaming Shang-Chi with the X-Men. Carlos Pacheco’s art is 1990s excess (sample art left), and Ben Raab’s dialogue is painful. It switches between explaining to the audience, over-emoting and characters spouting stuff to make the writer seem smart. Beneath all that, Scott Lobdell’s plot twists and surprises, although depends too much on punching first and asking questions later.

Pasqual Ferry’s art on two chapters of Shang Chi accompanying the Heroes for Hire is also typical 1990s flash over substance. Work beyond that, and John Ostrander’s plot suceeds as old fashioned rip-roaring adventure, but he uses too many guest stars and needed a more sympathetic artist.

Chronologically, there’s a leap to 2010, and the consequent quality upgrade is massive. A teaming with Spider-Man occurs during the events of Shadowland, and Dan Slott provides a reason for Shang-Chi’s participation, while Paulo Siqueira really puts the effort into the artwork. It’s detailed and dynamically laid out, while always telling the story, providing a decent interlude that can be understood without reference to the bigger story.

A nice touch used by several writers is Shang-Chi’s lack of familiarity with Marvel’s mainstay villains. At its most obvious it both defines his priorities and allows the writer to explain who they are, but can also be used to present an assessment not clouded by prior judgement. Warren Ellis takes the approach in teaming Shang-Chi with Captain America and Sharon Carter, in a spy caper ordinary by his standards, but they’re higher than most. The wonder, though, is all in David Aja’s stylish art (sample right).

The collection closes with Jonathan Hickman and Mike Deodato having the Avengers, Shang-Chi among them, infiltrating A.I.M.’s sovereign island. He’s rather lost, truth be told, in a plot that wants to be a caper movie, but has a cast too large for that. It’s okay, but no more with the style again supplied by the artist.

Nothing here is totally satisfying, and the poor 1990s material collectively drags down the ranking for the better 21st century outings, but for better Shang-Chi outings check the recommendations.