Though set against the backdrop of an honest-to-goodness historical conflict—specifically, China’s Three Feudatories War of 1673–1681—Ben Costa’s delightful Shi Long Pang, The Wandering Shaolin Monk makes only the merest of claims to historical accuracy. The occasional contextualizing footnote notwithstanding, such reticence in the face of exacting historicity is only proper, considering the sheer volume of folklore and apocrypha surrounding the Shaolin and the fabled razing of their temple(s); lots of conflicting stories to wade through as far as all that’s concerned, and precious little in the way of verifiable facts. Was it at Henan during the reign of the Shunzhi Emperor, or Fujian under Kangxi? Punishment meted out for acts of rebellion, or preemptory strike by a paranoid monarch? Who knows! Best stick with fiction, then.
And, oh—what a wonderful fiction it is! Kung fu! Action! Intrigue! Drama! Comedy! Romance? Not sure what the Buddha would have to say about that last one, but hey, why not!
True to its subtitle, Shi Long Pang, The Wandering Shaolin Monk recounts the exploits and misadventures of the itinerant Pang as he drifts about the countryside in the wake of his temple’s complete and utter destruction at the hands of the Qing. Initially keeping a low profile while hunting after rumours of his surviving Shaolin brothers, the twice-orphaned and oh-so-naïve Pang soon finds himself (somewhat) romantically entangled with the daughter of a local innkeeper, under investigation by corrupt officials, attacked by a hungry predator, and beset upon by a garrulously besotted martial artist—not to mention being (unknowingly) pursued by a sinister group of Manju agents in search of a particular Shaolin text.
Golly, but the outside world sure is disharmonious.
Fan Art: While the primary story of Shi Long Pang roughly corresponds with events of the Three Feudatories War—in the sense that they give each other cursory nods from time to time—Ben Costa has been known to flash back every now and again to Pang’s early, peaceful, pudgier years as a novitiate of the Eight Herbs Mountain temple. Comedy, light drama, and martial arts ensue (hence the above-seen nonet of basic wushu steps). Also: pickled turnips.
Utilizing little more than brushstrokes and grayscale tones, Ben Costa’s “Eight Herbs Mountain” side-series is quite a bit looser than the lushly-coloured pages of Shi Long Pang proper, but the relative minimalism serves to further accentuate the seemingly effortless fluidity and poise of his line work.