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Exclusive: Haden Blackman Jumps into SECRET WARS with MASTER OF KUNG-FU

Prepare to take a trip to a K'un Lun you haven't seen before.

Secret Wars is coming and we're not quite sure what to expect. We have seen the big map Marvel has released and one of the regions is K'un Lun. It turns out it might not be the K'un Lun we're familiar with (an interactive map is HERE).

Marvel will be releasing a mini-series written by Haden Blackman, with art by Dalibor Talajić, focusing on Shang-Chi in the mystical land of K'un Lun. It's a place where everyone trains in the deadly arts. What happens if you don't quite meet the standards put in place?

We had the chance to talk to Blackman about this series. (Check out Francesco Francavilla's cover and Talajić's early concept sketches).

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COMIC VINE: How did you become attached to writing MASTER OF KUNG-FU?

HADEN BLACKMAN: After we knew that ELEKTRA would end with Issue 11, editor Sana Amanat asked me if I'd be interested in doing another project at Marvel, and pitched me on a martial arts themed book as part of Secret Wars. I've always loved the notion of the "multiverse," and the ways in which familiar characters can be re-envisioned -- as a kid, I consumed WHAT IF...?; EXILES remains one of my favorite series; and I still go back to reread AVENGERS FOREVER just for the battle at the end that incorporates hundreds of Avengers from multiple times and realities. There was no way I was going to pass up an opportunity to flesh out a new corner of the Marvel universe revolving around martial arts and the supernatural.

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CV: What can you tell us about this version of K’un Lun?

HB: Life in K'un-Lun revolves around martial arts, and specifically the many different schools that train the populace, each of which focuses on different techniques. Mastering these techniques provides a wide range of powers and abilities -- from something familiar, like Iron Fist's ability to focus his chi to empower his attacks, to intangibility and even shape-shifting.

CV: Were you given any guidelines or just set loose to write what you wanted?

HB: I was provided with an overview of the Battleworld concept, and asked to avoid using a few specific characters, but in general I've had a great deal of freedom.

CV: Is it easier to write a world you get to make up compared to a version people are already familiar with?

HB: I wouldn't necessarily say "easier," but it does present different challenges. An established universe comes with its own set of rules, characters, and locations that are already known to most readers (and collaborators) so there's a certain short-hand that can be used, and less work required to set everything up. But, it means that, as a writer, you need to stay true to what has come before, which can be particularly challenging when trying to capture a character's voice. MASTER OF KUNG-FU is liberating in some ways because I can use a wide range of characters, many in new and different ways. But, I think it's still very important that I remain true to the core of those characters somehow.

CV: How does Shang-Chi compare to the version we’re familiar with?

HB: In many ways, Shang-Chi will be familiar -- he is the son of a great master, but has a very different moral compass than his father. Accused of murdering a master, Shang-Chi has been exiled from his father's school. In this world, anyone who is not affiliated with a school, who is not training to reach the peak of his or her abilities, is considered an outcast, the lowest caste in society. With nothing left to give him purpose, Shang-Chi has become a vagrant and a drunk.

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CV: If everyone in this world knows Kung-Fu, is there always a struggle to make yourself master the arts even more to become better than others?

HB: For most people in K'un-Lun, martial arts is like a religion, something they practice with varying degrees of fervor and dedication. The tenets of a student's school becomes his or her beliefs, guide the student through all aspects of life. Anyone who turns their back on training, or who is deemed unworthy to train for some reason, is a pariah.

For the great masters -- the men and women who run the schools -- mastery of martial arts could lead to great power. K'un-Lun is ruled by an Emperor selected every thirteen years through trial by combat, but only the schools' great masters compete in this tournament, so most spend their entire lives training for the event.

CV: How will superpowers fit into this world? Do those with powers have an advantage over others is mastering the arts?

HB: Mastering the arts is how one gains powers. In this reality, no one is born with powers, or gains them through a scientific experiment gone wrong. That doesn't mean that characters who are classified as mutants or accidents of science in the Earth-616 reality won't be show up in this series; but in our version of K'un-Lun, they have unlocked their special abilities through years of training. And because nearly everyone trains, the result is a whole kingdom full of metahumans.

CV: Will the X-Men play a big role in this series?

HB: The series really revolves around Shang-Chi and a few other well-known martial artists, including Elektra and Iron Fist. However, a number of other characters appear, and several could be considered "X-Men." Growing up, I never missed an issue of THE NEW MUTANTS, so expect to see a few of my favorite characters in the mix...

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CV: Will Emperor Zu be the big bad guy here?

HB: Zheng Zu, Shang-Chi's father, doesn't see himself as a villain. He believes he is a just and decisive Emperor who has K'un-Lun's best interests in mind. Shang-Chi doesn't agree...

CV: How are your Kung-Fu skills? Did you find yourself doing more as you started mapping out the series?

HB: Terrible! My fighting skills are limited to video games. But I've been consuming martial arts movies since I was a teenager, so I'm mining some of my favorites for inspiration. And fortunately, Dalibor Talajic -- the artist on the series -- is a real student of martial arts, so I plan to rely heavily on him for ideas on the fight scenes.

MASTER OF KUNG-FU is on sale May 6, 2016.