Alliances, betrayals, a mysterious dimension, and a deadly tournament. Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings #4 (written by Gene Luen Yang and penciled by Marcus To) kicks off a new storyline titled 'Game of Rings.' As for the tournament, the winner of this martial arts melee will earn the right to wield the Ten Rings. Let's break down the game, the players, the implications of this deadly challenge.Warning: Spoilers ahead for Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings #4
What are the Ten Rings?
Within the Marvel Universe, the Ten Rings can refer to a few things. The Iron Man villain known as the Mandarin has worn Ten Rings on his fingers since he first appeared in Tales of Suspense #50 (1963). The Rings empower the Mandarin, allowing him to go toe to toe with some of Marvel’s strongest heroes. The Marvel Cinematic Universe reimagined the Ten Rings as a terrorist organization in the 2008 film Iron Man. A comic book version of the Ten Rings terrorist organization was then introduced in IronHeart #2 (2019).
The 2021 MCU film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings introduced a new version of the Rings. Marvel Studios changed the Ten Rings from finger-sized rings to bracelets in order to avoid comparisons to the Infinity Gauntlet. This version of the Ten Rings was partially inspired by weapons seen in the 1978 martial arts film The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. The Ten Rings enhanced the power of their wearer, and were able to act as projectiles. It wasn’t long before they made their way into mainstream continuity.
Although the Ten Rings were a big part of Shang-Chi’s mythology in the 2021 film, his comic counterpart didn’t encounter the weapons until Shang-Chi #11 (2022). Since then, Shang has wielded the Ten Rings, but he doesn’t seem to be fully comfortable with them. Unsure of the limits of their power, Shang has almost seemed afraid of them. Now it looks like Shang-Chi will have to prove he’s worthy to keep them.
This storyline begins when a group of mysterious beings from another dimension take the Ten Rings from Shang-Chi, telling him that he must prove he’s worthy to wear them. In order to do that, he must win a tournament known as the Game of Rings.
What is the Game of Rings?
The Game of Rings is a winner-takes-all tournament where players fight for the right to wield the Ten Rings. Think of it as a hybrid between the Hunger Games and a martial arts tournament. The event is hosted by a mysterious group known as the Game Administrators. The game takes place in a temple the Game Administrators call the Meritorious Striving Pagoda. The temple is located in another dimension. Each of the ten combatants gets one of Shang’s Ten Rings.
Players must knock their opponents into one of the many portals scattered throughout the temple. Once their opponent is eliminated, the Ring goes to the victor. The game begins on the bottom of the temple, known as the yellow level. Once four players are eliminated, the remaining six will continue their challenge on the white level. Once the next three combatants are eliminated, the remaining three will proceed to the final round on the red level. The last player remaining on the red level will keep all Ten Rings.
Who is playing the Game of Rings?
In addition to Shang-Chi, the Game Administrators drafted nine other combatants to participate in the Game of Rings tournament. Many of these players date back to Shang-Chi’s original run of stories from the Master of Kung Fu. Some of them are obscure characters who Shang hasn’t encountered in years. Here’s a breakdown of the other players.
Shen Kuei/The Cat – A spy who is a martial arts master. He and Shang-Chi have a deep respect for one another.
Maximillian Zaran/Weapons Master – A former M16 agent who became an assassin for hire. Zaran specializes in combat weapons.
Lady Iron Fan – A villain trained in martial arts. Lady Iron Fan uses her sharp fans as deadly weapons.
William Young/Razor Fist – An assassin bodyguard who has swords attached to his hands.
Tak – A Yokozuna wrestler who once served as an enforcer for Shang-Chi’s father Fu Manchu.
Grigori Sovchenko/Ghost Maker – A former KGB operative with regenerative powers.
Darkstrider – A six-armed ninja with a mysterious background.
Red Cannon – Leader of the Red Dot Collective, a criminal organization. Red Cannon has cybernetic enhancements, including a plasma cannon built into his arm.
Leiko Wu/Wyrmspawn – Wyrmspawn is a demonic entity from another dimension, that is currently using the body of MI6 agent Leiko Wu as a host.
Shang-Chi’s former enemy Tiger-Claw was supposed to be one of the players, but Wyrmspawn convinced the Game Administrators to let them take his place.
Who has been eliminated so far?
Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings #4 focuses on the first round of the tournament, taking place on the yellow level. By the end of the issue, Shang-Chi has eliminated Darkstrider and Weapons Master, eliminating the later with the help of the Cat. Red Cannon eliminated Razor First and Lady Iron Fan. The issue ends with the players preparing for the next round on the white level.
Red Cannon is currently in the lead, holding three of the Ten Rings. Shang-Chi would have been tied with him, but he gave one of his Rings to the Cat to thank him for helping him against Weapons Master. This means that both Shang and the Cat have two Rings going into the next round, while the remaining players (with the exception of Red Cannon) have one.
There is little doubt that Shang-Chi will be the winner of this tournament, otherwise the comic might have to change its title. However, the path to victory will prove interesting. Like most winner-takes-all tournaments, forming an alliance is a key to survival. Shang is currently in such an alliance with the Cat, but both men realize they’ll eventually have to face each other if they make it to the red level. Shang-Chi’s past battles with the Cat have been intense, since the spy is more than a match for Shang when it comes to martials arts.
If you watch reality television or tournament fiction like Squid Game, then you know that these types of games usually have a troublemaker ready to stir things up. In this story that’s Wyrmspawn, who is lurking in the shadows unseen by Shang-Chi. Shang is also unaware that his friend Leiko Wu has been possessed by the Wyrmspawn, giving the demonic entity an advantage. When Shang inevitably faces Wyrmspawn, they’ll be wearing the face of one of his oldest allies, which will probably catch him off guard.
The teaser for next issue says “The origin of the Ten Rings revealed! Shang-Chi finally discovers their tragic history.” It looks like we’re finally going to learn where the Ten Rings came from, and why the Game Administrators have taken an interest in who wields them. The Game of Rings continues in Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings #5, on sale November 16th. If you like action and high stakes tournaments, then buckle up, because it looks like the fun is just beginning.
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